Best cycling base layers: A buyer's guide

(Image credit: mike prior)

The humble base layer is a fundamental member of any cyclist’s wardrobe and we all wear them, but are we getting the most out of them?

There’s more to this commonplace garment than initially meets the eye, so here’s what you need to know.

CyclingBase layers: Fit

Like everything in road cycling, a performance base layer should sit close to the skin. Its tight fitting properties make it far more comfortable when your working hard and sweating lots. Should you have the misfortune of falling off, it plays a part in preventing road rash.

However, if you’re commuting or a more casual rider, you can probably get away with a looser fit.

A tight fit will also make the product more comfortable and less prone to rubbing or chafing as it should sit tight to the skin and not move.

>>> 15 tips for keeping warm on a winter bike ride

Necklines are particular important, too. Some will have a low cut neck to avoid discomfort and rubbing. Some heavy-duty thermals will come a high neck, which will add warmth.

Checking the length of both the arms and the torso is also important and a base layer should be generous in both areas. This should mean that your wrists are covered and there are no gaps between your base layer and your bib shorts.

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Cyclingbase layers: Long sleeves, short sleeves… no sleeves?

This is a big question for base layer lovers and the answer is largely dictated by the season.

In the winter months, you’re definitely going to want to prioritise long sleeves, purely for the additional coverage that they offer.

>>> Dos and don'ts of winter training (video)

If you like the added comfort offered by base layers then short sleeved, or even no sleeved options, are great for the warmer months. Plus they can be useful if the mornings are chilly.

Cycling base layers: Our pick of the best

MAAP Seamless Base layer Tee – 9/10

Read more: MAAP Seamless Tee base layer

Warm enough for winter, slim enough for summer and it packs a big technical punch. It's safe to say we're big fans of MAAP's Seamless Base Layer tee.

Read more:

Café du Cycliste Cosette Ceramic base layer – 9/10

Read more: Café du Cycliste Cosette Ceramic base layer review

This is probably one of the most comfortable base layer's we've worn. It sits a little looser but it's super soft, plus it has a high neck to keep the wind out and you super snug.

Read more: Café du Cycliste

Altura Thermocool Long Sleeve base layer – 8/10

Read more: Altura Thermocool Long Sleeve base layer review

This is another seamless, very tight fitting option and it's superbly comfortable as a result. It's pretty technical, too, and will keep you warm and comfortable on the bike.

Buy now: Altura Thermocool Long Sleeve base layer

B'twin 700 Warm Weather Mesh base layer – 8/10

B’Twin 700 Warm Weather Mesh BaseLayer

Read more: B'Twin 700 Warm Weather Mesh base layer review

It's a lightweight option that's mostly designed to provide comfort and minor insulation on warm rides. Happily, the fabric has a decent stretch to it and and it's soft – although perhaps not as soft as options from more premium brands. That said, it's really the price that's drawing people to this product.

Buy now: B'Twin 700 mesh base layer from Decathlon for £14.99

Pearl Izumi Transfer Wool base layer – 10/10

Read more: Pearl Izumi Transfer wool base layer review

First and foremost, the Pearl Izumi Transfer Wool base layer has a great fit. It's cut specific to riding a bike, with features like rotated arms.

It's also jammed packed with test-winning, technical features, including anti-odour and great wicking capabilities.

Buy now: Pearl Izumi Transfer Wool base layer from Evans Cycles for £35.99

OneTen Merino base layer - 9/10

Read more: OneTen Merino base layer review

The OneTen base layer has a great fit and a nice high neck line so you don't get any draughts sneaking in. It's also made of Merino so it's pleasantly stink-resistant.

Watch: Buyer's guide to cycling winter clothing

Cyclingbase layers: Materials

This is one of the more important questions to ask when buying a base layer. The material will affect a products comfort, how much smells and, more importantly, how warm it will keep you.

Basically, there are two kinds of materials that a baselayer can be made off – either man made or natural.

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If you’d rather go au natural then you’ll be looking to get a product made of Merino wool, primarily coming from New Zealand or Australia.

Merino wool has heaps of great attributes, which makes it an awesome fabric for base layers. For starters, it’s largely stink-free, meaning you’ll get more rides out of it for each wash. This obviously has benefits if you’re riding lots, or more than once each day.

It’s also fast drying, which is great because unlike man made products, it doesn’t wick sweat away particularly well and can become very damp, very quickly. Happily, it’s a great insulator, though, even if it is wet.

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Man-made materials are typically the opposite. They wick sweat away well, but tend to be smellier and need washing more.

Both merino and man-made base layers have different grades of thickness so you can get the right one for you. If you tend to get very warm when riding then naturally makes sense to get a thinner layer and vice versa.

With so many options available, it makes sense have several layers than you can circulate, depending on the weather.