To many road cyclists, the idea of wearing a cycling base layer or vest in the heat of summer is counter intuitive and with many manufacturers developing increasingly technical and innovative fabrics in their quest to provide cyclists with lightweight, thermo-regulating summer jerseys, you would think that the need for a base layer is becoming obsolete.
The myriad of summer cycling base layers on the market, however, suggest that the exact opposite is the case. An effective base layer will efficiently wick sweat away from your skin, keeping your core body temperature even and ensuring you do not get chilled by the wind hitting damp clothing and skin.
Anyone travelling to the continent in high summer will have seen a good number of cyclists wearing vests beneath their jerseys, whether cycling in the high Alps or the heat of the Spanish interior. They do so for a reason - so that they can cycle in optimum comfort. Summer base layers are prevalent on the Continent and one only has to look at the number of pro cyclists currently toiling in the heat of the Critérium du Dauphiné this week, to appreciate that if you want to stay cool in the heat, then wear more clothing!
Some do, some don't: even the Pros disagree over the benefits of wearing a base layer. Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Steven Kruijswijk, wearing the maglia rosa at the Giro last month, are just two that appreciate the benefits in hot weather.
Virtually all of the manufacturers developing and spearheading the push for more innovative fabrics incorporate base layers in their collections. The likes of Craft, Rapha, Castelli and Endura, all of which provide the kit for UCI Pro teams, offer technically advanced mesh base layers.
Likewise Assos and Gore have base layers to complement the summer jerseys in their respective outfit systems and the objective is the same for all - to provide a base layer that works in tandem with the outer layers, providing the necessary ventilation and wicking of sweat, yet retaining a consistent core temperature to ensure rider comfort and, ultimately, better performance.
Our bodies perform at their optimum best when our core temperature is warm and held at a consistent temperature. The technically advanced synthetics being utilised in contemporary baselayers provide excellent thermoregulation, combined with breathability, lightness and durability.
The Wheelsuckers' team recently spent a week in Mallorca enjoying some spectacular cycling in a range of conditions - including strong coastal headwinds and, of course, spring sunshine that warms both your body and soul. The perfect playground to test out some of the summer vests currently on the market. Here is the pick of the bunch to please all tastes and budgets.
Sportful BodyFit Pro Sleeveless Base Layer
The ‘Diablo Mesh’ fabric provides optimum comfort and breathability, the perfect attire for the heat of a Grand Tour mountain stage! The base layer sits tight on the skin and provides a wonderfully comfortable buffer zone between your jersey and skin and the ‘DRYnamic’ mesh fabric does a fine job of wicking away sweat and keeping your torso feeling dry. Tested in the spring heat of Mallorca, this is a very effective and quick drying base layer and asides from the excellent performance, the fabric also provides UV protection too!
The cut is very ergonomic and the base layer sits quite high on the front, just long enough to tuck into your bib shorts. The cut around the arm is tight, but drops low enough beneath the armpit to ensure there is not risk of chaffing. Otherwise, the base layer is very simple in design – no frills, but just a single logo on the centre of the chest.
But it’s in the quality of the fabric where the BodyFit base layer really excels. It provides optimum comfort and breathability - what more do you want in a base layer?!
The Sportful BodyFit Pro Sleeveless Base Layer is available is sizes Small to XXL and retails a £32. It can be bought via online retailer, including Wiggle, but visit the Sportful website for more details and to view their full range of products.
Gore Bike Wear Base Layer Singlet
This is a wonderfully soft, tight fitting singlet that provides a snug, but very comfortable fit. Admittedly, this is not a garment that is going to be 'on show' but the cut of the garment is flattering, though I would contend that ensuring you get the sizing that is right for your torso is very important. The medium on my 38" /5'11" frame was spot on and the fabric is stretchy and the designers have reduced the flat-lock seams to the bare minimum in order to guarantee there is not irritation or rubbing.
Coming in a choice of black or white in both the men and women's version, the moisture transfer was very effective and instantly transported to the outside, but conversely the singlet provided a good level of warmth when paired with a short sleeve summer jersey, even in colder mountain air around the 12°C mark. A little on the pricier side compared to some on the market, but it comes with Gore's solid reputation for combining quality fabrics and well thought out design.
Incidentally, Gore point out that this is a base layer for 'all seasons' - I think the same could be said for most of the vests tested, though this may provide a tad more protection as it is not 'summer specific' and I could certainly see myself wearing this base layer on cooler spring or early autumn rides. Recommended.
RRP: £29.99. Available to buy online from Evans Cycles. The Gore Base Layer Singlet is available in a good range of sizes for Men (Small to XXL) and also comes in a Woman''s version, again available to by via Evans Cycles. Material is 88% Polypropylene, 8% Elastene (Spandex), 4% Metallised fibre. More information on the Gore Bike Wear website.
Rapha Pro Team Sleeveless Base Layer
Featuring Rapha's signature quality construction, detailing and, of course, some nods to the history of cycling, this was the most expensive vest tested. OK, the Rapha knockers might sneer at the £45 price tag for a 'string vest' but this particular vest not only looks very stylish but performs brilliantly. It delivered phenomenally good thermoregulation and it wicked away the sweat effortlessly. The fit is tight and unforgiving, but thanks to the addition of lycra in the side panels, it remains reassuringly comfortable to the point where I actually forgot I was wearing it, which in my book is a sign of quality.
Rapha market this as a race-fit vest, suitable for elite level racing in hotter conditions, so if you are, a-hem, of a slightly more rotund shape, then this might not be the one for you! On my 38" chest, the Small size was perfect. The base layer comes in three colours, black, pink and white, and all include quotes across the midriff. Does this make you go faster or feel cooler? Well, probably not, but it's that attention to those finishing touches, like the laundry label on the rear of the vest, that sets Rapha apart from the also rans.
The Rapha Pro Team Base Layer is beautifully constructed and robust, despite its flimsy feel and even incorporates an anti-bacterial treatment for those sweltering days when nothing is going to cope with the heat and sweat emanating from your torso!
The rider label on the back reinforces the racing pedigree of the Rapha Pro Team base layer.
Expensive, but quality style from the British manufacturer coupled with a high level of performance. If the upmarket label floats your boat, then look no further.
Price: £45 (short sleeve version is £50)
Sizes: XXS to XXL
Material: Body: 94% polyester, 6% polyurethane. Side panels: 76% polyester, 24% polyurethane
More information on the rapha.cc website.
dhb Aeron Seamless Sleeveless Base Layer
Fusing many of the necessary attributes that combine to make a great summer base layer, yet rolled out in a very competitively priced package, this top of the range base layer from Wiggle's in-house brand, dhb, is a very affordable, but high quality addition to your summer cycling wardrobe.
I wore this on several outings in Mallorca, in varying conditions thanks to some changeable conditions. In the heat and on climbs the synthetic fabric provided excellent wicking of sweat, keeping my torso incredibly dry even though my head appeared to have sprung a leak! Yet on descents the vest provided a reassuring warmth and on one unseasonally cold day I paired the base layer with a lightweight gilet and was as warm as toast.
The versatility of this base layer, especially given the price, makes it a great purchase in my view. It keeps me cool and dry in the heat, even when riding at a high tempo, yet warm when riding in cooler conditions or into a headwind. A few more colours would be good, especially as dhb have been introducing some very colourful jerseys and bibs in their collections of late, but otherwise, it is hard to fault!
Both the mens and women’s Aeron sleeveless base layer retail at £18. The same vest is also available in a short sleeve version, again available in both a men’s and women’s version, costing £19. The full range of synthetic and merino based dhb base layers are available to buy exclusively from Wiggle.
Polaris Bamboo Core Baselayer
This sustainable, robust and versatile grass, synonymous with cute pandas, provides a natural fibre that is soft, excellent at wicking sweat away from the skin, anti-bacterial and also dries quickly. Bamboo is also a fibre recommended for people with sensitive skin and just like that other natural fibre, merino wool, it also keeps the odours at bay, so for hot summer riding bamboo base layers tick all the necessary boxes!
Surprisingly, the only manufacturer in the cycling industry to cotton on (excuse the pun) to the inherent benefits of bamboo, is the Yorkshire based manufacturer, Polaris. Their Core Bamboo Cycling base layer contains 60% bamboo fibres. It has a cycling specific cut, but not specifically road cycling I should point out – this is a base layer that will appeal as much to the commuters and mountain bikers out there, as the roadies.
It is not as form fitting as the other base layers on test, so a great choice for those with who prefer or need a more forgiving cut! As a guideline, the medium on my 38” chest is comfortable and not tight over the chest or torso.
Currently coming in only the black with lime detailing in the men’s version, duck egg detailing for the women’s version, the base layer is very soft in the hand and has a synthetic, man-made feel to it, thanks to the 40% polyester incorporated into the fabric.
It weighs in at 140g, making it substantially heavier than mesh base layers on test, but beneath a looser fitting summer short sleeve jersey it provides a slinky feel that provides plenty of comfort. I did pair the base layer with a more aero, tight fitting jersey, but I wouldn’t recommend this. It just isn’t form fitting enough and vulnerable areas like the armpits would be prone to chaffing.
Paired with a more standard cut garment and the Polaris base layer performs exceedingly well – cooler in the heat than one might expect, given the weight of the material, but providing good body thermoregulation in changing conditions. Caught in a sudden rain shower, which quickly cooled the air, I felt a reassuring warmth in the area of my torso.
I’d recommend this base layer for riding on cooler summer days. For more extreme heat I would still reach for a lightweight mesh base layer, but as the first bamboo product ever worn by this tester, it was a revelation and it will be interesting to see which other cycling brands will experiment with this sustainable natural fibre in the coming years. And anyway, why should pandas be the only ones to enjoy the benefits derived from bamboo?
The Polaris Bamboo Core Baselayer retails at £21.99 for both the men’s and women’s version. More information is available on the Polaris website
Please note that this article is and updated version of a group review of summer base layers, first published in 2014, to include new products for spring/summer 2016.
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