by Molly Hurford
Whoever assumes that all undershirts are created equal … has probably never ridden on a cold day. At CXM HQ, Craft sent us two of their latest “performance baselayers” from their Active Extreme Concept collection in mesh superlight (sleeveless) and extreme (longsleeve) to test out, and we put them through the paces. March on the East Coast is a great time to try out clothing, since the conditions can range from balmy mid-60s to single digit frigid temps, so both baselayers got a serious workout in the course of a week.
Fit-wise, with the exception of the fact that one has sleeves and the other didn’t, the two were similar. Both were tight, but stretched readily and without feeling constrictive. I was initially worried that they wouldn’t be long enough, but they easily covered the top of my hips.
The first day was a warm 60-degree ride on the mountain bike, with the mesh superlight baselayer tucked on under the Craft short-sleeve jersey and their bib shorts. The baselayer claims to “keep your body dry and cool during exercise indoors or in warm conditions.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a thin baselayer: would it make any difference at all? Turns out, it did. While normally a ride in 60 degrees would make me chilly, with either no baselayer (cold) or a regular thicker sleeveless baselayer (sweaty), this was a happy medium. It kept me dry, and kept me from getting too chilly, except on the fastest descents. I also popped on the bike with shorts and a windjacket with the baselayer underneath to see what happened, and for a 60-degree ride on a breezy day, it was a good fit for just a quick ride.
The next ride was a chilly 30-degree ride on the ’cross bike by a river: cold and windy. So it was a great chance to try out the extreme baselayer (the baby blue color didn’t quite go with the “extreme” title, but it looked great!) with the Rapha softshell jacket and Gore tights over it. The extreme baselayer is designed to “keep your body dry and comfortable during intense exercise in fair to cold conditions.” Note that it’s designed for “intense exercise,” not for a casual jaunt, and that is an apt description. The baselayer’s most intriguing feature was the mesh in the underarms, upper back and along the wrist — great for sweat absorption. I’ve seen baselayers with similar underarm features, but the wrists being slightly tighter and with the mesh was something new that I really appreciated. Additionally, the baselayer was designed to specifically have more room in the upper back area, and I found that to be extremely helpful for maneuvering around some tricky technical sections without feeling constricted. For a ’cross racer who may switch positions many times during a lap (more upright for technical sections, in the drops for the paved straightaways), this extra attention to stretchiness could be a great feature.
Craft prides themselves in their Moving Wing Technology, which they claim makes the baselayers more moveable, and I’m happy to say that they were correct. While most baselayers I’ve worn have felt like an extra layer (some for good reason, like the Windstopper baselayer from Gore), these baselayers were like a second skin. In truly cold temperatures, I’d be loathe to head out with one layer over the extreme baselayer, and would probably go towards a heavier-weight version, but for a cold ’cross race where a baselayer is a necessity, the Craft’s Active Extreme Concept Piece would be a great option.
The only problem I had was one that I have with almost every baselayer I try: when running (not a normal cycling activity) or just wearing it after workouts with regular sweatpants, the baselayers both tended to ride up a bit. That said, with bib shorts or regular cycling shirts on, it becomes a non-issue.
For ’cross season, I’d recommend checking out both of these baselayers, since the season can start warm and end freezing. Both styles work well with racing hard, keeping you warm and dry without adding a lot of under-skinsuit bulk.
Craft Cool Mesh Superlight Sleeveless (Womens)
- MSRP: $50
- Sizes: XS-XXXL
- Colors: white and hot pink
Craft Active Extreme Concept Piece LS (Womens)
- MSRP: $80
- Sizes: XS-XXXL
- Colors: white and light blue
- Short sleeve and long sleeve options available