This merino wool base layer from Howies provides plenty of warmth and comfort when worn underneath a long-sleeve jersey for winter riding, or under a short-sleeve jersey in milder conditions.
The NBL Light is made from 100% merino that, as the name suggests, is pretty lightweight; it's 150g/m2 whereas Howies' NBL Classic is 190g if you want more insulation. This NBL Light will still keep you warm in cold winter weather, the fibres holding a whole lot of heat around your body.
Back in the olden days, cycling jerseys were made of wool that felt like Fibre Glass. We put up with it, like we put up with down tube shifting and Adam and the Ants, because we didn't know any better.
The merino wool that Howies use is very different. It comes from New Zealand and it's fine and soft; certainly not prickly. It's made from Zque merino (www.discoverzque.com) which guarantees the performance, the environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the welfare of the animals. We like that. It bumps up the price, but we like it.
The arms on this base layer are long, the cuffs are close fitting and there's plenty of length in the body to keep your lower back covered too. It's a crew neck, though, so you might want to wear it with a Buff or scarf to stop cold air getting in when the temperature is really low. The seams are flat-lock stitched so you can't feel them.
The other key properties of merino wool are that it'll absorb a lot of moisture when you sweat and keep you warm even when it's damp. This top feels okay even when you've given it a right soaking; it doesn't feel brilliant, but you don't get the chills either.
The only thing I don't particularly like about merino compared to a good synthetic base layer is that it can get heavy if you sweat loads, and it takes a longer time to dry out. Sometimes, I found that if I worked hard at the start of a long ride in this base layer, it would stay damp until I got home again. The best synthetic base layers will dry faster.
For that reason, I've been more inclined to use this top for steady rides; long base-training stints where I'm more concerned with getting the miles in than going hard.
The other time when the NBL Light comes into its own is at times when you're going to ride for a bit then stay in the same clothes afterwards: for a short ride into work, say, or for a trip into town. It doesn't start to smell because the wool provides a poor environment for the growth of bacteria. Obviously, you'll want to wash it if you get it sweaty but the difference from a synthetic equivalent is that it doesn't start to reek at the slightest hint of perspiration.
Speaking of washing, this goes through the machine just fine although you can't sling it in the tumble dryer afterwards.
The NBL Light is available in various colours and in short-sleeved versions too at £45.
Lightweight merino base layer for off-season warmth; useful for days when you're on and off the bike too.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Howies NBL Light L/S Merino Base Layer
Size tested: Ebony - L
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Howies say, "Slim fit long sleeved, crew neck base layer. Flatlocked seams and shaped armhole for extra comfort.
150g Zque Merino wool
Made in Fiji | Wash 40°"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
It's 100% merino wool. Merino is naturally high-wicking and odour resistant. It's also suitable for a range of different temperatures.
Flat-stitched throughout with raglan shoulders and well-shaped side panels making for a good fit.
Great merino performance. I'd rather have a higher neck for winter use.
Worn under other layers, it should last an age. There are no chemical treatments to wash out over time.
Merino isn't cheap and Zque merino is more costly again. Endura's Baa Baa 100% merino long-sleeve base layer is £39.99, dhb's list price is £32.99. Rapha's long-sleeve merino base layer is £60. None of those are Zque merino.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well. Warm and high-wicking.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The warmth and the comfort
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I'd rather have had a higher collar for keeping cold air off the neck.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 40 Height: 190cm Weight: 74kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.