As indispensable and overlooked as the gilet, the undervest is the only piece of cycling kit that comes with me on every single ride, year round, in hot, in cold, in wet, or in dry. While one could be forgiven for assuming an undervest lives out its life as an insulation layer, the undervest serves a critical, more fundamental purpose: as a wicking layer.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of carrying a gallon jug of water, you will have noticed that water is not particularly light, nor particularly dry. If you’ve suffered the further indignation of having said gallon jug of water poured over your head after making a pithy remark, you will have noticed that the introduction of water to your clothing makes them both heavier and less warm. As cyclists, these characteristics don’t do much for us in the way of making our sport easier from the perspective that sweat is made up largely of water and thus has a tendency to make the clothing we’re wearing both wet and heavy. Enter the base layer, whose specialty is not so much in keeping us warm, but keeping us dry.
If I’ve understood physics correctly, these magical fabrics are designed to maximize the capillary action of fluids by sucking the water in our sweat away from the skin and towards the outside of the fabric where it can either evaporate or at least stop touching us. Even though the fabrics in our jerseys and bibs are heralded as being able to perform this task on their own, they are busy doing other things as well, and I find that using a layer dedicated to this purpose improves the effect greatly.
To be fair, though, the thought of wearing an undervest – or any additional thread of clothing for that matter – is far from inviting when kitting up in the middle of Summer. This is where DeFeet really shines with their multiple weights of undershirts, each targeted at a different temperature range. From the cooler months of September, through Winter and on into Spring, the Un-D-Shurt tank base layer is my go-to garment, keeping me dry but also adding a bit of warmth to stave off the cool air around Puget Sound. Once the mercury starts rising, however, I switch to the Un-D-Lite, which is much more lightweight and purpose-driven towards wicking rather than also insulating.
With both of these pieces, they are so stretchy, soft, comfortable, and good at keeping your skin dry, I never even notice I’m wearing them. I’d like to meet whomever figured out how to make this stuff; their brains must be so big, I bet you can spot it when you look in their ear.