Sometimes you forget that you don’t have to put up with certain things. Like draughts down your neck. Rapha’s Pro Team Thermal earns its stripes among the best winter base layers for a number of reasons, and for the less hardy of us, one of them is making that first 10 minutes of a winter ride more bearable by sealing up the neck gap.
If you’re not already wearing an ear warmer at that point, you can also pull the neck right over your ears like a snood, though as we’ll see later, that comes with its own pros and cons in terms of face condensation.
Aside from taming neck draughts, the Pro Team Thermal does a lovely job of keeping your body warm without bulk, and wicking sweat from the skin. It uses a fabric that’s very much like the Polartec Power Grid used on other high-end technical winter base layers, so it’s not an exclusive technology, but it’s nicely executed and good looking.
Design and Specifications
The Pro Team Thermal is made from a polyester/spandex mix that has a smooth weave on the outside and a grid of tiny raised squares on the inside. That grid traps warm air, and increases the surface area to draw sweat from the skin to the outside where it can evaporate. The fabric is slightly thicker on the front and the front of the arms, for warmth, and it has more stretch in the front.
Like many modern winter base layers, it’s not heavy by any means (it weighs in at 135g, versus more like 100g for a flat-woven simple wicking base) and as you’d expect, it has no windproof qualities – but when paired with a windproof shell, the weave traps air nicely.
I particularly enjoyed the Pro Team Thermal below about 5C / 41F with a lightly insulated jacket (like the Castelli Unlimited Puffy), or over 5C with a regular shell. The whole combination felt genuinely breathable, cosy, and dry, and as I enthused at the start of this review, the comfort of the high neck was superb.
The flip side of the high neck is that you can’t regulate temperature as easily as with a round neck. Opening your jacket zip helps to dump heat, but more slowly than normal. A bit of extra warmth on climbs wasn’t the end of the world because the fibres wicked so well, but I probably wouldn’t use this top above about 7 or 8C (45/46F).
I rarely ride in conditions so cold that I’d consider pulling a cover over my mouth, but in the interests of science I did test the full snood height of the neck. It was good to know I had that option for the wildest of days, but unless I’m going to only breathe through my nose it’s fair to say I’m unlikely to use it much.
Some riders report that they needed to size up just to get the neck of the Pro Team Thermal over their head, and others find the ‘pro fit’ a bit too girdle-like, so you may want to bear that in mind if you’ve got any muscles in your upper body. At 173cm with a 92cm chest, a normal-ish sized head and unencumbered by muscles, I found the small fine, though the medium would probably have worked nicely too, and would have given a bit more length in the body. The Pro Team Thermal was just fine with bib shorts, but I’d have been happy with a smidge more length for tucking into normal shorts.
The Pro Team Thermal is conspicuously expensive, although not much more so than the round neck MAAP base layer that uses a similar Polartec Power Grid weave. I can see it being a top in regular use in the mid to low single digits over the winters ahead, where the comfort of the neck outweighs the reduced speed of dumping heat.
(The words ‘Trouvee D’Arenberg’ on the front of the jersey, by the way? That’s the first five-star cobbled section in the legendarily hellish Paris-Roubaix pro road race in spring.)
Tech specs: Rapha Pro Team Thermal Base Layer
- Price: £85 / €95 / $105 / AU$130
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Colors: Dark Red/Burgundy (tested), Blue/Dark Navy, Black
- Weight: 135g (small)
- Materials: Front: 84% polyester, 16% spandex; Back: 91% polyester, 9% spandex