a cycling colleague from a number of years past was convinced of the merits of wearing a cotton t-shirt as a baselayer under his cycling jersey. no matter the fact that cotton has a deep propensity to not only retain moisture but continually remind you of the fact, every time we went out cycling, there would be that white cotton t-shirt. at the time, the options were somewhat limited, mostly confined to some form of polyester or polypropylene, the very man-made fibres that would wick perspiration to the regions you would most prefer and usually keep you cosy in the process, but at the cost of being somewhat on the aromatic side.
the advent of merino as the ideal natural material for use as a baselayer ticked pretty much every box: wicking, warming and naturally constituted to prevent much in the way of despicable odours. since merino as a baselayer fabric became common currency, i have rarely worn anything else under my cycle jerseys.
certainly not a cotton t-shirt.
however, apparel development continues apace in pretty much all spheres of outdoor activity in an effort to keep us more comfortable on the bike, on foot or while climbing ruddy great hills or mountains. i recently had the good fortune to review rapha's pro-team softshell which offered a different perspective on the art of keeping warm and dry. despite years of breathable waterproofs, it's still pretty much the case that few, if any garments adhering to this format manage to successfully encompass both features. therefore rapha and others have figured perhaps they ought better to concentrate on managing the middle ground between warm and dry without necessarily specifying one or t'other.
based on the apparent success of this approach, rapha have now released a pro-team softshell baselayer for two apparently good reasons. firstly, it matches well as the layer below their new pro-team softshell outer. and secondly it effectively allows regular cycle club members the option of accessing at least a portion of the benefits offered by a softshell outer, while still wearing their club jersey.
despite the inclemency of the current weather system affecting the inner hebrides, now seemed an opportune time to give the pro-team softshell baselayer a bit of a hard time. very much out of my comfort zone, i opted to make the baselayer the sole undergarment to the previously mentioned pro-team softshell outerwear, augmented only by a pair of the latest pro-team armwarmers. experience told me that there would be greater prudence in also wearing at least a short-sleeve jersey, but that hardly seemed the best means of testing the baselayer's mettle.
as pointed out above, and in keeping with most of scotland's west coast, the gales are blowing, the sleet is falling and the temperature is looking at the underneath of zero degrees.
it is worthy of my mentioning that armwarmers, kneewarmers and baselayer all form a part of rapha's pro-team range, and thus take the definition of skin-tight to its ultimate conclusion. that baselayer forms a second skin, but at least its stretchiness somewhat eases the contortions of putting it on in the first place. in my case, i'd to remove my spectacles in order to do the least amount of damage pulling the admirably high collar over my head. the front hem features a short, curved panel of lycra which ought to sit well with a pair of bibshorts. if i have a single pertinent criticism of the garment it's that i'd really rather it was at least a centimetre or two longer, because it barely fitted inside the top of a pair of sky logo'd team-pro shorts.
oddly for a baselayer, the seams atop the shoulders are taped on the outside, while there is a lighter fabric under the arms to aid cooling and flexibility. it also features a similar dwr (durable water repellent) treatment as the pro-team softshell, giving credence to its use under a club jersey and offering weatherproofing not usually associated with the genre.
as to the armwarmers, if i thought it something of a struggle to don the baselayer, the armwarmers brought an altogether different level of faff. take my word for it; if you're wearing them with the softshell baselayer, put them on first. the baselayer features longer than usual sleeves which hug those bulging biceps. rolling up the sleeves to pull the armwarmers all the way up, is one of the most frustrating experiences i've ever had. the forearm portion of the armwarmers is fashioned from lycra, tight enough to all but prevent the hem making it past my hands. don't get me wrong; these are very finely sculpted to fit the arms absolutely perfectly and in use they're impeccable. however, having seen professionals remove their armwarmers during competition, i figure they may struggle to emulate that manoeuvre with these. though, when removed, they easily fit in a rear jersey pocket.
as to the kneewarmers, they slid on very easily, but i fear i may have erred in requesting the medium size, since even when pulled on as far as they'd go, it was still all but impossible to lose the crumpled kneecap look. however, when pedalling, they proved more than equal to the task of keeping my lower legs in the land of the living when paired with those team sky bibshorts.
the softshell baselayer proved itself to be every bit the ideal partner for its outerwear sibling. despite (galeforce) windchill of a few degrees below zero, i was never cold other than a few chilly moments after setting out for the day. i'd no idea that softshell fabric could provide such excellent thermal properties in this fashion. the cut is very pro-team. despite having forfeited an additional jersey, it kept me cosy and was a lot softer and flexible in practice than i'd expected.
however, the real test of its abilities were shown on the following morning. if you read my review of tesco's waterproofing liquids yesterday, you'd know that having supposedly 'proofed' my orginal rapha softshell, i wore it in galeforce driven sleet and less than amenable temperatures. in short, i got soaked by very cold winds and precipitation, leading to the early curtailment of the sunday ride. i genuinely believe that had i not been wearing the softshell baselayer, 'neath jacket and sportwool jersey, i may have enjoyed the onset of hypothermia prior to reaching the sanctuary of home.
sadly, i'm not really sure that's an exaggeration.
once the jacket was thoroughly soaked, the sportwool jersey had little option to follow suit. had i been wearing my more regular long-sleeve merino baselayer, it would have been next in line, and probably long before i reached home. the softshell was barely damp, providing the ideal insulating layer to keep body and soul together.
and for that, i am truly thankful.
(though the development cycles for each are possibly occupying differing trajectories, it's a bit of a shame that the softshell baselayer cannot currently be obtained with that rather striking data print released only a few days ago.)
rapha's softshell baselayer is available in light grey or black, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at a cost of £80. bear in mind that this is a very close-fitting garment. if you have bulges you'd prefer not to make public, consider moving up a size or two (medium size reviewed). the softshell armwarmers cost £50 per pair in sizes small, medium and large, as are the kneewarmers at a cost of £55.
tuesday 24 february 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................