If you cycle a lot, having the right gear can make all the difference between being comfortable and miserable.
There is a lot of it out there. Like, a lot. There are cheap things and expensive things, racy things and casual things. There are small differences in cut and quality that can make people love or hate certain things. There are bits of kit for every part of the body, and for every imaginable scenario.
It’s nice to have a few items that are dependable and used over a wide range of conditions. Some bits of kit you end up putting on every time you head out. Base layers are like that, certainly for 3/4 of the year, and gilets are another one of those highly usable and versatile things.
What if you could have something that did the job of both of these things?
Enter the Warmfront
Warmfront is a Colorado based company that makes one thing – chest warmers. Or, assless chaps for your chest, in their terms. A neck mullet, in mine. It’s all business up front, and letting it all hang out round back.
Basically, in the most simple of terms, the Warmfront is a base layer with no arms and no back. Just a neck, and a front. A cycling dickie, if you will.
For cycling, a significant factor in feeling cold is the windchill. Your chest is a pretty large area, and cops most of this coldness when in motion. That’s why you used to see pro cyclists stuffing newspapers in their jerseys at the top of climbs before they started the descent to avoid a bunch of cold air wooshing through a sweat soaked jersey and catching a cold.
The rest of us use nothing and freeze, a jacket and cook on the climbs, or a gilet, which is the go-to garment for finding that balance between keeping your core temperature somewhat steady, the wind fended off, and excess heat and perspiration at bay. I use one all the time. They’re great.
Warmfront thinks they can one-up the trusty old gilet. I think they might be right.
What do you get?
As I mentioned, it’s a pretty basic garment. It’s a collar and the front part of a base layer. The neck joins with a velcro tab at the back, is basically jersey material, which is soft, and the front is a thin, thermal, slightly fleecy, breathable layer.
That’s it. There’s nothing more to say about it.
Told you it’s basic.
Edit: I was just informed by their Australian distributor that you can order Warmfronts with custom collars, so there you go – not quite as plain then.
How does it fit?
Easily. The neck is a bit big, which is the only thing that I would change (Matt at Warmfront is continually working on improving their product), but there really isn’t anything else to get wrong. It could be a touch longer for me, but the length isn’t keeping it from doing its job. In any case, once it’s on and under a jersey, it just disappears and you don’t think about it again until you take it off.
Fasten it around your neck, tuck it behind your bib-straps and into bottom (depending on the bibs), and put on your jersey. The neck is a bit taller than on most jerseys to help keep more wind out, so you’ll probably catch a glimpse of that, but otherwise it’s as invisible as any other base layer except you won’t get the sleeves that sometimes poke out from under your jersey or bunch up under it.
So, is it worth it?
In a word, yes. I don’t really have any qualifiers for that, either.
To be honest, before it arrived I was thinking it was going to be a little gimmicky. I didn’t have anything to base that on, but I wasn’t expecting much from it.
It’s not all that impressive pulling it out of the packaging, either. Like I said, it’s basic, but this isn’t supposed to be a fashun statement. It’s going to live either under your jersey or in your drawer, so who cares? Everyone is all about the killer, super-flash cycling kit these days, so think of this as the thing that allows you to show that off under a wider range of conditions.
How it worked
It arrived just as the temperature around here plunged to just above freezing. You may know that cold and me don’t mix. If we turned up at the same party, things would be awkward. I’d struggle to use my hands, have trouble pulling off any sweet dance moves on account of my feet, and may have difficulty forming words properly. When Cold is in an extra bad mood, it usually ends up like this.
So, for its first test I headed out on a brisk 2℃ morning with nowhere near as many layers on as I would normally wear to see how the Warmfront worked. A baselayer, a summer jersey, and the Warmfront in between was all my torso had against the elements.
My very first impression was that I could still feel a bit of cold on my chest as the wind passed over it, so I was immediately worried that I was in for a cold ride. The material used in the Warmfront is a fleece, but it’s a pattern of tiny squares, between which are sort of see-through. Basically, it blocks most of the wind and keeps some heat in, but not all of it.
A couple of minutes later, as I continued to pedal and began producing what meager heat that I do, I was surprisingly comfortable. So apparently it blocks enough wind and keeps enough heat to be useful. By the end of the ride I was quite surprised at how well everything balanced out.
Yesterday I did a few hours in slightly warmer conditions (low teens) with the same number of layers. Still plenty warm, but this time the concern would be too warm?
Nope. Things would have to be a fair bit warmer for the Warmfront to be too warm. The lack of back or sleeves really makes a difference. So far the temperatures haven’t been warm enough to wear it without a base layer underneath, but that will happen soon enough and I’ll report back here regarding how it feels against the skin.
This is, of course, designed to keep you warm, not to necessarily do 100% of the job of other base layers – like wicking moisture away – so once the cold or cool isn’t an issue, you would likely switch to a standard base layer anyway. With that said, it was nearly completely dry at the rides end, so it does manage to wick away sweat pretty efficiently.
Bonus: because it’s easy to put on and take off, you could actually use this with more formal attire, should you be cycling to work or for pleasure. Just tuck it into your shirt and pull it out when done. No need to disrobe, and it folds up into really quite a small package.
I’m sold. The Warmfront will do probably 80% of the job of a windproof gilet in terms of keeping you warm, do a better job at allowing excess heat and perspiration to escape, won’t be flapping around like a gilet – especially when unzipped, will allow you access to your jersey pockets with nothing covering them, and you won’t have any issues keeping your kit all matchy-matchy. Where’s the downside?
In Australia, contact Full Beam Australia if you want to get your hands on one of these.
All images: The Sticky Bidon