Popped under a jersey, a base layer can achieve a myriad of useful things. First up, they can add a degree of insulation. This ranges from a little, in the case of lightweight synthetic models, to quite a lot, in the case of heavier Merino wool versions. They can also act as a useful intermediary between your skin and your jersey, preventing you from feeling clammy, and keeping your core temperature stable.
Some people, generally base layer manufacturers, will tell you that a base layer will also keep you cool when cycling in summer. While I respect their chutzpah, this is obviously not strictly true, as anyone who’s ever worn clothes will know.
However, in anything short of utterly baking hot weather, a base layer can still be comfier than a jersey alone on account of its ability to help manage sweat.
By providing a second layer, they can also cut down the chance of road rash if you have a tumble. This less often cited benefit was suggested to me by a grizzled geezer at Herne Hill Velodrome, which means that, unlike the idea that base layers keep you cool, I’m prepared to believe it without any further evidence.
Whatever the conditions and wherever your reasons, here are seven of the best...
Rapha Short Sleeve Merino Base Layer
£60, Shop Rapha
In a nice bright orange, this was for years probably my favourite bit of cycling kit. Sadly it eventually proved equally popular with the moths that at that time also populated my house share.
Made from a delicious 100% merino wool, Rapha’s soft base layer is produced from fabric that’s a bit nicer than average, is cut a little better than average, and finally ends up as a top that’s also fair wack more stylish than average.
Slimline enough to fit under a tight jersey, yet relaxed enough to wear for weeks at a time when travelling, it’s naturally odour resistant. Wicking moisture vapour away very quickly, it’s great for a huge range of activities and, thanks to a medium weight, great for anything other than roastingly hot days.
ashmei Merino Base Layer
£65, Shop ashmei
If Merino provides naturally excellent wicking and thermoregulation qualities, ashmei’s Merino + Carbon fabric endeavours to push them even further. Doing so via the addition of super absorbent silica to the mix, ashmei claims this allows its fabric to capture and release moisture vapour so quickly as to double the drying speed of the base layer.
Built into a top that’s soft yet structured feeling, the cut and fabric combine to create a close yet unrestrictive fit. Slightly lighter in weight than some Merino options, it’s a good choice across a broad range of conditions. Available in a range of neutral, natural tones, it’s also amongst the most nicely styled.
Isadore Merino Light Base Layer
£40, Shop Isadore
There was a time when I might have worn a similar-looking garment out of an evening. Tragically, early Sunday mornings are now more likely to find me partaking of a more healthy form of exercise than I did in my twenties.
Either way, extensive testing across both scenarios has led me to believe that some form of mesh top will almost always be magically both cool when sweating it out, yet also warm when hidden under your jacket as you wait for the night bus. The reason for this is that most of any such top is air, which, as any GCSE student knows, is a superb insulator.
Letting it easily trap or release heat, this version from Isador also uses Merino wool which has the advantage of staying warm even when damp.
Pas Normal Studios Control Mid Base Layer
£70, Shop Pas Normal
Pas Normal Studios is so cool when its website recently timed out on me I wasn’t sure if it was a marketing gimmick. Like, for a moment, I imagined maybe it was a covid-secure version of those lines of people you see outside of the Supreme store.
Also, Pas Normal sells its products in DKK, or Danish Krone, which I know is due to long standing geopolitical reasons, but also seems willfully obscure.
Anyway, based in Copenhagen, it should know about changeable weather. Reinforcing this idea, its Control Baselayer uses a combination of Polartec’s Power Wool and a grid-like back section to help trap heat against your body. Very nice looking, it comes in grey or off-white, which should see it match any outfit.
Cafe du Cycliste Cecilia Vest Base Layer
Subtly stripey and more than a little twinkish, Cafe du Cycliste’s Cecilia vest is a sleeveless option for the warmest of weather. Made of 98% polyester and 2% elastane there’s not much to its lightweight open mesh construction.
Cut with racing in mind, stretchier lycra panels down the side further ensure an extremely close fit. Put together using flat-locked seams it’ll disappear under a jersey without disrupting the lines of your silhouette.
At the same time, it should help draw moisture away from the rider. Made in Europe, its slightly sailor-style appearance manages to make what would otherwise be a terribly naff bit of kit rather lovely instead.
Gobik Second Skin Vest Base Layer
€45, Shop Gobik
On warmer days you’re probably not going to benefit much from jamming extra material underneath your sleeves. However, keeping your jersey just off your chest will help you avoid any chills, especially if you find yourself switching from sweating up a climb one minute to barreling downhill the next.
Helping you maintain a more constant temperature without adding unnecessary extra insulation, Gobik’s Second Skin vest aims to do just that. Created from an ultra-light technical material, this has a mesh-like weave that also helps it draw moisture away from the wearer.
Like most of the Spanish brand’s range, the cut is notably race-orientated. It also comes with a recommended temperature range of 15ºC to 30ºC.
Assos Summer SS Skin Layer
£60, Shop Assos
Assos will see your flat-locked panel construction and raise you an almost entirely seamless design. With no joins down the sides of its tubular knit body and sleeves, its Skin Layer tops drastically reduce any potential sources of irritation.
Rendered in an ultralight material, this also uses carbon yarns for faster wicking and drying. Supremely close-fitting yet unrestrictive, the styling of the top is simultaneously both ultra-minimalist and yet quite striking.
One for very warm days, the result is a base layer supposedly 25% lighter than the model it replaced, hopefully leaving both you and it as cool as possible