Riding in the summer is great, with long days and a few ready-made three-day weekends that encourage us to pile on the miles. But summer riding can also be physically demanding, with our bodies sometimes exposed to the extremes of heat and humidity, or perhaps tropical storms or monsoon rains. Many riders shell out good money for versatile riding apparel, those jacket-pant combos or one-piece suits made of sophisticated textile fabrics with waterproof/breathable membranes, multiple vents and other features that adapt to changing climatic conditions. But one thing many overlook is the apparel that comes in contact with our bodies. I’m talking about skivvies, socks, that sort of stuff; what’s commonly referred to as the “base layer.”
As much as I love cotton for its softness and breathability, it can be terrible when the weather gets hot and I start to sweat. When cotton gets soaked through, it clings to the body and feels clammy. It takes too long to dry out and absorbs odor like a sponge. Just like outer wear, underwear made of modern, synthetic fabrics is the way to go. Synthetic fabrics can wick away moisture, keeping skin fresher and drier. They also dry out quicker, which is especially helpful when riding from a hot microclimate into a cold one, such as riding from a sweltering valley up into the thin-air of a high mountain pass. Being cold and wet is not only uncomfortable, it can be dangerous.
Alpinestars recently sent me several items in its Tech Performance Underwear line designed specifically for summer (they also have insulated base layers for winter riding), as well as a pair of its Touring Summer Socks, which I tested over the course of more than 2,000 miles in July: a multi-day sport-touring ride that traversed hot, arid valleys and cool coastal roads, and then a multi-day dual-sport ride that included lots of grunting and groaning over technical trails (plus several hours of pushing my KLR650 to the road after its voltage regulator fried…ahem).
The Tech Performance Underwear Summer Short Sleeve Top, Summer Sport Boxer and Summer Long Pant are made of Dryarn fabric, a proprietary blend of polyamide (50 percent), polypropylene (45 percent) and elastane (5 percent). The material’s tubular thermal fibers are said to allow both heat and cold insulation, repel water and wick moisture away from the skin. It’s also hypoallergenic and antistatic, has a specific weight that’s 60 percent less than cotton and is abrasion resistant (not in terms of protecting you from a crash like Cordura, rather it isn’t likely to snag or fray when it rubs against other clothing or surfaces).
The Touring Summer Socks are made of cotton (67 percent), polyamide (21 percent), nylon elastam (9 percent) and Nostatex (3 percent), the latter found in the sole and containing silver fibers to help prevent the proliferation of bacteria that cause body odor.
When sized appropriately (see alpinestars.com for a complete sizing chart) the top, boxer, pant and socks all fit snugly, providing muscle-supporting compression that is said to reduce fatigue. The top and bottom base layers have minimal seams for comfort, and I found them to feel very good against my skin, though the snugness took a little getting used to. The mid calf-length socks have a ribbed design that helps reduce bunching at the heel and ankle, and there is mesh between the ankle and calf for added breathability.
I wore the Short Sleeve Top and Sport Boxer beneath my sport-touring riding gear, and the Short Sleeve Top and Long Pant beneath my dual-sport riding gear, which includes knee/shin guards with straps that wrap around my legs. When the weather was hot, I opened all of the vents on my outer apparel and enjoyed the moisture-wicking properties of the base layer. When the road ventured toward the fog-shrouded coast or the trail climbed to 8,000-plus feet of elevation, I zipped the vents closed and appreciated the insulating dryness underneath.
Alpinestars’ Tech Performance Underwear and Touring Socks are made in Italy, and the design, quality and attention to detail are top-notch. Everything fit well and proved to be genuinely comfortable even after long, long hours in the saddle (or out of it, pushing my broken-down KLR). Care is easy—wash by hand or in the machine, and nothing will shrink. All of this comfortable, moisture-wicking, fatigue-fighting goodness comes at a price. The Summer Tech Performance Short Sleeve Top is $89.95 (sizes XS/S, M/L or XL/XXL, black only); the Summer Tech Performance Sport Boxer is $39.95 (sizes XS/S, M/L or XL/XXL, black only); the Summer Tech Performance Long Pant is $59.95 (sizes XS/S, M/L or XL/XXL, black only); and the Touring Summer Socks are $19.95 (sizes S/M or L/XL, white only).
For more information, see your dealer or visit alpinestars.com