Rapha's Merino Base Layer is super-comfortable and it does a good job across a range of conditions.
This design has been around for years and I've used it loads over that time, although this orange version is a relatively new addition to the range. Rapha actually describe it as red but everyone we asked said it was clearly orange.
Rapha use 100% superfine merino wool here, about as far removed from that scratchy, wiry wool you endured in childhood as it's possible to get. It feels really smooth and comfy, and it's also lightweight (150g/m2).
The cut is slim enough for racing snakes to get the body-hugging fit that's vital for any base layer to work its magic, and a huge amount of inherent stretch means that anyone carrying a bit of extra bulk will be accommodated easily too. Pretty much everyone is going to get a decent fit.
The rear is cut slightly longer than the front to avoid any exposed skin back there and all of the seams are flat-lock stitched so you can't even feel them. The Raglan sleeves put the seams to the front and rear of the shoulder so they don't irritate you even underneath the shoulder straps of a bag or bib shorts.
Chances are that you already know whether you're a merino type of a person or not. Many people adore the stuff and will use nothing else when it comes to base layers.
Merino is great at wicking sweat away from your skin and it's naturally antibacterial so it's extremely resistant to odours. Whereas many synthetic base layers start to stink after the shortest of rides, this one stays fresh for much longer so the mid-ride tea stop is a much less pungent experience. You can also wear this for a ride to work or into town, for instance, and keep it on for the rest of the day without being shunned by everyone in the vicinity.
The other key feature of merino is its thermoregulation. Despite its light weight, the Rapha base layer is exceptionally good at keeping you warm on colder rides. Merino fans also talk about its ability to keep you cool in warm weather although I must say that I find that it can get heavy with sweat if you overheat, so I much prefer it for winter use.
You can wash this base layer in the machine with the rest of your cycling kit and it comes out just fine, although you shouldn't stick it in the tumble dryer.
It is available in a variety of colours and also in sleeveless (£55) and long sleeve (£65) versions.
With its styling limited to just a logoed neck tab, the Rapha Merino Base Layer has become a bit of a modern classic. You'll find cheaper merino options out there, but the high-quality merino makes for great performance.
Super-comfortable merino wool base layer with subtle styling
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Merino Base Layer
Size tested: Medium - Orange
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?
Rapha aim this at both performance/sports cyclists and people who are commuting by bike.
They list these features:
* Beautifully soft and itch-free
* Naturally anti-bacterial and odour resistant
* Close fit with flat-locked stitching for comfort, seams positioned behind shoulders to avoid rub from bags or bib-shorts
* Short sleeves and sleeveless versions
* Washes beautifully
* Fabric weight is 150g/m2
It's virtually impossible to feel the flatlock stitched seams. The build quality is high throughout.
It's 100% superfine merino wool from New Zealand and performs very well.
I've got a couple of these that are several years old and they look in great nick. Admittedly, being hidden away under outer layers means they don't have to contend with much, but they don't tend to bobble. Avoid moth larvae!
You can certainly get cheaper merino base layers but the high-quality merino helps justify the price tag.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It is super comfy and keeps you warm in cooler weather. I'm less of a fan of merino's performance in warm weather when I prefer something ultra-light.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The level of comfort, the ability to keep you warm in cooler weather, and it's resistance to odours.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price is higher than most other short sleeve merino base layers.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, and I have. I own several.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
You can buy short sleeve merino base layers from about £35 (lower if you get discounted items, obviously) so £60 looks pricey, but the high quality throughout means that you should get loads of use out of this over many years, and that helps justify the price.
About the tester
Age: 43 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
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: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight 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.