Thought it’s still early in a lot of places for shorts and lightweight jerseys, most of us are thankfully shedding our heavy insulating layers for the year. Knickers and knee warmers are classic transition season bottoms, but there aren’t a whole lot of of tops on the market that handle temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees particularly well. When Craft’s Zero Extreme Concept base layer came across our inbox earlier this year, it sounded tailor made for shoulder season riding.
Claimed to be Craft’s “most advanced base layer to date,” the Zero Extreme Concept is built of a lightweight ZERO wicking fabric with panels of extremely breathable COOL Superlight stretch mesh around the shoulders, across the upper back, and at the wrists. The long-sleeved top was born out of Craft’s Nordic ski program- click “more” to see how it performs on the bike…
Thanks to some unusually early spring weather, I’ve been able to get a good number of on- and off-road rides in while wearing the $75 Craft top. On my 6′ tall (but slim) frame, my large Zero Extreme Concept isn’t nearly as long in either the arms or the torso as some of Craft’s more cycling-specific tops- or quite as form-fitting. A former Nordic ski racer, I can see how the back mesh panel- shaped like tack-on angel’s wings- would keep the top from binding while skate skiing and running. On the bike, the extra breathability on the back and shoulders certainly doesn’t hurt- especially under a hydration pack.
On the road bike, the tight-knit but lightweight main fabric does a great job of keeping the wind off of otherwise bare arms without overheating when the tempo picks up or the road pitches upward. The COOL Superlight mesh wrists are a bit odd, though, and combine with the short sleeves to make for a bit of a chilly gap between gloves and the body fabric. It’s not necessarily uncomfortable, but it is noticeable and odd. The only reason that I can think of for their inclusion would be for use as a sweat wipe- but I haven’t felt the need to use them in that way.
I was initially worried that the seam across the tops back would be irritating under a hydration pack. Thankfully, the flat and soft intersection has never once made itself known and the mesh keeps things from getting too hot at mountain biking’s lower speeds. Unfortunately for our test piece, the ZERO fabric is unusually snag-prone and now shows the scars from several encounters with dry trailside oak leaves.
Fit and snag issues aside, I really like the Zero Extreme Concept top. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a hard body to fit- though cycling-specific clothing does usually suit me well. The mix of materials works very well on the road under a short-sleeved jersey from about 55 to 65 degrees and off road when it’s just a few degrees cooler. Neither fabric seems to hold moisture at all, so it doesn’t get uncomfortable when working hard, even under a big bag. Multi-sport athletes and anyone on the short side for their clothing size will really appreciate the Zero Extreme Concept. The rest of us should start bugging Craft for a bike-specific version.