Rapha Pro Team Base Layers

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to get to for more than a month. Travel has conspired to cause me to use these base layers from Rapha ever increasingly without singing their praises. Base layers are an item that don’t require a sales pitch in fall, winter or early spring. But it can be hard to convince some riders that they can be handy even in late spring and through the summer. I’ll admit that until recently, I’d go baseless during the dog days of August.

Well, I did that until these arrived. I’ve done more riding in crazy-hot temperatures this year than any other year in my cycling life. Now, I’m aware that compared to some friends who live in Texas, I didn’t suffer day after day of 100-plus temps, but in July and August I had more than 10 days of riding where temps climbed north of 104, and considering that I live and ride in an area that rarely sees 90 degrees, I nearly wilted like a flower in a broiler.

I can say that what did help were these base layers from Rapha. The Pro Team Base Layers are cut from the lightest polyester and Lycra I’ve encountered in a cycling garment. The poly is used for the mesh front and back and because that weave doesn’t have a lot of stretch to it, Lycra is used for the shoulders and side panels to make sure that it fits.

The sleeveless version goes for $70 while its short-sleeve brother goes for $75 which is not quite double what I’ve paid for some other base layers. This would be about the point at which some readers will huff with outrage. Yeah, I get it, Rapha is expensive. And yes, there have been times when I’ve found it difficult to justify what they charge for some items, but this really isn’t one of those occasions.

It’s worth noting that thanks to the inscriptions “Merci Roubaix” which Franco Ballerini scrawled on his base layer as his farewell in the 2001 edition of the Hell of the North, and “Vous etes des assassins” which Octave Lapize spat at Henri Desgrange as he walked his bike up the Col d’Aubisque in 1910, these base layers possess an entertaining quality, a cool, that no other base layer I own can claim. So there’s that.

But what really makes these base layers worthwhile is their gossamer weight. Even on the hottest of days they help wick moisture away and have done much to help keep me cooler than I would have been sans base layer. I did try one day going without a base layer on a ride in Serbia where the temperature hit 42 degrees Celsius. The next day, yet another kiln of a day, I returned to the Rapha base layer and found myself more comfortable. Not truly comfortable, but more comfortable. I took to washing them in the sink after every blessed ride.

I should mention that these are meant to be “race fit.” That’s code for skin tight. And they sent me the medium. I don’t wear medium tops except when it comes to T-shirts. It’s a good thing they chose the size, because had I specified small, I wouldn’t have been able to pull these things on. I must also mention one detail that is less favorable, though, is that they have all the stretch of a pair of Levis. There have been a couple of times where I was so fatigued I actually struggled to get them off.

I doubt I’ll be wearing these base layers this coming November, but while the hot weather persists, they will continue to be my go-to base layers.

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8 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    Living in Sydney, we have hot and humid Summers and I wear base layers all year round. Assos has so far been my go to brand.
    I have to say that since I started paying attention to the smaller details of my cycling kit: socks, base layers and gloves, my riding has been a lot more comfortable.
    I’d wear this Rapha just for the Lapize quote!

  2. Bikelink

    I’ve tried this “base layer will make me cooler in hot weather” thing and doesn’t seem to work for me, unless there is some extra magic in certain ones (i.e., that it’s not a ‘class effect’). In particular I used Craft’s sleeveless base layer…great alone on the trainer in my basement, but I had to take it off mid ride from underneath my ‘lightweight’ Champ Sys team jersey on a superhot day and felt cooler while being able to feel the breeze more. Padraig..have you tried other super light base layers in hot weather and found them to not help while Rapha’s does (no need to name names, but I’m sure you’ve had experience here)? What jersey were you wearing over them..maybe this was the difference?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Bikelink: My experience is very similar to yours. I haven’t run across any other base layers that are this light. They may be out there, but the lightest I’d previously used was one from DeFeet from years ago and it did tend to help on hot days. That hasn’t been true for any of the others I own. A friend of mine has a fishnet base layer from Craft that he swears by on hot days, though. For him, the point is that it keeps the hot jersey off of his skin.

  3. Les Borean

    I use Craft’s sleeveless base layer. I don’t know the relative merits of the different brands, but an upper base layer works for me in hot weather. Without a base layer, I sweat and then get the chills when the air hits. “Chills” is not a good thing to happen in hot weather. With the base layer I remain dry and thus better adapt to the heat.

  4. Neil

    I suspect that the beneficial effects of base layers are mainly down to them being very tight fitting. If a garment is completely figure hugging and made out of the right sort of material it will facilitate the wicking and evaporation of sweat, rather than it pooling in air pockets between the skin and the clothes. But a very tight fitting single layer jersey will also do this, except it will do it better because there won’t be an additional layer on top slowing evaporation. More aero too! Admittedly not everyone wants to wear a jersey with a fit like a skin suit.

  5. Patrick

    Living in DC, with its high summer heat and humidity, I’ve tried a few (too many) sleeveless summer base layers: Assos, Castelli, Craft, and Rapha.

    The best value is certainly the Craft layer, which is much cheaper than the others, wicks well, but would work better if it fit more closely. The Castelli also works well but looks comical and really only fits with bibs — the length is too short for shorts and will ride up your torso. And, they included this annoying triangle of solid fabric at the collar area, right where you’d like fresh air to hit with a jersey partially unzipped. It’s a bit cheap looking and cheap feeling, but it does work.

    The Rapha and the Assos both fit great, with a snug “race” fit that basically disappears under the jersey. However, the Rapha layer just doesn’t seem to wick as well, even though it is “mesh-ier” than the Assos. The Assos fabric looks more solid but it’s still very lightweight. And as mentioned, the Rapha version has the ramblings of a lunatic printed on the chest, and it does look pretty cool. Like most of their gear, the Assos version is the superior combination of function and fit, and it demands a large price premium for that combination.

  6. Randall

    In Iraq, I have worn an Under Armour “HeatGear Compression” T-Shirt many times. Try 53C/128F, sunny, humid, and a Kevlar / ceramic vest. I was stunned that it made such a difference, I still smile when I put it on (and get a small shiver). These shirts are $25 on amazon.com, and I have to wonder how another product could be better, much less 3X better.

    Can anyone compare the UA products to cycling ones?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Randall: First, we all owe you countless beers for your service to the country. And given the circumstances of your usage of the Under Armor base layer, which is to say that your extreme makes our “epic” seem like warm soda, I’d say you’ve provided all the review of that stuff we need. I mean, 53C? Dude, that’s all we need to know. You’re made of stern stuff and if that helped you, it is likely to serve us just fine.

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