The benefits of the humble cycling base layer can easily be overlooked, but it should form the foundation when choosing what to wear on a bike ride.
As base layers are the first layer against the skin they must be comfortable, well-fitting and perform as required. By utilising technical materials, cycling base layers can be designed to function in specific conditions so it is important to consider the weather and type of riding it will be used for.
What to look for in 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.
Man-made fabrics are often used for warm weather high-performance cycling base layers where sweat management and cooling effects are important. This is thanks to stretch that can be added to achieve a close fit and maximise the superb wicking abilities which move sweat away from the body.
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.
A cycling base layer should have a next-to-skin fit to offer the best 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 sticking, a wide collar to fit beneath skinsuits and a pre-shaped cut optimised for an aggressive riding position. For longer or relaxed riding, a casual cut will appeal, simply relying on the material's stretch to provide a close, comfortable fit on and off the bike.
Long sleeves, short sleeves or sleeveless
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 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 and it will keep your upper body toasty when the mercury drops.
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.
The 9 best cycling base layers you can buy today
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°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. A wide collar should play well with aero or tight collared jerseys.
Assos Skinfoil Summer
Highly breathable, the Assos Skinfoil base layer is the high performing cycling base layer suited to hot weather
Sleeve Options: Long / short / sleeveless | Material: 85% Polypropylene, 15% Polyester | Colours: Two
Assos have designed the Skinfoil Summer to maximise comfort when riding in the warmest conditions.
Made from what Assos calls Transport Mesh, which they claim 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.
By using merino wool, the Rapha Marino 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 utilises the natural properties of merino wool.
Merino wool has superb thermoregulation which allows it to keep you cool when the weather is hot and provide an insulating layer when it is colder. Combined with superb wicking and moisture management which drys quickly means that the Rapha Marino is a very versatile cycling base layer.
The Rapha Marino offers natural anti-bacterial and odour resistance. The cut is close fitting but not tight and has flat-lock seams throughout.
Rapha offers its base layers in discounted bundles if you are looking for both short and long sleeves for year-round riding.
An adaptable cycling base layer for all weathers from Scottish clothing specialists 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 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.
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 their Bodyfit Pro kit for both training and racing.
Sportful have designed the Bodyfit Pro cycling base layer for temperatures of 20+ºc, 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% of damaging rays.
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 M_200
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 create the foundations for a cycling base layer that will equally well off the bike.
Using flat-lock stitching the cut is close to the body but not so cycling-specific that you cant 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 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.