Lusso's Bioactive Thermal Polo Base Layer is a toasty-warm and better-smelling-than-many choice for your thermal layer. With Science™ behind it, you'll smell better, for longer, while being warmer.
- Pros: Merino-like warmth without the price tag, less whiffy than normal polyprop, made in the UK
- Cons: Snug polo neck might not be for everyone
Hailing from a country where, apocryphally, sheep outnumber people twenty to one, I've always been partial to a bit of baa-baa couture. New Zealanders, along with British hill country farmers and cyclists, have long known about wool's amazing properties, and in the last decade there's been an explosion in the adoption of merino for base and thicker layers.
The 'problems' with wool are the price and durability: there's no escaping the fact that wool garments cost roughly two to three times what synthetic ones do, and in my experience don't last as long – even high-end stuff from the likes of IceBreaker. I have Helly Hansen polypropylene baselayers that simply refuse to die after 20 years of use and thousands of washes, while my fine (and pricey) merino baselayers are typically dead after three to four years of regular use as activewear.
On the other hand, the smell-proof properties of wool are legend. I can usually get a week's worth of wear out of a merino baselayer for day-to-day winter living (not exercising) before it needs a wash – contrast that with a single day for a synthetic, or cotton.
Where the Lusso Bioactive Base Layer delivers is with the likely longevity of polypropylene alongside the warmth of merino – and, critically, much better smell-retarding properties.
Manchester-based Lusso uses a fabric technology called Trevira Bioactive, which embeds tiny particles of silver into the fibre itself. This makes the anti-bacterial action a permanent feature of the garment, silver ions killing off bacteria cells before they can multiply. Trevira being a German company with over 50 years' expertise, the function of the Bioactive fabric is backed up by much Science™.
The feel of the fabric is a brushed fleece against the skin, with a traditional fine-weave outer side. The seams aren't flatlocked except around the neck, but I didn't detect any scratchiness. The hem is low enough to tuck properly into even low-cut bib shorts, and is longer at the rear to keep your lower back warm when in the drops. The cut of the sleeves isn't so aggressive as to feel restrictive when standing upright, as some 'performance' baselayers do, but things do feel nicer when on the bike leaning forwards with arms outstretched.
During the process of wearing for a few days to assess the general-purpose body odour retention-rejection properties, I found the Bioactive to be a pretty comfortable day-to-day baselayer. Worn under a normal shirt, the extra length means it stays tucked in to keep breezes at bay. Certainly it was a match for a decent 200gsm+ merino in terms of how warm I felt. Smell-wise, it performed better than a cotton shirt and definitely better than a normal polyester baselayer. I wouldn't say it was on par with a merino top, but even with a few daily bouts of enthusiastic snow clearing thrown in for good measure, the Bioactive wizardry definitely made a difference.
I've a 37in chest which puts me at the upper end of Lusso's 'small' sizing, and with a Small on test I can say it was pretty snug. Surprisingly, the sleeve length was just about right, which for me is a miracle in a smaller size as my arms run approximately 2in longer than the norm for my height.
The fit of the high collar's polo neck was spot on too – snug enough to keep chilly breezes at bay, yet loose enough to not feel oppressive when working hard, which is important as there's no zip to aid cooling. I'm 74kg and 6ft tall; I'd say if you prefer a looser fit or are even a wee bit chunkier you'd want to size up. The polo neck is probably the only design feature likely to divide opinion; some love them, some can't stand them. I've had polos with zips, but these tend to be thicker than's comfortable and scratchy to boot.
On the bike in a windy 6°C, underneath the rather excellent Lusso Aqua Extreme Repel Jacket, the Bioactive Base Layer disappeared. Meaning I got on with suffering through what became a rather unmemorable three-hour ride, without having any sense of cold or clamminess to add to my dark thoughts. This might sound like damning with faint praise, but far from it. On a ride with several prolonged steep climbs out of the prevailing wind, had there been any tangible discomfort or performance letdown it would have been amplified by my pre-existent misery.
In general, I found the baselayer to be both warm and good at wicking sweat away. Obviously there are a number of factors influencing the perception of moisture transfer, but I felt the Bioactive performed on par with a decent 150-200gsm merino.
My go-to baselayer the last few years is a 150gsm merino of nondescript parentage, with long enough arms to suit. However, being light and wool means it's now very much on the '30 minutes alone with an enthusiastic puppy' side of new. Costing £40, it's not a bit of clothing I'm keen to be replacing annually, so I'm hoping that the Lusso Bioactive baselayer will stand the test of time and many washings, while retaining the smell-proof properties that are its raison d'être.
I've tested and then used weekly a number of Lusso items over the last five years, all still looking in great nick. I have no reason to believe the Bioactive Thermal Polo will be any less durable.
Commendably warm, snug fitting and smell-proof to a degree, with a long sleeve and back cut
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Lusso Bioactive Thermal Polo Base Layer
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the product is for
It's for people who want to stay really warm, and smell good doing it.
Trevira Bioactive stops the bacteria multiplying, meets the highest claims for hygiene and reduces the formation of odours.
Trevira Bioactive is not harmful in dermalogical terms. Neither is it's action affected by frequent washing or wear.
Bacteria produces waste products which are responsible for perspiration odour in textiles.
The growth of bacteria is checked, result the perspiration odour is reduced
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
* High Neck, Long Back
* Moisture Transfer
* Good Insulation
* Body Fit
* Made in Manchester
Very well-put-together, as with all Lusso kit.
Warm and wicks sweat, and doesn't grow smells when worn all day.
Still looks like new.
It's snug, but very well proportioned.
Impressive sleeve length and hem, sizing is accurate for a close fit. I'd recommend if you want a looser fit to go larger.
Light for what it's doing.
There are cheaper synthetic baselayers, but the performance here compares well with merino, and against those it's great value.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Still looks like new.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really well – hard to fault it.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The long cut of the back and front – nice to have gaps kept at bay.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing in particular.
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 overall score
At £35 there are cheaper baselayers, especially synthetic ones. The great fit, odour-preventing tech and lovely soft-yet-breathable/wicking fabric help make this a very good buy.
About the tester
I usually ride: Merida Ride 5000 Disc My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking, Dutch bike pootling