Beautifully soft, body-hugging without being restrictive, and keeping me free of clamminess on one of the hottest days of the year, Rapha's Women's Merino Mesh Base Layer is such a lovely undergarment it's almost a shame it has to be hidden away.
The design is very different to previous Rapha merino baselayers I've worn – the mesh fabric looks and feels very delicate, and you wonder how it can be of much use it seems so... 'hardly there'.
But if staying comfortable and dry for 80-odd miles on a 25°C day is a good judge of its prowess, there y'go. It does its job, very well.
The fabric – a 'low micron merino mesh' – is soft, stretchy and airy. It's 60% merino and 40% polyester and incredibly comfortable against the skin. Any moisture you create just evaporates, and you hardly realise you're wearing it.
The seams help. They're completely flat, and the top is designed in such a way that a single strip of fabric runs from the end of the sleeve, under the armpit and down to the hem – so no potentially chafing seam under the arm. It does mean you get two seams down each side, slightly to the front and slightly to the back, rather than a single side-seam, but they don't irritate in the least.
Being a merino mix, the pong factor is low compared with 100% polyester tops. Even after a 100-miler – admittedly on not the hottest day of the year – it would have been wearable again without offending close riding companions. Being such a lightweight design it dries incredibly quickly if you did need to wash it...
I like the length – it's 2-3in shorter in the body than the same size 100% merino baselayer – and I really like the low scoop neckline, which hides away under jerseys with just the Rapha logo detail showing when you lower your jersey zip on a hot day.
One slight niggle is that the sleeves are a little long when paired with some jerseys and can poke out at the ends, and the only other black mark – sorry – is the black marks it's picked up from a new pair of bib shorts, which so far are refusing to wash out. Rapha says to wash it in a bag or by hand, but I've just popped it in with other sports kit on a 30-degree wash, making sure there's no Velcro involved. If the black marks don't go I might have to resign myself to doing a handwash.
At £55 it isn't cheap, but you weren't expecting it to be. It is £5 less than the 100% merino baselayer though, and it's softer, more delicate, looks beautiful, is so light you hardly know you're wearing it, keeps you cool and dry, is gorgeous, you're worth it, etc etc...
Beautifully soft and 'hardly there' light, it does a superb job of keeping you cool, dry and comfortable
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Women's Merino Mesh Base Layer – Short Sleeve
Size tested: Medium
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?
A lightweight and extremely breathable merino base layer designed for year-round riding and racing
Designed to work in a full range of conditions, the Merino Mesh Base Layer offers exceptional breathability and warmth when required.
Made from a new, proprietary merino-blend fabric, which combines the natural properties of merino with a lightweight, open mesh structure, this base layer is a new addition to our women's range.
With a higher merino content than our previous men's version, this base layer has exceptional wicking, insulating and anti-bacterial properties, making it ideal for day-long and multi-day use.
Cut to sit flush against the skin, bonded shoulder seams ensure comfort and a clean finish, and reduce the chance of rubbing when layered with bib shorts. Cut to offer ample coverage across the back and collar and also available in a sleeveless version.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Low micron merino mesh for maximum comfort against skin
Naturally antibacterial 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
Machine wash in garment bag or handwash 30C
Use Rapha Merino Wash, wool or non-bio detergent
Lay flat to dry in shade
Do not bleach
It's a mesh weave and looks delicate, though no issues so far.
Second-skin fit, close and body-hugging without being restrictive.
Superb forget-you're-wearing-it comfort.
Okay, £55 isn't 'good' value for a baselayer, but it's not bad either considering the quality on offer here.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Rapha says wash it in a bag, or by hand, but I just put it in with lighter-coloured sports kit. I wore it with some new bib tights which left some dark marks, and they haven't come out... yet...
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
If a baselayer's purpose is to keep you comfortable under a jersey, free of clamminess, this does a superb job. You forget you're wearing it.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit, and softness. And the look. And how well it works. And...
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The sleeves are long enough to poke out under some jerseys. A sleeveless option is available.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It's an excellent baselayer, even if £55 is a lot to pay.
About the tester
I usually ride: Vitus Venon My best bike is: Paulus Quiros
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding
Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She joined road.cc in 2015 but first began working on bike magazines way back in 1991 as production editor on Mountain Biking UK, then deputy editor of MTB Pro, before changing allegiance to road cycling as senior production editor on Cycling Plus. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.