As Guy explained this winter, if you don’t wear a wicking layer next to your skin, you undo the benefit of everything that goes on top. It’d be like putting tires made of cardboard or sponge onto your top-dollar bike and wondering why it isn’t handling right.
A wicking layer sits snug against your body and lifts sweat through the fabric where it can evaporate. In winter, that means your body doesn’t waste heat trying to dry a layer that’s sitting on your skin like a wet flannel, and in summer you’re just more comfortable. Winter base layers tend also to have a little volume in the fabric, which helps to trap a welcome layer of warm air.
The good news is that even the most basic supermarket base layer will keep you dryer and warmer than an absorbent cotton layer. At the other end of the price spectrum are super-technical tops like the Spatzwear Race Layer and the Rapha Pro Team Thermal Base Layer, which can balance an amazing amount of warmth and dryness with pro-level fit. In between we have gems like the Madison Roam Isoler base layer, which combines a cycling-oriented fit with a technically clever construction at a price that won’t break the bank.
Here we’re testing the short-sleeve version, which can take you from early fall to late spring if you have arm warmers, but there’s also a long-sleeved version at the same price.
Design and specifications
The first thing you notice about the Roam Isoler is just how soft and tactile it is. And then how stretchy.
Its fit is designed to be ‘relaxed but not baggy’ and that’s a good way of putting it. I was right in the middle of the range for the XS/S size, and the fit is perfect. It’s close enough to sit right against the body, which means good wicking and no draughts, but it’s not so tight that you have to wrestle to get it on or notice it when you breathe. The four-way stretch fabric presumably helps here – it’s a close fit but not a tight fit. It fits nicely under snug cycling jerseys too, if you are that way inclined, so there are no wrinkles even under the arms.
The weave is mostly smooth, with a slightly more mesh-like pattern up the side body and under the arms, and down the spine, for better wicking and breathability. It’s made with a ‘circular knit’ construction, which means that it has no vertical seams in the main body section. The arm seams are flat locked for comfort.
The Roam Isoler was an easy top to like in our testing period of late winter and early spring. It hit a Goldilocks balance in terms of temperature, fit and comfort. Its weave was dense enough that you were reassured of a thermal benefit, but not so dense that you had to think too hard about whether it would be too warm for the precise weather and level of effort you were planning.
The ‘close but not suffocating’ fit meant that it fitted under anything and was an easy all-day choice – again, just a top you didn’t have to think too hard about pulling out of the drawer. The softness was icing on the cake, as was the noticeably long body length for good tucking in, which you can’t take for granted with base layers.
There’s a long-sleeved version but I liked the flexibility of using a short-sleeve with arm warmers, especially on cold-start days or in between days, where you could peel the arm warmers off after a bit.
The box describes the Madison Roam Isoler base layer as a ‘four-season’ top, but the website says autumn/winter, which we think is about right. In summer you could wear it on chilly early mornings, or by itself if you like to rock the skintight look, but most people would want a more open weave by that time of year.
So while there may have been no technical ‘wow’ moments with the Roam Isoler, there was a definite ‘wow, what a thoughtfully designed product’ vibe, and a ‘wow, what a good price’. That is, when you thought about it, because most of the time it was just working like a quiet reliable companion.
The Madison Roam Isoler punches above its weight and shows that you don’t always have to downgrade your expectations of products in the lower third of the price range. It’s versatile enough to see you through pretty much any ride from September through April and it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by it.
Madison has lifetime warranty and a 30-day no quibble return on its products, too, which is a nice touch.
Tech specs: Madison Roam Isoler base layer
- Price: $33.00 / £24.99
- Sizes: XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL
- Colors: Black
- Weight: 110g (XS/S)
- Key materials: 62% polyester, 28% polyamide; 10% elastane