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They may not be visible to others most of the time, but don't underestimate the best cycling base layers. These humble undergarments should form the foundation of your kit when you're choosing what to wear on a ride.
Not only can they provide an extra layer of warmth when paired with the best cycling jerseys, but they can also enhance your performance all year round by regulating your body temperature and managing moisture build-up to keep you feeling fresh throughout your ride.
Since they're designed to move sweat away from your skin, good quality cycling base layers should be comfortable and close-fitting, like a second skin. A great base layer will incorporate technical materials to function in specific conditions - whether that's wicking away moisture on a hot day or trapping air to keep you warm when it's chilly - so it's important to consider the weather and type of riding it will be used for.
For hot weather riding or indoor cycling workouts, a lightweight base layer will move sweat away from the skin and aid evaporation, which helps you stay cool despite the heat. The enhanced evaporation effect cools the body and keeps skin drier to stop irritation from your clothing.
More commonly, base layers are used as an added warm layer on cold days, although a high-performing insulating base layer will still manage moisture build-up during climbing efforts.
In the list below, we take a look at the pros and cons of the best cycling base layers available today for both warm and cold climates. We focus predominantly on men's options here, so if you're looking for women's specific clothing, check out our guide to the best women's cycling base layers.
Or, if you're not sure what you need, skip to the bottom to find out what to look for in a cycling base layer.
The best cycling base layers to keep you cool
Castelli Pro Issue
Well constructed performance base layer that will keep you sweat-free through a wide range of temperatures
Sleeve Options: Short / sleeveless | Material: 100% polyester | Colours: One
The Castelli Pro Issue sits in the middle of Castelli's base layer range and is designed to offer comfort in temperatures between 10-25 degrees C which should make it ideal for UK summers.
Castelli has used a light 3D mesh fabric which draws sweat away from your body through capillary action to keep you dry and comfortable while riding.
The seams around the collar have been kept to a minimum as well as a flat hem around the waist to reduce points of irritation and allow the Pro Issue to sit flat under your cycling kit. The wide collar of the Pro Issue will play well with aero and tight-collared jerseys.
Le Col Pro Mesh
Race-ready base layer with a close aerodynamic fit
Sleeve options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 85% Polypropylene, 10% Polyamide, 5% Elastane | Colours: Three
Le Col's Pro Mesh base layer looks very small when it comes out of the box, but don't be fooled, it's incredibly stretchy and provides the perfect second-skin fit. Constructed with aerodynamics in mind, it's a performance-oriented garment designed to keep you streamlined on race day.
Its hydrophobic material composition provides excellent moisture management and also helps to keep bad odours at bay. The mesh construction allows air to flow freely which keeps you cool during hard efforts, while the seamless design eliminates any risk of chafing for a comfortable fit.
Assos Skinfoil Summer
Highly breathable, the Assos Skinfoil is a high performing cycling base layer suited to hot weather
Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 85% Polypropylene, 15% Polyester | Colours: Two
Assos has designed the Skinfoil Summer to maximise comfort when riding in the warmest conditions.
Made from what Assos calls Transport Mesh, which it claims reacts to your intensity of sweating to achieve a cooling effect, the mesh combined with the low cut neck is also designed to maximise airflow.
The fit is close and unrestrictive to provide an element of light muscle compression to help with fatigue. The Skinfoil Summer uses a seamless design to avoid any points of irritation.
dhb Lightweight Mesh
dhb's Lightweight Mesh cycling base layer's performance functionality makes more expensive options hard to justify
Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 93% polyester, 7% elastane | Colours: Two
dhb's Lightweight Mesh cycling base layer offers a performance base layer for warm weather at a very reasonable price.
By using an open mesh knitted fabric the Lightweight Mesh traps air between skin and jersey to regulate body temperature whilst wicking away any unwanted moisture. To keep the base layer fresh during rides a Polygiene anti-bacterial treatment has been applied.
The performance fit avoids bunching when riding without limiting freedom of movement and dhb has minimised the number of seams and used flat-locked stitching for comfort.
Sportful Bodyfit Pro
The Sportful Bodyfit Pro offers top-level breathability for riding in hot conditions
Sleeve Options: Short / sleeveless | Material: 96% polyester, 4% elastane | Colours: One
Sportful worked with the Tinkoff Saxo team to design a base layer that could be used with its Bodyfit Pro kit for both training and racing.
Sportful has designed the Bodyfit Pro cycling base layer for temperatures of over 20 degrees C, using Sportful's Diablo mesh fabric to regulate body temperature and allow airflow for comfort when riding hard. DRYnamic Mesh provides additional breathability in key areas. A UPF10 rating offers some protection from UV rays, filtering out 90 per cent of damaging rays.
Craft Cool Mesh Superlight
Comes with a well-earned reputation
Sleeve options: Short / sleeveless | Materials: 70% Polyester, 30% Polyamide(Nylon) | Colours: Black, white
These hugely popular mesh base layers from Craft come with a well-earned reputation, as they offer excellent moisture-wicking properties for a great price. They're ideal for rides on hotter days, since the super stretchy open-mesh fabric provides effective cooling, and at just 52g it weighs hardly anything so you won't feel hot and bothered in it.
In terms of fit, it sits close to the body like a second skin, which is exactly what you want, but it feels super comfortable and doesn't irritate, thanks to the soft feel of the fabric and the flatlocked seams.
The best cycling base layers to keep you warm
By using merino wool, the Rapha Merino base layer is a versatile option that will keep you comfortable in a range of conditions
Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: Merino wool | Colours: 10+
The Rapha Merino is a long-standing piece in Rapha's clothing line and maximises on the natural properties of merino wool.
Merino wool has superb thermoregulation which allows it to keep you cool when the weather is hot, and provides an insulating layer when it is colder. Combined with superb wicking and moisture management which dries quickly, the Rapha Merino is a very versatile cycling base layer.
It offers natural anti-bacterial and odour resistance, while the cut is close fitting but not tight, and has flat-lock seams throughout.
An adaptable cycling base layer for all weathers from Scottish clothing specialist Endura
Sleeve Options: Short / sleeveless | Material: 100% polyester | Colours: One
Scottish clothing brand Endura has designed its Translite base layer to cope with the wide variety of weather conditions that Scotland has to offer.
An extra-fine gauge material wicks moisture away whilst regulating body temperature. The material is rated to UPF 25+ to offer UV protection from the sun, which is a bonus if there is a risk of getting sunburn through your cycling jersey.
An athletic fit keeps the Translite close to the body and it is constructed using flat-lock seams for comfort. An antibacterial finish is used to keep bad smells at bay, an issue that can often be found with man-made materials.
The Gore Windstopper keeps you warm and comfortable on cold days and chilly descents
Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 88% polypropylene, 8% elastane, 4% polyamide | Colours: Two
When the weather starts getting colder the Gore Windstopper cycling base layer is in its element, whether it's being used to add some chill protection to a jersey on a cold day, or as part of a winter layering system.
The front and shoulders are made from Gore's Windstopper membrane to protect against wind chill and offer some water resistance. This is combined with an open weave mesh on the rear and under the arms to disperse heat and wick moisture away.
The Gore Windstopper has a form fit that offers a close-fitting shape to make the most of the properties of the materials whilst remaining comfortable.
Altura's technical ThermoCool yarns and seamless construction come together as a highly versatile cycling base layer for changeable conditions
Sleeve Options: Long / short | Material: 73% polyester, 22% polyamide, 5% elastane | Colours: One
Altura is known for making hard-wearing clothing for UK riding and the Altura ThermoCool should be a great match for British weather.
The Altura ThermoCool cycling base layer has a four-way stretch performance ride fit giving a second-skin feel to the garment. This keeps Altura's ThermoCool yarns close to the body for efficient management of moisture and thermoregulation.
Body mapping is used for grading material thickness across the body: thin and breathable under the arms, while adding thickness to the body and shoulders for warmth.
dhb Merino M200
dhb offers its versatile Merino cycling base layers with a range of warmth and sleeve options at a very competitive price
Sleeve Options: Long / short | Material: Merino wool | Colours: Three
dhb's Merino M_200's natural wicking and thermoregulation merino wool creates the foundations for a cycling base layer that will work equally well off the bike.
Using flat-lock stitching, the cut is close to the body but not so cycling-specific that you can't wear it off the bike for other outdoor activities. The Merino M_200 suits being worn as a next-to-skin layer with a winter kit for cold days, or on its own for relaxed rides, commuting and touring when the weather is milder.
Made from superfine Australian merino yarn, the Merino M_200 is a mid-weight base layer that is suited to the colder months. M_200 refers to the weight of the merino wool and dhb offers a lighter M_150 version if you don't need as much warmth. The Merino M_200 is also available in a high zip-neck version for extra draft protection.
dhb Aeron Windproof
A windproof and breathable base layer for chilly rides
Sleeve length: Short sleeve | Materials: Polyester, nylon | Colours: Black
If you're heading out in cold, blustery weather, opt for a windproof base layer like this Aeron one from dhb. The front-facing panels are made from windproof nylon, while the back and sleeves are polyester, which do a great job of wicking sweat away.
The two fabrics combined in this way create a close-fitting base layer that's ergonomically shaped to sit next to the skin. The performance cut is intended to work well with aero-optimised kit, and the base layer has received a Polygiene anti-odour treatment to help prevent nasty smells from building up over time.
What to look for in a cycling base layer
What material is best for a cycling base layer?
Different materials play a big part as to how a base layer will perform and the environments that they will excel in. These materials are generally split into two groups, man-made synthetic fabrics or natural materials.
Synthetic fabrics are often used for high-performance cycling base layers, suited to warm weather or indoor training, where sweat management and cooling effects are important. The stretch achieves a close fit to maximise wicking abilities to move sweat away from the body during a hard climb or during an intense Zwift session.
Natural materials such as merino wool don't wick or dry as quickly, however, they allow effective thermoregulation across a wide range of temperatures, making them extremely versatile. When wet, natural fabrics like merino still retain their insulating properties which makes them perfect for poor weather climates. Natural materials are also more resistant to unpleasant odours from riding; ideal if you are commuting to and from work or doing multi-day rides away from home.
How do you wear a base layer for cycling?
The best cycling base layers should have a next-to-skin fit to offer maximum performance. Sitting close to the body will allow moisture to be wicked away effectively, and minimise any bunching which would cause discomfort when worn under other layers.
High-performance race-focussed base layers will feature flat-lock stitching, a wide collar to fit beneath skinsuits, and a pre-shaped cut optimised for an aggressive riding position. For longer or relaxed riding, opt for a casual cut, which relies on the material's stretch to provide a close, comfortable fit on and off the bike.
Which length sleeve is best for a base layer?
Most cycling base layers will come in a selection of sleeve options. Generally, short or sleeveless base layers are used for hot or changeable conditions as they will fit comfortably under a regular jersey and can be paired with the best arm warmers or a gilet if temperatures are changeable.
Long sleeves are the reserve of cold weather when you will be wearing other long sleeve layers all day. Pair with a long sleeve insulated jersey or jacket to keep your upper body toasty when the mercury drops.
What features make a cycling base layer good?
Some base layers will offer extra features to excel in specific conditions. Super thin mesh material side panels enhance breathability during max efforts in the hottest temperatures.
Wind-proofing, water resistance, a high collar, or even a built-in balaclava hood are all important considerations if you are frequently riding headfirst into winter.
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