Base layers are the Marmite of the cycling clothing world. But just as the people who stick their noses up at the yeasty black spread are wrong, so are those who shun the idea of wearing nothing beneath a jersey.
Their biggest complaint is that they ‘don’t work on hot days’. Well, like convertible cars, you can count on one hand the number of days where you’ll want to be riding in the UK with the top down (or, in this case, jersey fully unzipped). And even then, it’s sometimes nice to have an additional layer to protect your modesty.
On every other day of the year, a base layer can be a transformative bit of kit – taking the edge off on crisp starts, wicking sweat away to prevent the build-up of damp (and therefore cold) patches and just generally keeping you comfortable.
Available in a wide variety of densities and designs, fabrics and finishes, here are our picks of the best base layers you can currently buy.
Rapha short sleeve merino base layer
£60, Buy from Rapha
Donning some wool on anything but a cold, blustery winter’s day might seem like the actions of an oddball, but there is a method in the madness. Merino wool is something of a miracle material – keeping you warm and cool, dry from sweat, odour-free, and, most importantly, is super soft to touch and there’s not an itch in sight.
Rapha’s short sleeve base layer is made 100 percent from the stuff, and from experience is a year-round comfortable companion that only reaches its limits on those days when it’s so hot a haze rises from the tarmac like it’s a melting mirage.
MAAP Emblem Team base layer
£50, Buy from MAAP
One of the gripes often spouted by the base layer naysayers is that adding an additional material into the mix increases bulk and can actually prevent your body from cooling down efficiently.
Enter MAAP’s Emblem Team option. Weighing in at 52g (the same as one medium egg), the bantamweight offering packs a punch on the balmiest of rides, regulating your body’s temperature down to a tee and stopping you from becoming a scrambled mess.
Le Col Pro Mesh Short Sleeve baselayer
£55, Buy from Le ColWorn by riders in the pro peloton themselves, Le Col’s mesh number is designed to offer premium comfort in those hot and sweaty rides. Its tube-like, seamless structure reduces any risk of chafing or comfort while the large perforations throughout the garment ensures that it is breathable and high-wicking. Made for racing and high-intensity rides, the baselayer has a snug fit without being restrictive, made to quietly do its job, slotting in neatly underneath a jersey or skinsuit.
Isadore Merino light base layer
£40, Buy from Isadore
Yes, we know that this looks like the sort of garment that will guarantee you entry into a Berlin basement techno club, no questions asked. But this second skin string vest is made for dancing on the pedals under the midday sun rather than two-stepping in some dingy and dark underground lair.
Like the Rapha inclusion above, this piece from Isadore is made from Merino wool, but the natural fabric has been given a polyamide upgrade to aid its durability, while its minimalistic sleeveless design focuses its attention solely on keeping your core cool.
Assos Summer SS skin
£60, Buy from Assos
A base layer can have all the sweat-wicking properties under the sun, but if it’s uncomfortable to wear, it’s going to stay firmly in the draw, leaving you to run (well, ride) the gauntlet and risk relying on your jersey for temperature regulation.
Assos doesn’t want its base layers to miss out on the action, so has created a garment with an almost seamless construction – the idea being that by removing stitched sections, there are fewer irritants that can become a thorn in your side (literally).
Made from an ultralight yarn that contains carbon for its antibacterial and heat-regulating properties, it’s a summer staple.
Pactimo Thermoregulator SS base layer
£67, Buy from Pactimo
Even in the middle of summer, club rides can be out and back before the temperature really threatens the thermostat’s higher reaches. On these cooler starts, you’ll want a base layer that can do all the moisture management stuff, but take the edge off too.
Pactimo has the Rockies as its playground, so is a dab hand at making kit that can handle the varying temperatures that come with big mountain riding. Its Thermoregulator base layer’s fabric is great at transferring sweat from your skin to the garment’s outer surface, keeping you warm and preventing the chills that come with damp fabric sitting on skin.
TwentyOne Factory Lightweight base layer
£55, Buy from TwentyOne
A base layer’s design flourishes should have no bearing on whether you buy it or not – it’s going to be covered up 99% of the time, after all. But these fun food and drink graphic treatments from Barcelona-based brand TwentyOne allow you to show off your personality, whether you’re a banana-, spaghetti- or moka pot-head.
Designed with Spanish spring in mind, the lightweight base layer is an ideal accompaniment for the varying temperatures of the UK’s summer months. Given its illustrative embellishments though, it’ll be on you save it for those warmer days when you get to reveal your base layer in all its glory.