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.
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.
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.
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.
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.