A great number of people I speak to seem to be baffled by the use of a base layer, either they have not experienced one or are under some misconception that they are just another way for clothing companies to eek more cash out of a transaction. Among them I tend to see standard cotton tshirts being worn, along with complaints of sweatiness in hot weather, along with difficulty in removing leather trousers which people always view as one of the major gripes with fully protective gear. So what if I can convince them that there is another, easier way?
Actually, base layers have been around for years, but thanks now to the vast range of technical fabrics available you can find one to match almost any size, in a massive selection of fittings, from skin tight to comfortable. They are available in cheap ranges right through to the very high end, high spec and high priced end of the market, one thing is for sure though, you could easily find a base layer to suit you and it will help to keep you more comfortable.
The main issue we face in being so exposed is that weather conditions have an adverse effect in two directions, firstly, when the mercury drops and it gets cold outside it can be very difficult to maintain a decent overall body temperature. This usually leads to pounding on layer after layer in order to keep warm, something that is usually advised as the best way to achieve the desired result, what we don't always know though is that these layers need to be able to breathe in order to let of excess heat otherwise we produce sweat, this then attracts cold and defeats the purpose.
Similarly, when the sun is out we tend to strip back, sleeveless tshirts under leather, boxer shorts, all to try and capture what little breeze we attract while fully kitted up. The net result here though is that we sweat through the heat of the day, coupled with the exertion of riding the motorcycle, at the end of a pleasant ride you then get the age old issue of trying to peel off leather jackets and trousers that have seemingly welded to our skins, and that really sucks.
So how can a base layer help?
Most of the base layers on the market are made of modern fabrics that are highly breathable, what this means is that while they act as a standard layer of clothing they also react when we sweat in order to remove the water away from our skin quickly and efficiently, helping it evaporate naturally without causing any loss of body heat, in fact though it is this wicking effect in summer that does the job of keeping us cool and dry. This is why you tend to find that the base layers made from technical fabrics advertise that they keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, breaking this down there are usually two types of base layer, those made from a merino wool which offers a greater thermal property but less wicking, and those made from technical, man made materials that are designed specifically for the job.
A lot of us see cotton as a good, natural fabric, and while this is true for day to day use it is not really good enough for use under the types of materials we wear while motorcycling, for a start it is not breathable and has sponge like properties that cause the sweat we all produce to be soaked in to the fabric, where a technical layer would let go of this moisture, cotton keeps hold and not only clings to the body but also can cause discomfort. You really notice this if you have worn cotton free specialist running socks in trainers, on a hot day where your feet would start to feel a little sweaty the running sock keeps things feeling nice and cool, you can get these socks in motorcycling clothing ranges too if you know where to look and they are well worth the investment.
At the end of your first ride while wearing a base layer you get to experience a true epiphany, removing your clothing is no longer a chore and most items simply pull off with no resistance, your body sweat has not 'locked' the fibres to your skin, you won't typically find those nasty red, sore lines where your leathers have creased up with your skin. All in all, once you have worn one it is very difficult to just leave a normal tshirt and underwear on before you go for a ride, I tend to wear one of my many base layers wherever I go. Remember though that you can get away with either a 3/4 length in the trouser or full leg, typically the 3/4 length comes just above the top of your boot so cuts down on the bulk inside your boot if that is a potential problem for you.
With this in mind it is quite simple to keep yourself warm in winter and cool in summer using the same items of clothing, I have listed a few of my favourites that have been recently reviewed (due to be added to the reviews section shortly) and the reasons they were chosen - some are more suitable to sporting, trackdays or one piece suits, others perfectly fine under a normal suit where you might remove the jacket and wander round in the sun.
In no particular order:
1: EDZ All Climate Base Layer: http://www.edzlayering.com - Price Bracket: Mid
I have both the one piece and two piece version of this and must say it is fantastic for general use, while it does offer a decent wicking in heat and thermal property in winter it is not as skin tight as others on the market and I find that, especially in the case of the two piece tshirt, it can easily be worn as a normal tshirt while offering all the benefit of the technical fabric. EDZ have a massive range that are pretty much all suitable for motorcycling whereas others can be more specialised such as the skins.
This one in my opinion is the best option for wearing with a two piece suit, where you might be removing the jacket for lunch, coffee, socialising, etc.
2: Skins A400 + Snow : http://store.skins.net - Price Bracket : High
Before you look at the price of the Skins range you need to appreciate that this is a garment designed for professional athletes to increase performance and not simply as a way to keep warm or cool, compression clothing works in a way that pulls and holds muscles into position in order to best reduce a lactic acid buildup and increase stamina - it really does work too! There is an odd feeling to it, almost like you feel seriously well oxygenated while riding, the wicking an cooling properties are immense too but I think this is down to the fit of the layer, which being honest with you, is not flattering for most people. Skins are worn ultra tight, literally like a second skin, so those carrying a little extra weight will have bulges and bumps where they don't want them. On the flipside though they allow you to get into leathers that you think are a smidge too tight.
Skins suits, I class as best for track work or those days where you know you are going for a ride, putting effort in, rather than casually riding to a social event
3: Spada Performance Skins: http://www.spadaclothing.co.uk - Price Bracket: Low
The Spada kit is a decent middle ground between the EDZ and the Skins garments, not quite as skin tight in fit as the Skins they are still a more clingy, elastic fabric that that of the EDZ suit. When breeze hits the suit you feel its cooling effect nicely and in winter it does a better than average job of retaining heat, just putting the item on you get the sense that the fabric itself is cold, which is odd to get used to - especially when you want to keep warm, something you have to ignore in colder months. Set at a really useful price point, the Spada range comes in one and two piece varieties again so you have a choice.
Spada Performance Skins is a good allrounder that will not break the bank, although being more fitted than some of the EDZ range can highlight curves you might want to hide
4: Buff Wear: https://www.buffwear.co.uk/ - Price Bracket: Mid
Actually, I need to point out that while I have only tested the Buff socks (which are fantastic) the brand offers a range of 3/4 leg tights that are going to be perfect as a base layer. The buff socks though are excellent, aimed at more hiking and walking than motorcycling, I jumped on them as a product that I thought would be perfect for us, and they are made of Coolmax which is recognised as one of the world leaders in technical fabrics, put simply they keep your feet comfortable and dry in hot weather - I even did an 11 mile hike in baking hot sun - and help you keep warm and cozy in winter.
Perfect for slinging on your feet on any occasion, they do exactly what they are designed for in all conditions
Other worthy mentions:
I have not had a chance to test these out as yet but am looking to get samples in over the next few months to add to the review section, nevertheless, the companies involved here typically provide products that are right on the money in terms of functionality and quality.
Held: http://www.held.de - Producing everything from base layers to socks, all the kit I have tested and seen from Held has far exceeded other brands ranges for the same price, expect no different here.
Alpinestars: http://www.alpinestars.com/ - As you would expect, Alpinestars have an extensive product range that has been tested by racers across the globe, pricing is in the high bracket
Rev IT: http://www.revit.eu/en/ - A huge range with both mens and ladies fittings and an array of styles, mid to high price in places