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.