Buyers Guide: Summer cycling jerseys
How to find the best short sleeved cycling top for hot weather riding
Yikes, it's hot out there this week. After looking like we may never be treated to a summer this year, the weather has finally got its act together, pulled back the shades and is blazing away with glorious sunshine.
It's worth investing in a decent high quality summer jersey, as beside a pair of comfortable shorts it's one of the most important bits of clothing. You can shed litres of sweat on long rides in the sun so a technical jersey made with a high wicking fabric will keep you dry and cool. Worth noting is that many jerseys can be worn nearly year round, during early spring and late into the autumn. As part of a layering system, a jersey can be paired with a gilet and arm warmers and used on cooler days around the calendar.
A summer jersey is a simple garment in essence, but look through any catalogue or browse your local shop and you'll quickly realise there are hundreds of different jerseys. They're all trying to do the same thing though, but how they do it can be very different, so it's worth being clear what you're looking for before you starting buying. You can pay anything from £30 to £130 for a jersey, but an expensive one isn't necessarily four times better. Generally, you're paying extra for better and more advanced fabrics - there's a lot of investment in fabric design and some of the latest fabrics are very cutting-edge - that are better at wicking sweat and keeping you cool and dry, than very basic fabrics. You can also expect improved fit and styling and extra features.
Materials and fabrics
Yes, you could wear a t-shirt on your bike. But cotton, as you'll find out if you ever ride in it on a hot day, isn't that great at dealing with sweat; it simply holds onto it, and before long will be soaked through. Add a light breeze and you can quickly chill. Not good.
So the aim of a technical jersey is to wick sweat away from your skin to the outer side of the fabric, where it can evaporate away. That leaves you dry, so you don't get clammy with sweat and won't chill if the temperature drops or the wind picks up.
Man-made synthetic fabrics are the mainstay of summer jerseys, but natural materials – basically types of wool – are also good choices. Naturally sourced materials such as Merino wool have developed a lot in recent years with many improvements and developments leading to Merino wool being a good choice, even on hot days. One particular benefit of woolen jerseys is that the fat molecules in sweat find it harder to cling to the organic fibres than they do with man-made polyester, so wool jersey take a lot longer to pong.
Another consideration for cycling in hot weather is to look for a jersey with an fabric some sun protection. Some jerseys use very lightweight and loose weave fabric that can let a lot of harmful UV rays through, so manufacturers have started addressing this by making clothing with SPF and UPF ratings. When you're cycling you're exposing your back to the sun, the area under your jersey that you most likely don't apply suntan lotion to.
Fit is everything
You can have the best and most expensive fabric in the world, but if the jersey doesn't fit well you'll lose a lot of performance. Fit is, naturally, a personal thing, and also depends on the style of riding you do. If it's sportives and racing, then tighter fitting jerseys are better, they're less flappy and more aero. For touring and leisure cycling a relaxed fit with a more generous cut will be preferable. Equally too for commuting to the office. Such jerseys can be made from highly technical fabrics, but offer a more relaxed style that is as comfortable on the bike as sitting in the beer garden for a post-ride drink.
Sizing is critical, whichever your chosen style, and here companies offer a range of sizes that should sit most body shapes. Some measure up smaller or larger than others, so don't take it for granted that you're a medium in one brand that you'll be the same size in all other brands. Try before you buy is really the best way to proceed, if you have the opportunity.
If you're racing or seeking an aerodynamic advantage, there are a raft of new jerseys designed to sit very close to the skin, with no excess material to flap in the wind, and help your upper body better cut through the air. They're not for everyone though... Remember, about 80% of the wind drag you face when cycling is caused by the body, so ensuring your body is aero is a better place to start than dropping £2K on a pair of carbon deep-section wheels.
Pockets, zips and mesh panels
Features can make or break a good summer jersey, and generally speaking, the more features the higher the price. The very minimum you want is a three pockets around the back for stuffing a ride's worth of food, money and spare tubes, and a zip at the front for when you need to cool down. That's your classic cycling jersey right there.
From there it's a myriad choice, with everything from zipped pockets, full-length zippers, mesh panels strategically placed for maximum ventilation, elasticated waists, silicone hems to stop them riding up, and reflective stripes, good for riding late into the summer evenings. There's a huge variety of ways of deisgnign the sleeves, the neck, the shape, size and angle of the pockets, so don't presume all jerseys are the same. Different fabrics offer manufacturers great choice and some combine as many as three different fabrics. It might be mesh panels under the arms, and elastic fabric in the side panels, depending on what they want the jersey to deliver. Look and choose carefully.
Style it up
How the jersey looks is purely personal preference, there's enough choice out there to keep everyone happy. From team replica kit, understated but stylish branded wear all the way through to the current trend for retro inspired garb. And the choice continues to grow, a big growth area has been in the cycle clothing that doesn't look like cycle clothing, that could happily be worn off the bike without raising eyebrows. Yet using the latest technical fabrics and smart fit, means they work well on the bike when you're hammering along the road.
Women are better catered for now than they ever have been in previous years, with most manufacturers now offering comprehensive choice of jerseys specifically to cut to suit the female form. And some even manage to avoid making their jerseys pink or baby blue and plastering butterfly details over them, but if that's your thing there are still plenty of pink and flowery tops too.
Caring for your new jersey
It's not a good idea to wear your new cycle jersey more than once, even if it was just a short ride. Your perspiration settles into the fabric of the jersey, and the bad smell is caused by bacteria. So wash your jersey after every ride.
For washing, it's important to follow the manufacturers guidelines printed on the care label. The temperature rating is the vital bit, and it's necessary to wash accordingly. If you do wash a fabric at a higher temperature than advised and do so constantly, the fabric will deteriorate in quality.
Washing liquid or gels are preferable to powder as they are less aggressive with the delicate fabrics, though powder is better at getting out really muddy stains. When it comes to drying avoid the tumble drier at all costs, unless you want your jersey a size smaller. Hang on the washing line or over a clothes rack and allow to dry naturally, the best thing about cycle clothing is how quickly it dries, so you won't have to wait long.
Other tips, don't forget to empty the pockets – sounds obvious but I've lost count of the times I've stuffed a jersey in the washing machine and forgotten to remove a used gel wrapper. We would advice washing your cycling clothing separately from your ordinary clothes too. And don't forget to zip up the zippers as well.
road.cc summer jersey reviews
We test jerseys to help you choose the right one for your needs, take a look at the archive here.