Of course, cyclists in tight-fitting lycra and spandex look terribly silly. You know this. We know this. It’s not like the joke is on us. We understand. If we see our reflection, we all tend to think, “What a dork” or some other unflattering thought.
Fortunately for us, we have valid reasons for wearing the clothing we do. And the reasons are good enough to overcome our self-consciousness concerning the sight we are as we ride down the street.
For what it’s worth, while the internet may give me a better deal on the exact same item, I usually don’t buy my clothing online. I prefer to buy my clothing from a local bike shop (LBS) where I can try it on before I buy, to ensure it fits properly.
In this series, I’m discussing each of the items in a cyclist’s closet from the top down, why we use these items, and how to use these items. First up, is the jersey.
Cycling jerseys serve a variety of functions that make riding more comfortable, efficient, and enjoyable. Athletic t-shirts–or any other shirt for that matter–that you buy at Wal-Mart just don’t perform like a cycling jersey. Oh, sure, you can ride with a t-shirt–and I have. It’s just that, over the long run, a jersey is better suited for the activity.
In the old days, jerseys were made of wool. While wool is an excellent insulator when wet, the fabric inevitably would stretch out of shape and rip, and was warm in the summer heat.
Today’s jerseys are made from synthetic fibers that perform just as well in the wet, maintain their shape (dry or wet), don’t rip as easily, accommodate a zipper of any length, and help wick moisture away from the body to aid in cooling during summer heat.
Jerseys come in two generalizations: “club” fit (or cut) and “race/euro” fit (or cut). Within these designations are the usual sizes: XS all the way up to XXL or higher. (In Europe, they may be measured as size 1, XS, to size 6, XXL.) Club fit jerseys are slightly larger, usually more accommodating to us Americans while the euro-fit is a little tighter, aimed at the smaller, athletically built racer. My personal preference is the race fit if I can get it in the right size. Club fit jerseys tend to be too big overall and too long in the back. They feel as if they are wet and soggy, stretching down over my bottom, catching on the tip of my saddle.
Generally, you don’t want your jersey to be too loose fitting: the wind created from your movement will cause it to flap. A flapping garment for 3-4 hours can get really annoying. There is also a bit of aerodynamic benefit, but, of course, this is not necessarily important for all cyclists. On the flip side, you don’t want it to be too tight, either: this can hinder breathing and circulation, and makes us larger folks look like sausages.
Cycling jerseys are tailored to fit a person bent-over, riding. They are not stitched together for you to stand around in. They are a little longer in the back to cover your backside, and a little shorter in front to get out of your way as you’re hunched over. If you try one on, make sure you bend over, emulating the riding position.
Last, cycling jerseys regularly feature pockets in the right places: the back. As you are hunched over riding, you have easy access to the items in these pockets on your back. Most jerseys feature three pockets. Some feature a fourth, smaller pocket, sometimes with a zipper small enough to carry keys, MP3 players, or other small items.
Many riders new to our sport will balk at handing over (up to) $80 or more (!) for a jersey. I certainly understand this frustration. However, well-made cycling jerseys will last for years, bringing the annualized cost of the jersey down to more realistic levels.
Some cyclists will wear shirts under their jerseys at all times of the year. This is a personal preference. I generally wear one when it is cooler and I don’t feel like putting on a jacket over the top. I also prefer the sleeve-less designed ones as even short-sleeved undershirts can wad up inside the tight fits of my short-sleeved jerseys.