Spatzwear Race Layer review – warm and dry with low bulk

Designed as a foul-weather base layer for riders with an eye on aerodynamics, the Race Layer is also a flexible winter staple for the rest of us

Man wearing red short sleeved base layer by hedge
(Image: © Sean Fishpool)

BikePerfect Verdict

I loved how this packed so much warmth and comfort for such low bulk, and the versatility of the half-length sleeves.

Pros

  • +

    Great at trapping warmth

  • +

    Warm when damp

  • +

    Wicks moisture well

  • +

    Seamless body

Cons

  • -

    May be a bit snug under the arms

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The Race Layer is another super-functional product from the company born of a desire to keep Yorkshire riders training through the depths of winter. 

A snug fit with ribbed and textured panels to trap air and help wicking, it’s a short-sleeved alternative to Spatzwear’s original Basez, which has a high neck, long sleeves and hand cover. Both products are aimed at addressing the road-rider’s problem that low-bulk clothing typically isn’t all that warm, and while we off-road riders don’t need its aero qualities so much, we can still reap the benefits of the comfort.

I tested the Race Layer from just above freezing to just over 10C / 50F, under a lined windproof in the coldest conditions, sometimes under a wet-weather shell, and a few times under a simple jersey, both with and without arm warmers. So it’s versatile. In milder weather it would have been great by itself, were it not for the fact that (like any snug base layer) it would have looked a bit intense.

Like other bits of our favorite kit – Woolie Boolie socks, 7mesh Thunder Pants – the Race Layer just feels like it’s got your back, and when you choose it, you rarely wish you’d headed out in something else.

Rear view of man wearing red short-sleeved base layer by hedge

The rear hem has a decent scoop (Image credit: Sean Fishpool)

Design and specifications

The Race Layer is made from a dense polypropylene-based weave with a lot of stretch. The magic happens in the textured sections, which are woven in straight or waffled ribs, to trap air, allow easy movement, and increase the surface area for transport of sweat from the skin.  

Turn the top inside out and you can see high-volume textured patterns on the chest and back, fine stretch ribs on the sides of the body and under the arms, and wider ribs on the arms, which also allow the sleeves to be snugged up or down. Tom at Spatzwear explains that some of the texturing also has a nod to aerodynamics, for your marginal gains.

Inside view of Spatzwear Race Layer base layer

The sleeves are mostly lined with a stretchy brushed fabric (Image credit: Sean Fishpool)

Despite the complex combination of panels, the whole body section is seamless; the only seams are at the shoulders, under the sleeves and on the hems.

To give you an idea of the density of the top, a small weighs in at 178g, compared with around 100g for a thin untextured winter base or just over 200g for a thin merino long-sleeve. So, not heavy, not light; a reassuring midweight.

Chest section of red short-sleeved base layer

The weave pattern is deepest on the chest (Image credit: Sean Fishpool)

Performance

Most of my testing was done between about 4C and 11C, with different long-sleeve base layers underneath.

For steady riding in most winter conditions, the Race Layer, a shell and arm warmers on or off, was all I needed. It really helped to give an extraordinarily constant and un-clammy temperature. On the coldest days, or for more stop-start riding, a lightly insulated shell was a good partner on top, and in the worst conditions a buff plugged the neck gap. 

It’s also easy to imagine the Race Layer and a windproof gilet or race jersey being a great combination for faster riding or winter racing, since it will stay warm even in drizzle, especially if you combine it with Spatwear’s own arm warmers, which work similarly to the base layers. I haven’t yet tried the Race Layer by itself in rain, though Spatzwear suggests it would hold up just fine if you were so inclined.

In terms of fit, at 173cm tall with a 92cm chest I was at the top end of small (<95cm) and the bottom end of medium (92-105cm). I found the length and body fit great; the only place it was mildly noticeable was at the relatively prominent seams in the armpit. By no means a deal breaker but I would possibly try a medium for that reason.

Shoulder view of man wearing red short-sleeved base layer by hedge

I was between sizes; the seams were a bit snug under the arms (Image credit: Sean Fishpool)

Verdict

If you want a dedicated top for sub-5C filthy weather you might be better off with the long-sleeved Basez with its high neck and hand cover, but for flexibility through autumn, winter and spring the Race Layer is a superb friend to have in your kit drawer. 

Tech specs: Spatzwear Race Layer

  • Price:  $74.99 / £64.99 / AU$ 103 / €74.99 
  • Sizes: S, M/L, L/XL
  • Colors: Red, black
  • Weight: 178g (small)
  • Key materials: 83% polypropylene, 12% nylon/polyamide, 5% elastane 
  • Eco credentials: Spatzwear offers to plant a tree when new orders are made and, in winter, when old overshoes are returned for recycling. More details here. They are also starting to move towards UK-based manufacturing. 
Sean Fishpool
Freelance writer

Sean has old school cycle touring in his blood, with a coast to coast USA ride and a number of month-long European tours in his very relaxed palmares. Also an enthusiastic midpack club cyclocross and XC racer, he loves his role as a junior cycle coach on the Kent/Sussex borders, and likes to squeeze in a one-day unsupported 100-miler on the South Downs Way at least once a year. Triathlon and adventure racing fit into his meandering cycling past, as does clattering around the Peak District on a rigid Stumpjumper back in the day.

Height: 173cm

Weight: 65kg

Rides: Specialized Chisel Comp; Canyon Inflite CF SLX; Canyon Aeroad; Roberts custom road bike