By Colin Dennis
During adverse weather conditions in an aerobic sport such as cycling, the 3 in 1 layering up system of clothing is recognised as the most versatile way to:
- Staying warm
- Remaining comfortable
- Maintaining performance
The three basic elements to layering up are:
- Inner baselayer
- Thermal layer
- Protective outer shell
Part 1. The Baselayer
The baselayer is the layer of clothing that sits next to the skin and the purpose of a good baselayer is two-fold:
- An additional layer to help keep you warm
- To keep you dry and comfortable by transferring (wicking) moisture away from the skin surface out to the next layer of clothing.
Fabrics and design
Modern, performance baselayers are made from two distinct fabrics.
- Man-made Polyester based fabrics
- Natural Merino wool
- Some baselayers may incorporate a mix of both Polyester and Merino wool
Looking through a microscope, the fine hair-like fibres of man-made, Polyester fabrics, appear like tiny hooks. These hooks lay next to the skin and are the important wicking fibres that help draw moisture away from the skin.
Polyester retains much of its thermal properties when wet and has a high-warmth-to-weight ratio.
With all that sweat building up, the pong has to go somewhere. Manufacturers often add microscopic silver particles or skin-friendly additives in which to disseminate unwelcome body odours.
Polyester based baselayers generally offer good value for money.
Merino wool acts like a natural phenomenon. The tiny strands that make up Merino wool are soft and very fine to provide a very high weight to warmth ratio.
Merino wool is also excellent at regulating body temperature by a natural process of transferring moisture away from the skin at one end and repelling water at the other.
Sixty Million New Zealand sheep can’t be wrong! Merino wool retains much of its thermal qualities when wet and enjoys a warmth-to-weight ratio, baa-none! Merino wool clothing can be expensive.
Merino wool also contains natural traces of Lanolin in its fibres. Lanolin fights off nasty odours allowing Merino wool baselayers to be worn for more than one ride before washing – ideal for bike touring, expeditions, and students!
Weights and measures
Baselayers come in various thicknesses and weights. In its simplistic form; the colder the temperature, the thicker the baselayer. A performance cycling baselayer should be long enough in the arms to cover the wrists, and longer at the rear than the front to keep the lower back area covered when cycling.
Taking into account how quickly we warm up when cycling, too thick baselayer a may not be the best option when training hard.
Long sleeve baselayers will help keep you warmer in the coldest of weathers, but quite often a short sleeve base is enough if used in conjunction with a good mid (thermal) layer.
Crew neck baselayers are the most commonly used style for cycling, high collared roll-necks with a zip are available, but from a cyclist’s point of view, a crew neck is generally enough to keep you warm as well as allowing for good ventilation.
A baselayer works best where it touches
To effectively transfer moisture (sweat) away from the skin surface to the next clothing layer, a baselayer should sit close and comfortable as possible to the skin enabling moisture to be drawn, or wicked away through the fibres of the fabric.
Remember: the all-important wicking process of a baselayer helps regulate your core temperature as well as keeping you dry and comfortable.
Avoid that cold and clammy feeling
Materials such as cotton, or cotton mixes, breathe extremely well, but they absorb moisture, rather than wick moisture away – not good!
For this soggy reason it is recommended never to use a cotton T-shirt as a baselayer, regardless of the time of year.
Leaving the baselayer on, you should be able to remove either the mid, or shell layers depending on the following factors:
- Your work rate
- If the current weather conditions allow
- You’ve got room on your person to safely stash a layer
The true value of the 3 in 1 layering system comes into practice when you start to mix-and-match the layers, for instance:
Ten miles into your wet training ride it’s still precipitating down, but the ambient temperature has risen a degree or two and you’re getting pretty warm.
You pull over, strip off the mid layer and somehow stash it into one of your over loaded jersey pockets. Protective shell back on, you’re now cooler and can perform better, but you’re still protected against the wind and rain.
You reach you favourite café stop. This is the time to put your thermal layer back on. Protective outer shell garments have only limited thermal qualities and may well be wet on the inside from sweating. Dry the jacket on the back of the chair while you enjoy your mug of hot chocolate
Ten miles into your training ride the rain clouds disappear completely, the sun smiles down on you and off comes the outer shell layer, enabling your body to breathe and you to perform better.
The common denominator here is that your baselayer remains in situ in both scenarios, making the baselayer one of the most versatile of garments you possess.
- The baselayer is the starting point for you layering up system and is important for wicking away moisture and controlling body temperature.
- At least two good quality baselayers should form the basis of your cycling wardrobe: one short and one long sleeved should do it.
- Baselayers work best where they touch the skin, close fitting but not tight is the fit you’re looking for.
- Whether you choose man-made Polyester or Merino wool, the decision may come down to personal preference or cost, but good cycling baselayers constructed from either fabric will perform perfectly well to enhance your comfort and performance