the poor relation in the world of cycling apparel is, i would tender, the unfortunate, unloved black sheep of the family, the undervest. or, as us style icons prefer to call it, the base layer. hanging out slightly longer than absolutely necessary midst the wooden tables at debbie's is not an activity designed to alert others to the quality of the garment under a stylish jersey. there's every likelihood such would be seen as perverse behaviour, and certainly not one becoming of a lady. therefore, though discussions over froth supping range from the germane to the undoubtedly bizarre, i cannot recall any ever centring around the quality of one's undergarment.
yet few, if any, would deny ownership of such an essential garment. i did, many years ago, ride with a chap who swore by the efficacy of the cotton t-shirt, preferaby one decorated with cycling related graphics; campagnolo would be a good start, though in his case a more pertinent slogan would have been 'i'm not fat, i'm a sprinter'. but cotton t-shirts are hardly in the technical sphere, whatever the screenprint inhabiting the front.
though cotton has its thermal properties in the face of adverse weather conditions, it is not only not renowned for its wicking attributes, but has a tendency to acquire not nice niffs in a very short space of time. add to that, it doesn't take long to find out out how a sponge feels when immersed in water. in short, wearing a t-shirt under a cycle jersey is not to be recommended.
but let's for a moment, suspend reality and pretend that we live in a climate where heat is refelected from each passing gorse bush. where the sun is clearly visible at every angle of the sextant, and the west of scotland is a location much visited for its sun, sea and sand. yes, i realise it's entirely fictional, but bear with me. in hot, sunny conditions such as those hypothesised above, why on earth would anyone wear a baselayer in the first place? cosiness is surely guaranteed by that flaming orb 93 million miles away, and all would be clamouring to order the jerseys described as summer or lightweight.
however, that would be to ignore, dismiss or remain ignorant of another salient feature apertaining to the garment. those of a squeamish disposition should probably close their eyes. suppose one of those chutes should befall you on the sunday ride, or perchance, you choose a highly frictional chair at the coffee shop patio. the movement existing between outer and inner layers will absorb that which may cause irritation or road rash, thus ensuring we all survive to fight another day. that, in my opinon cannot be other than a good thing.
but, back to reality. though the salving properties of an appropriate baselayer can still be relied upon even in a chilly disposition, the principal reason for wearing a baselayer is for a modicum of insulation allied to those wicking properties previously mentioned, neither of which ought to be underestimated.
till now, i have entrusted all to merino wool baselayers of varying thickness of knit depending on ambient temperature. the reasons are twofold: the warming factor has been already discussed; the second - a propensity to remain as fresh as a daisy for days on end - (i have investigated this purely in the interests of science). merino has been below all my jerseys for more years than i care to remember, though i have refrained from the discussion of same in polite company. but as of rapha's release of the spring/summer range a month or so ago, there is a new kid on the block.
rapha's pro team baselayer resembles nothing more than a string vest, decorated with the words vous etes des assassins attributed to octave lapize on the sleeveless version, or merci roubaix, franco ballerini's 2001 farewell message in the velodrome at roubaix on the short sleeve version. this is a part of the spring/summer range, so long sleeves need not apply. according to rapha's website, the garment is intended for hot conditions and elite-level racing. at this point, i must put my hand up and admit to a degree of impostership, since islay sports neither hot conditions, nor would i know elite-level racing conditions if my life depended on them.
however, the sleeveless version, assuming a few days facial growth, confers a modicum of lion king (by which i mean mario cipollini) associations in poor light conditions. it also owns a couple of the features experienced by wearing merino, namely breathability and moisture wicking. side panels of lycra make sure that it hugs every last centimetre of that finely honed physique, a feature that might just give cause for concern under certain circumstances. rapha's web page offers, in bold print, the admonishment that 'the pro team base layer sizing is race-tight. please select your regular jersey size, or if you want a more relaxed fit, move up one size'
the rigours of reviewing product bring with them untold baggage and conditions that one would not meet in every day life; i feel i'd be doing you all a disservice if i had relented and opted for the relaxed fit, for i know the majority are possessed of elite-level skills and aspirations. thus, the sample that slid easily from its diaphanous presentation bag was of the figure-hugging variety. placing over the head is the least troublesome stage of operation; popping both arms through the missing sleeves was not the easiest thing i've ever done, not least because i worried the entire vest might rend asunder in the process. i'd be lying if i said taking it off was any easier.
and when rapha say 'race tight', they really mean tight.
however, tight does not mean discomfort, and assuming you do not have bumpy bits where bumpy bits should not be, the vision in the mirror may not be entirely unflattering. and contrary to the impressions foisted upon me by the reality of race-tight, over the course of several bike rides, it actually turned out to err on the rather fabulous side. though no-one other than mrs washingmachinepost will ever read octave's admonishment, i can see rapha's string vest replacing those short-sleeve merinos from now till cold time. i may even take a serious look at a 'merci roubaix' to alternate during my elite-level trips to the coffee shop.
rapha's pro team base layers are available in xs all the way to xxl, only in white and with either short sleeve (£45) or sleeveless (£40) versions from rapha's website and select rapha stockists.
posted monday 9 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................