Review: Rapha Pro Team Thermal Base Layer ($100 USD)
It was the perfect testing day. The temperature at ride start was in the low thirties Fahrenheit but with wind chill added it felt like the low twenties (-7 C). I was back in ‘Coldest Ride Ever’ range. I slipped the new Rapha Pro Team Thermal Base Layer from its packaging and felt the material. Holding it up to the sunlight I could almost see the detail of my hand when holding it behind the fabric. A paper-thin base layer in twenty-degree weather? What could go wrong?
Over the past few years I have tried to dial in my off-season wares. In the early days of riding, when fresh out of college and broke, I once hammered within a group ride wearing a rain jacket underneath a long sleeve jersey. That was the best I could do given the circumstances. No wonder I would shiver for hours post ride.
Winter is always a difficult bargain for cyclists. Those seen pedaling down the road are humming to themselves, “This is still better than the trainer.” Those unseen are in the basement convincing them it’s actually summer or they’ve given up the fight and plopped down on the couch. Winter riding is a unique experience with real consequences. Under dress and one could find him in health concern if the conditions are right.
Typically I draw the line around twenty degrees. I conclude there is nothing to gain by going out in colder conditions. To me it is not worth tempting fate on a sneaky patch of ice. Winter is hardly the time motorists expect to see a bundled up cyclist. Finally there is the unending drone of wind. It finds all the holes in your gear, even spots that don’t have holes. Twenty degrees is when I begrudgingly descend into the basement to convince myself it’s summer riding season.
I have learned one hard fact about winter preparation. Start with keeping the neck warm and build the kit around it. For some reason this has allowed me to remain comfortable in adverse conditions. If the wind goes down the neck, the clock has started ticking on going numb.
The Rapha Pro Team Layer is deceptively warm. Its thin nature makes it easy to forget its presence. On today’s cold ride I opted for one other layer, a winter riding jacket I pull out only a few times a year. As I laced up my shoes indoors I did not feel overdressed. I was putting a lot of faith in the thermal layer.
Immediately I found comfort in the generous neck material. I could have easily pulled the attached neck gaiter over my head. I positioned it along the jaw line and over the bottom half of the ears; I may as well take advantage of it while I have it. I was still slightly concerned about the remarkable thinness of the garment. I concluded doubling up with a wool neck gaiter would seal the deal.
It is hard for me to go uphill immediately from the offices of creakybottombracket.com. That is, everywhere I turn is downhill. Naturally I would feel any breezy issue within the first few moments of the ride. I will be brief. I felt warm but neither hot nor cold. I loved the high neck immediately. The first turn of the ride took me into a remarkable headwind. For more than three miles I was subjected to a blustery Arctic breeze. I felt at home and comfortable. That is certainly a positive selling point for the base layer.
Shortly after making a turn into crosswind I actually felt an uptick in warmth. I was getting perspiration on the forearms. It was twenty degrees with the wind-chill, how was this possible? More turns and more wind revealed the warmth creeping up not only the arms but in the middle of the back. I could not have been better dressed for this ride. I slipped the neck of the base layer up a little higher to help with facial coverage. This was just what I needed to get outside.
Upon returning from the ride I concluded I could have stayed out all day despite being at the mercy of frozen water bottles. I find something peculiar about riding in the deep winter. I suspect I continue to search for the answer as to why riding in the cold is so alluring. Why else would I consider going out in frigid temperatures? The best part about my winter riding has just arrived with a high collar and the words Trouvee D’Arenberg printed on the front along with the five stars designated for the difficult sector. Maybe for the next few years I’ll lower the temperature scale just a little bit. I’ll convince myself it is worth it to ride in frigid conditions. I’ll convince myself to file these rides under ‘Bike Handling Practice.’ Having the Rapha Pro Team Thermal Base Layer just made deeper winter riding possible. I’m not complaining one bit about that.