by AJ Barlas
Base layers… for biking? Isn't that more of a ski thing? I'm sure some of you muttered something to that effect when you saw the title for this review, but hear me out. Three years ago I would have been caught thinking precisely the same thing. "Throw on a hoody, some moto pants and a cheap rain jacket and it'll be fine," I'd say, and do! But you won't catch me dead doing that in the last couple of seasons. Why?
Maybe this aging game is actually making me wiser (I won't go as far as to say smarter, after all, I do let the computers in my life do a lot more of my thinking than years ago). Perhaps I am more inquisitive today, or maybe I'm lazy? In either case, I've learned over the years that if I want to ride my bike throughout the winter months in the Great White North, the right equipment is required.
Just like having the right bike for the job can easily make or break the experience, so can the clothes on your back. A polyester jersey designed to be cool on warm days and a pair of moto pants aren't going to cut it a lot of the time—nor will that cotton hoody! This leads us to begin looking into base layers for that lightweight, comfortable and effective barrier from the cold.
Royal Racing is on the same page and has developed garments with those cold dreary days in mind. What's better, these garments integrate into the rest of the line with seemingly little effort. Throughout the next few Royal reviews we will put a range of products designed to take a beating in all conditions to the test. Can they stand up to the pressure? Read on to find out as we begin with the base layer.
3/4 Bib Base Layer
Wearing a shammy riding is a relatively new thing for me—one that has taken some time to adjust to and find something comfortable to take care of the nether-regions. It is important if you plan to spend any time pedaling about and grinding up climbs, to protect the bones and 'bits and pieces' in the under carriage—simply put, when you find a comfortable shammy, you will ride for longer and have more fun—the whole point really!
In the colder months though, you will need a little more coverage. Some will reach for their knee warmers, and I was one, but since I began riding in this 3/4 bib that world changed! It's warmer and more comfortable, partly due to the garment being all one piece, and partly due to the brushed back Tricot fabric—the next logical step from this for me, is an adult sized onsie—this bib is comfortable!
With cold weather riders in mind, the 3/4 Base Layer Bib was designed to be a little higher around the waist, sealing you from the elements well. For that additional sealing factor, I'll tuck the base layer jersey under the bib straps—yes, it looks ridiculous, but I want to ride and I'm not keen on freezing to death to do so. Warmth and comfort is key.
The 3/4 length ends at the bottom of the leg roughly where your regular knee armor would end, which for us was perfect and kept the knees warm and cozy. The inner diameter of the leg opening is lined with silicone to help keep the leg down while riding—and this is exactly what it did, flawlessly. I thought that the silicone strip may pull on the leg hairs, but never noticed anything of the sort.
The back of the bib has some interesting features as well. The mesh from the lumbar of your back up to your shoulder blades has worked well for releasing heat and preventing a filthy pimple fest at the end of the winter (well, we haven't got anything of the sort yet…). It also doubles to stabilize the straps of the bib, keeping it where it should be while you wrestle your bike up and down the trail. Lower down the back panel, on the waist, is a cleverly placed silicone gripper which assists very well in holding up the pants—even when they weigh more than you from all the water and dirt they have soaked up from a ride.
The shammy in the bib is Royal's internally developed Pro Chamois. While a bit thinner than an entry level shammy (8mm as opposed to their GI at 10mm), the shape and size of it makes it the most comfortable chamois that I've ever had the pleasure of sitting on. Size is important though—too big or too small and you will miss the protective, ergonomic elements, leaving you sore and riding for shorter lengths of time.
Base Membrane Series Jersey
Your upper base layer is equally important, if not more so. Sure you can double up jerseys, though there is a good chance you will begin to feel the weight of having a couple full size jerseys on. The Base Membrane Jersey is designed to wick sweat, keeping you dry underneath, while adding that additional layer of warmth in a slimmer, lightweight package. Royal is also doing their bit to help this rock we call earth, developing the base jersey with a material called Repreve. Repreve is made from recycled plastic bottles—every little bit helps!
The jersey does not contain any form of internal lining (like the brushed tricot in the bib), but it is easier to layer up top, and layer we did. It breathed remarkably well and wicked sweat with ease. At the end of rides the rest of the crew often began to get cold quickly, while I remained comfortable for a considerably longer period. Little to no sweat on the skin means a lot—there is a reason for all the expensive wicking, breathable garments out there.
The fit was perfect for my lanky frame. At 6'3" and a svelte 150lbs, I opted for the XL, mainly to be sure I got the length required. The length of both the arms and the waist were bang on for a base layer—ever so slightly shorter than the main jersey, but long enough to tuck into your short or pant (or bib). It wasn't loose, nor was it tight. For someone with a larger frame it would definitely be tight, but not like lycra hugging your entire body—we aren't superheros, were mountain bikers!
Both the bib and the jersey are constructed utilizing ergonomic patterns, which worked great, leaving us unrestricted, though holding us in, in all the right places. The stitching is a flat lock stitch, similar to most mid to high-end jerseys. This stitch equates to a comfortable, next to skin feel—no chafing or unwanted rubbing to be found here.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Royal base membrane garments worked flawlessly in all conditions, and they've seen it all. Rides have varied from 28ºF(-2ºC) to 45ºF(7ºC), dry and sunny to torrential rain lasting days. I have been nothing but surprised after and during each ride. Overall, the Royal Base Layer gear has made rides even more enjoyable than the norm for this time of year—even when raining cats and dogs!
Fit of clothing is even more personal than parts on the bike, and this will no doubt play a role in rider's opinions of the base layer. Try before you buy, but if you can't, Royal has a great sizing chart on their website that will give you a great idea of what size you need.
Overall, the Base Membrane 3/4 bib and jersey exceeded expectations and made me less concerned with cold weather and more excited for rides when the opportunity arrises. If you're letting the winter blues get you down and keep you off the bike, you need to look into a quality base layer. We highly recommend Royal's lineup.
For more on the Base Membrane series, visit www.royalracing.com.