The manufacturers have blitzed us these last few weeks with news of an ever-more-impressive selection of vests or what we have learned to call base layers in the modern layering parlance. It's funny that; they must know us cyclists are never more motivated than the first freezing ride to rush to the bike shops for a cosy new winter warmer.
It's important to make the right choice as, second only to your shorts, the right base layer being next to the skin will have a huge effect on comfort. There are now 100% synthetic, pure natural and clever blends of both and all have their pros and cons, not least on price where the range runs from £25 to nearly £60. Our selection of eight here are all so new they haven't been reviewed yet but they're all in the works and in the case of the Scott Next2Skin Base Layer, due to be posted any day now. Watch this space but meanwhile in alphabetical order...
The Altura basic cycling garments are at the lower end of the price spectrum but tend to offer the really useful technical features without the bells and whistles.The brand tends to be stocked by big bikes shops with lots of fancy clothing which then display Altura as a good value 'house' offer. Apart from this cosier Second Skin base, there is also a lighter weight summer option called Transfer for £20 but we're naturally going for the warm option here and there are both men's and women's cuts. A fairly high percentage of elastane - that's the stretchy component in Lycra - 8% + 92% nylon means this base has a snug fit and we expect it to be a whiffier garment that needs a cool wash after every ride out but soft cottonish feel and seamless construction also means we hope it'll be super-comfortable.
The Bontrager base layers are numbered B1 to B3 with the warmer B2 and B3 making it to these UK shores presumably assuming our cyclists could do with the help in our dank winter climate. To be honest the £27.99 mid-weight B2 is all we'll mostly need especially as they only come long-sleeved but we can personally vouch for earlier versions of the B3 which make excellent warm base garments for all outdoor activities including just loafing around in the winter outdoors with appropriate sweaters and coats layered on top. Soft to the touch in 100% polyester, the fabric is knitted to feel cosy inside and to wick away moisture with a smooth exterior to slip against top layers for comfort and easy removal.
Not a well-known brand here but providing the kit for the Leopard-Trek professional cycling team raised the profile of Craft no end and it turns out they're a Swedish company that started off making warm winter base layers for all those icy, snowy sports the Scandinavians love so much. Craft kick off by saying that their Zero Extreme is "guaranteed to be the best fitting, best performing and most comfortable base layer yet," so that's encouraging. Craft say, "A hexa-channeled fibre against the skin enhances moisture transport and cools the body down, whereas a hollow fibre on the outside of the fabric offers insulation and transports moisture to the next layer."
dhb is the house brand of online retailer Wiggle and they've gone full-on into luxurious 100% merino wool, offering crew and zip necks, long and short sleeves for men and women and even colour choices; the latter of which might be an issue if you're wearing your base layer as a leisure top. The first impression here is that the fit being long and fitted is more 'performance' orientated than 'leisure' - see Howies - but that's no bad thing. The feel is certainly nice next to the skin and fantastic claims are made for the natural anti-bacterial qualities of fine merino wool making it relatively sweet-smelling after exercise.
Now here's an interesting one; a new Anglo-Australian company offering baselayers made from all-natural Neobi; "an organic cotton merino wool mix which wicks perspiration away from the skin to the outside of the fabric, keeping the wearer cool in the heat and warm in the cold." They say the 200-grams per meter weight will feel like a mid-weight tee shirt and is excellent for warm to temperate climates and for underlayers in winter months. Also claimed is minimal odour, long life and no chemicals; got to be worth a try although the more complex garments with polo necks and half zips range up to £85.
OK, no introductions needed for Howies here but the NBL Classic in 100% merino wool has had a facelift and the slightly looser fit and colour choices suggest garments you'd be happy to wear indoors and layered out for leisure. Howies is one of those premium brands that attracts a Marmite reaction, some saying that £55 for a vest is ridiculous and others that for a garment you wash and wash over many years, it's good value. We forgive them a lot for their branding being quiet and understated; plus in the case of the NBL Classic, it's made in Fiji which has to be a first.
Three different weights and textures in Meryl Microfibre are employed in complicated shapes; partly to help with articulation but mostly to do with being warm where you want warm and breathability - around the armpit area for example - where you want moisture to wick and evaporate fast. The flatlock seams and utilitarian appearance suggest a technical, performance-orientated garment; our Mat is just on the verge of posting his report. There are short sleeved and sleeveless options as well as fits for men and women, the latter a big issue for comfort if a base is to be worn with a sports bra.
Shutt have gone for a definite 'cyclist's cut' with a longer tail and a wool-synthetic blend called Merino Perform that they claim gets the best from both; "Merino wool on the inside face of the fabric with the robustness of polyester on the outer," is how they put it. Short sleeved only but the advantage is that armwarmers worn in lieu of sleeves give extra versatility for when the weather is feeling indecisive.