What to Look For in a Cycling Jersey

Cycling Expert Jacob Cummings breaks down everything you'll need to know when looking for the perfect cycling jersey to match the type of riding you're looking to do!

Three cyclists wearing jerseys talk to each other.

Photo by Munbaik Cycling

Lightweight and breathable kits can be an important part of a cyclist's wardrobe. This guide will help identify your needs by highlighting different styles, fabrics, pockets, and fits designed for warm days or cooler conditions during your cycling adventures.

Why Wear a Cycling Jersey?

Long hours on the bike in conventional loose-fit cotton can amount to moisture build-up on the fabrics whether it’s from rain or sweat. This results in a heavy, abrasive, uncomfortable, and wet cycling experience. On the other hand, close-fit knit fabrics of cycling jerseys will give your main body ultraviolet (UV) protection in hot weather and maximum breathability that pulls the moisture off your body leaving you much cooler and dry throughout your ride.

When considering when to wear a cycling jersey, it’s helpful to imagine what you might be doing with your time in addition to riding the bike. Are you casually riding to the movie theater to meet up with some friends? Then a cotton shirt and a light jacket might be plenty for you.

Two images of casual bikers. They are both wearing regular, everyday clothing and one of the bikers has a bike helmet on.

Dressing casual - cotton works great for bike riding when the ride isn't too intense! Photos by Jacob Cummings

But maybe you’re training for racing and you know you’ll be 20+ miles from home in the rolling hills on your road bike, or climbing the sweatiest trails on a mountain bike. Then perhaps choosing to wear garments specifically designed for cycling will keep you more comfortable and dry.

How to Choose the Best Cycling Jersey

There are so many great cycling jerseys to choose from, and most of them ship with similar function, fit and finish. What’s most important is finding jersey options that will be the best for your specific needs and body type.

Some of the key differences in jerseys will be whether they are short or long sleeve, Merino wool or polyester, race fit, relaxed fit, zippered, pullover, water-resistant, fleece-lined, waffled, silky, and whether or not the pockets hold all your things.

Which materials should my cycling jersey be made of?

Way back in the dawn of cycling, jerseys were often made out of merino wool and cotton. Wool is fun, feels great, and when cared for, it can last a long time. Merino wool is also somehow magically flexible in a variety of weather. It stays cool in the summer and keeps you warmer in the rain. The downside is that Merino is also a little more expensive and it’s easier to damage the fabric compared to modern fabrics.

Today most jerseys will be made out of 100% polyester or some combination of polyester and similar materials. You will almost never find cycling clothes made out of cotton unless they are designed to be very casual commuter clothing. If you do want to try wool, the Rapha Classic Jersey is a great option with a timeless aesthetic.

Two different images of the Rapha Core Cycling Jersey. One image is the jersey hanging on a hanger and the other photo is a close up of the pockets.

Breathable fabric and multiple pockets make the Rapha Core Jersey an awesome option! Photos by Jacob Cummings

Polyester jerseys are great and they are the modern standard. They will often outperform wool in both function in the elements and aerodynamics. Polyesters are easier to take care of and easier to replace, too. They come in a variety of qualities and textures, and can match different budgets for varying weather conditions. For example, a high-end summer kit like the Giordana FR-C Suit has woven polyester netting located in strategic places to provide the best possible venting while remaining silky everywhere else to maintain the highest aerodynamics possible. Do you need a jersey like this? Probably not unless you’re racing at a highly competitive level. Otherwise, it’s worth saving money on more basic jerseys.

A winter jersey on the other hand might use heavier polyesters that have been woven into waffle textures, along with a sublayer of lightweight fleece to give the rider more insulation on cold days. Jerseys like this will outperform wool.

Jerseys that are designed for road racing will often have a thin layer of smooth polyester. This race fit holds close to the body, improving aerodynamics while also wicking sweat to keep the rider cool and dry.

How does a cycling jersey fit?

How a jersey fits is up to your needs, preferences, and how you want it to perform. Most jerseys will be designed to have a snug fit around the arms and torso. It is becoming more common for casual cycling jerseys to have a loose fit. All cycling jerseys are intended to have a long backside that will keep your lower back and some of your rear covered while you’re bent over the handlebars. Conversely, it’s common to find the front of a cycling jersey to be a little bit shorter to reduce fabric from bunching on the torso.

A man wearing a cycling jersey that reads "veselka".

Photo by Jacob Cummings

Mountain bike jerseys like the Specialized Trail jersey will have some of the same fast-drying fabrics as road jerseys, but the fit will remain looser like a standard t-shirt. The arms of a jersey can come in at just about any length you want, but most typically you will find jerseys that have short or long sleeves that will fit snugly on the arms and provide some compression.

Do all cycling jerseys have a zipper?

Usually, cycling jerseys will have a zipper in the front, or at least down part of the chest, so riders can easily ventilate or warm up. Jerseys that don’t have a zipper are becoming less common and are frequently reserved for lightweight bodysuits, and even those almost always have at least a zipper in the back.

How many pockets should my cycling jersey have?

The amount of pockets offered by cycling apparel is going to be one of the biggest differentiating features between your options. The most common and classic jersey design will feature three long pockets on the lower rear of the jersey designed for carrying any number of accessories like snacks, tools, your wallet, or gloves or arm warmers.

Do I need to wear a base layer with my jersey?

In summer conditions, your cycling jersey will most often function as enough of a base layer as you will need it more for UV protection than warmth. On cold and windy days, however, it is common but not mandatory for cyclists to wear a thin polyester base layer. Another option instead of a baselayer is to bring a lightweight jacket, arm warmers, or a packable windbreaker. The body heat you generate while riding will often be enough to remain comfortable in many weather conditions, especially when climbing. The extra layers might not be necessary for most of the ride but can be kept, for example, for the long downhills after a mountain climb. The extra pockets on your jersey can often be helpful for storing these items.

What extra features are important?

Cycling jerseys are meant to be simple and lightweight. Their designs are intended to focus your comfort and experience on the bike, provide ventilation, aerodynamic improvement, and some ultraviolet protection. Jerseys tend to offer very few features other than the overall fit, water-resistant knit fabric, rear pockets for valuables, zippers, and silicone grippers along the hemline.

Race and Aero Jerseys

Aero Jerseys

A good aero jersey will always be more work to get sized properly as they are designed to fit athletes as snugly as possible, thus providing the best aerodynamics. Pro Team Aero jerseys, like the Giordana NX-G collection, might come in the form of a full bodysuit with a silky feel and a zippered back. They might have raw-cut sleeves and sometimes lack pockets so as to provide the most streamlined and lightweight fit. The material can be a polyester blend or will sometimes come with textured panels. Aero jerseys are less common and usually need to be ordered directly from a manufacturer. Please feel free to reach out to a Cycling Expert if you would like help with recommendations!

Race Fit Jerseys

The race fit jersey has been tested and tuned in a wind tunnel to reduce resistance. These jerseys are designed to be as durable as possible and will be great for warm weather, but they will not be good for colder weather conditions as they offer very little insulation.

Pro Road Jerseys

Pro road jerseys are the more common option for racers with a slightly more comfortable fit. These jerseys will provide much of the performance and function as a full aero kit but have a little more functionality like front zippers. Aero jerseys will often be the peak of design technology that a company has to offer and be sold at a premium price between $200 and $600 per article of clothing. In general, unless you are very serious about racing on a bicycle at highly competitive levels, you will be better off saving your money and going with a more entry-level kit like the Rapha Core Jersey.

Summer Jerseys

The Giordana NX-G Air Jersey.

The Giordana NX-G Air Jersey

A good cycling kit for hot weather is going to be just about any lightweight jersey with a zippered front. The fabric naturally provides some UV protection and good ventilation. Some more expensive options have maximum efficiency with aerodynamics and have strategically placed vented side panels on the main body and along the rear of the jersey like the Giordana NX-G Air. They might also feature a higher collar and longer sleeves for increased UV protection.

Spring and Fall Jerseys

The Rapha Men's Pro Team Gravel Jersey.

The Rapha Men's Pro Team Gravel Jersey

When the seasons are less predictable and the weather forecast throughout the day swings between sun, rain, wind, or snow, we have a choice to try and grit through the weather, or to decide if there’s more sense in dressing accordingly. Spring and fall jersey layers will feature heavier waffled textures that create and capture pockets of heat to be held next to the body like the Rapha Men’s Pro Team Gravel. While warmer than standard summer fabrics, spring and fall fabrics will remain highly breathable, allowing moisture to evaporate as wind passes over the body. Additionally, these jerseys will sometimes feature reflective detailing to increase your visibility on the road.

In these swing seasons, you will need to consider wearing a long sleeve jersey or combine short sleeves with a packable jacket like the Giordana Zephyr, or arm warmers. Spring and fall options will almost always have a full zipper down the front to adjust airflow across the front of your torso. These off-season training jerseys will feature a number of rear pockets along the backside for your food, tools, arm warmers, gloves, or other items.

Winter Jerseys

The Castelli Raddoppia 3 Jersey.

The Castelli Raddoppia 3 Jersey

Perhaps for you, the winter months are filled with grueling rain, wind, and freezing conditions. At this time, many cyclists will decide if it’s their call to stay inside, focus on another discipline like cross-country skiing or bundle up and get on the bike for more base miles before training season gets into full swing. Winter jerseys and jackets like the Castelli Raddoppia 3 will help you stay cozy with thicker fleece-lined fabrics and waterproof or water-resistant coatings and top layers. These thicker fleece options will fit more snugly than your standard polar fleece. They provide exceptional performance for aerodynamics and breathability while keeping you warm.

If you’re looking for a winter option that also has the texture and warmth of merino wool, while still maintaining the durability of polyester, the Rapha Heavyweight Merino Jersey is a beautiful investment that will last you for many outings if cared for.

Summary

A cyclist wearing a jersey and biking on a road.

Photo by Jacob Cummings

I hope this guide has provided you with a few ideas about what kind of jersey you might need. If you still need some help finding the perfect and most comfortable riding equipment for your needs, please feel free to reach out to any of our Cycling Experts here on Curated.

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Written By
While traveling the US in a Toyota truck with a vintage camper, I am working part time as a bicycle courier. In past lives I have enjoyed racing road, track, cyclocross, mountain and BMX. Along with bicycle maintenance education and transportation outreach, I have been involved in various cycling co...

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