A base layer is a base layer right? You buy one, you wear it – job done.
The thing is, buying a base layer needs a little more thought, and should be chosen with care, as it’s performance will affect the jersey or jacket you wear over it. Base layers aren’t just a t-shirt or vest you quickly throw on first thing – the premium ones are a highly technical garment.
The main thing a base layer should do is keep you comfortable. Not in the way it fits, although that is a very important part (we’ll dwell on this later), but in how it makes you feel. In the summer, it should keep you dry and cool, and in the winter, dry and warm.
When I started cycling in the 1980s, there wasn’t much choice when it came to base layers for cycling. You’d just wear a cotton t-shirt in the summer to stop chafing and a perhaps an acrylic thick long sleeved top in the winter, mainly for warmth. Both choices saw me soaked with sweat, and if I stopped, cold could set in, even on a Summer’s day if it was windy. Hardly comfortable.
Now we’re well into the 21st century, the choice for cyclists is bewildering. And the majority of base layers on offer, perform far better than the garments I wore as a teenager.
Modern day cyclists now have a choice of materials, from natural fibres like merino and bamboo, through to man-made synthetics such as polyester and polypropylene. Each material has their pros and cons, depending on the type of intended activity. If you’re walking out in the hills you need a base layer to perform differently than if you were cycling hard at 20mph+ for instance.
Over the years, Parentini have worked with a few different materials, but now know what performs the best to keep you comfortable when cycling.
So what is the ideal cycling base layer then?
All Parentini base layers are made from polypropylene. This synthetic material is the ideal fabric for high energy sports where athletes sweat a lot. The material doesn’t absorb sweat easily, which means the base layer is left dryer. Sweat evaporation is cleverly achieved by having a textured weave, transporting the sweat from your body, through it’s fibres to the outer layer. The result leaves you a lot dryer. And although some materials like merino feel warmer to the touch, if you’re core body is dry, then you will feel warm or cool.
Now to aid the transportation of the sweat to your outer layers, you need to look at the fit, as I mentioned earlier. The base layer needs to fit like a second skin, so that all your skin is touching the fabric, enabling all your sweat to wick away. In order to achieve this type of fit, Parentini have blended polypropylene with the stretchy qualities of elastane. The result is a garment that when you take it out of it’s packaging, looks too small to wear! But trust me, it will stretch and fit you – providing you get the right size in the first place. Because of the elastane, you don’t have to worry about choosing an ideal size – Parentini base layers only come in one size fits all!
The only disadvantage to polypropylene in the past is that it retained some of the smell of your sweat, even after washing. That stinky drawback has been addressed by Parentini, by adding carbon to their base layer fabric. Odours are created by bacteria, and as carbon is naturally anti-bacterial these foul odours are kept to a minimum. The addition of carbon also has another performance advantage – it also helps to transport your sweat to the outer layer. As I mentioned, these base layers are pretty technical.
However, even Parentini can’t address the other drawback to polypropolene. It melts at high temperatures! So you have to be very careful when launder it – cold temperatures on a delicate cycle, paying careful attention to how you dry it. If you tumble dry, keep to a low temperature and a reduced cycle time.
Which one to choose?
So now you know what makes the ideal base layer, all you need to do is choose a weight and style. Parentini offer their base layers in different types, ideal for different climates and seasons. All feature an anatomic cut with a dropped back, to achieve the perfect fit when on the bike – resulting in a garment you forget you’re wearing.
The open weave mesh vests and T-shirts, are perfect for summer days, the open fabric allowing the body to cool quickly, and wick sweat effectively to the outer layer, to be evaporated.
The short sleeved T-Shirt, is the ideal choice for your cycling wardrobe, perfect for riding from Spring through to Autumn.
Winter riding means you have to look for heavier fabrics, higher collars and long sleeves, to keep the winter chill at bay. Parentini have a choice of two featuring all these properties – the heaviest sporting a high turtle neck with zip fastening.
The full range of Parentini base layers can be found here