I’m generally a big fan of kit from European outdoor-active behemoth Decathlon. Occasionally they miss the mark, but generally you get the sense that it’s designed by people who actually use it. It’s rarely flashy, but it tends to be functional and durable, and sometimes with neat details like the cuff flaps on their Rockrider All-Mountain Waterproof Jacket, or the trash pocket on the Rockrider Slim-Fit Softshell Mountain Biking Jacket.
The Essential Cycling Base Layer from their cycling sub-brand Van Rysel is a case in point. It does the basics of being as dry and breathable against the skin as most of the pricier alternatives in our buyer’s guide to the best winter base layers, and it feels just fine. It’s only got three sizes each for men and women, so you might not get the exact fit you want, but for us it was an easy to wear all-rounder.
Design and specifications
The Essential Cycling Base Layer is made from a flat-woven 100 percent polyester wicking fabric. Like all wicking fabrics, the fibres contain microscopic channels to lift sweat away from the skin to the surface of the fabric where it can evaporate or move to the layer above.
There’s a little natural stretch in the fabric, but no added elastane or specially woven stretch panels, so if the slender fit is too slender, you’ll probably want to go up a size rather than battle against it. Like a lot of base layers, the body is seamlessly woven. The seams around the arms and shoulders are flat locked, and the main arm seam is not, not that we noticed in use.
The Essential Cycling Base Layer only comes in three sizes, and with a 36in chest I went for M/L (38-39) rather than XS/S (33-36). This suited me fine. It wasn’t skintight against the whole body like stretchier models, which would give better wicking and warmth, but it wasn’t loose or draughty like a T-shirt either, and it didn't end up with clammy flappy patches. Opting for the slightly bigger size meant that the sleeves were a generous length and there was plenty of body length to tuck in, both welcome ingredients in a comfortable base. (It’s worth noting that some reviewers on the Decathlon site who opted for a smaller fit found the body a bit short.)
I did most of my testing in mid- to late spring, in temperatures from just above freezing to 8-10C. Even under a rain jacket on the borders of overheating, it stayed surprisingly dry.
It feels unashamedly synthetic – not horrible and shiny, but not silky or soft, and not super stretchy… but it’s also the sort that comes out of the wash almost dry enough to wear. I also appreciated the way it was slim fitting enough without being skintight. If I wanted maximum performance I’d go for a more snug option, but I don’t always want to peel myself into something for an everyday ride.
If you’re on a budget or you just want an extra everyday base for a bit more laundry flexibility, you’re going to be happy with the Essential Cycling Base Layer. It hasn’t got the frills or the stretch fit of pricier alternatives, but it’s warm and dry against the skin, it’s well made, and it’s a tenner!
Tech specs: Van Rysel Essential Cycling Base Layer
- Price: $14.99 / £9.99 / €11.00
- Color: Black
- Weight: 164g (M/L)
- Sizes: Men’s XS/S, M/L, XL/2XL, Women’s 2XS/XS, S/M, L/XL (The women’s version may be listed on the Decathlon site as the ‘100 Women’s Long-Sleeved Cycling Base Layer’)
- Materials: 100% polyester