Of all the pieces in a cyclist’s wardrobe, the item that is most often overlooked, the piece that is most likely to be underestimated for its value, is the base layer. Done well, a base layer can make hot days feel like spring and wintry days as pleasant as sitting on your couch. I’ve recently been wearing two base layers—one with long sleeves and one that is sleeveless—from Gore that feature Windstopper barriers.
I’ve tried a fair number of wind-blocking base layers over the years and they have been uniform in their effectiveness. But they’ve all had one serious liability: Once you get good and sweaty, they cling to you and feel rather clammy. It’s not exactly an endearing quality.
I need to back up a second. Ideally, when dressing for cold temperatures, it’s most helpful to have any wind block layer laminated into the outer-most garment so that warm air can be held in the loft of the inner layers. That is without doubt the best way to layer for riding in cool weather. So, that said, why even bother with a base layer that puts the wind block mere millimeters from your skin? Well, I’ve learned over the years that these things can be handy for rides where you really don’t need that outer layer, but every now and then a descent or an open farm field the wind howls across can make a long-sleeve jersey and traditional base layer not quite enough. I’ve done races where I didn’t want to wear a jacket or vest, but needed an extra little something for that first hour. Bingo.
And then there’s the simple fact that I’ve been sent some really attractive long-sleeve jerseys by Rapha and Road Holland, and I’d rather show them off than some jacket that’s going to make me too warm. Most wind-blocking base layers will add another three to five degrees in range to your traditional LS jersey with base layer.
Now here’s where the long-sleeve Gore Windstopper base layer is different from every other wind-block base layer, such as Castelli’s: The Gore adds a thin layer of polyester between you and the Windstopper. At low heart rates, low enough that you don’t sweat much, wind-blocking base layers are perfectly comfortable. The trouble is once you go hard and start sweating, they cling to you like Saran wrap. It’s kinda gross, if you’ve got the presence of mind to think about it. Usually I found that I was just uncomfortable, but I’d experience a full-body yuck as I pulled it off later. To combat this, I’d often add yet another ultra-thin base layer, at which point you start wondering if maybe the vest wasn’t a better idea, but for years my team vests were pocketless and the thought of fishing under the vest to get to food kept me using wind-block base layers in those early spring races.
By adding that thin layer of polyester to the Windstopper, Gore’s base layer feels like every other base layer I own, but when I get sweaty, it doesn’t cling to me. The Windstopper layer is added to both the arms and the chest, but just the half that faces the wind, so overall it remains an incredibly breathable base layer. While I’ve got other long sleeve base layers, since first using this, I have to admit I have yet to use one of the others. The single biggest factor tipping matters in its favor is that I can go downhill without suddenly being chilled to the bone.
Gore offers the base layer in short-sleeve and sleeveless versions. While I haven’t tried the short-sleeve version, it seems to make a bit more sense to me because if conditions are cold enough to warrant the Windstopper layer, then I’m going to be wearing arm warmers with that short-sleeve jersey and I’m going to want coverage for the tops of my arms, that little bit left bare between the end of the base layer and the start of the arm warmer. That said, I have used the sleeveless version and have found it great for those days where a short-sleeve jersey, arm warmers and a traditional base layer just isn’t quite enough.
As base layers go, these things aren’t cheap. The long sleeve has a suggested retail of $79.99, while the sleeveless variety is only $59.99. That said, the wonder of Google can deliver one of these devices to your doorstep at a pretty healthy discount. Unfortunately, the depth of the discount available online makes this a product that isn’t terribly beneficial for bike shops to carry—who can compete with those prices. And ultimately, that is the conundrum that Gore faces. They really aren’t that well known for their cycling apparel and unless bike shops really get behind them and stock their stuff, that isn’t likely to change.
Still, the advantage may be theirs; I can’t think of a cyclist who couldn’t benefit from owning one these.