Just like bib shorts, jerseys are something that a lot of people buy without really thinking about it when, actually, there's a lot to consider. Jerseys are such a ubiquitous item that it’s easy to just walk into a shop or click the buy button without thinking about much more than what it looks like.
But there are plenty of things to think about when you buy a jersey. If you’re looking for something for a casual weekend ride and chat with your mates, do you really want a super tight, race-cut aero jersey? Probably not.
Similarly, if you’re looking for something to race in, the last thing you’re going to want is excess material flapping about, or the jersey riding up at the back when you get on the drops.
And, similar to every bit of bike clothing, don’t forget that fit is the single most important factor. If you’re not the right shape to fit into an aerodynamic race jersey then you’re much better off buying something else rather than forcing yourself to wear something that makes riding less enjoyable.
In this buyer's guide we'll consider the key things to look for when buying a short sleeve jersey.
Back in the day, cycling jerseys were made from wool. The good thing about wool is that it was easy to construct jerseys from. The bad thing about wool was everything else. That might be an exaggeration, but riding up a mountain in a sweat-soaked, heavy woollen jersey was what riders did because it was their only option, not because they chose to.
These days, jerseys come in a variety of different materials (including wool), but most are made from polyester in combination with some elastane to provide stretch. The types and properties of the polyester can vary wildly, and most brands have fancy names for their fabrics, but in general terms they’re all largely the same type of material.
But what you get can be very different. The first thing to think about is what you’re going to be using the jersey for. If you’re heading off to the Alps mid-summer to tackle the Etape du Tour, then you’re going to want something lightweight and highly breathable (unless the weather turns bad, of course). Nobody is going to want to be slogging up a climb in 30-degree heat wearing a protective soft shell, which is more at home in the wind and rain of the Spring Classics. Instead, a large number of manufacturers now offer a super-light jersey designed specifically for high summer. DHB have the Aeron LAB Ultralight jersey that's constructed of a thin mesh-like material for maximum breathability.
Similarly, if you’re heading off to Belgium early season to ride the Tour of Flanders sportive, taking a highly breathable climber’s jersey is probably not going to get the job done, and you'll more likely want something with wind and/or rain protection, depending, of course, on the conditions.
If you’re after a summer jersey, mesh panels on the back and sides will offer added breathability, and you’ll want something with good wicking/moisture transfer properties so that you stay relatively dry and comfortable even when you’re riding hard. If the fabric does become damp then it'll also dry quickly.
But if you need something with a bit more protection, materials with windproof paneling and a hydrophobic treatment providing water resistance will mean that you can use a jersey paired with arm warmers for much of the year.
In broad terms, the more you pay for a jersey the more you’re going to need to look and ride like a pro in order to fit into it. This is because the more you pay, the more specialist the clothing becomes.
At the mid-to-lower end of the market, manufacturers are making bike jerseys for people who just want to ride (whether that be commuting, touring or leisure cycling), and want something sensible to do it in, so the fit is more relaxed, more flattering and more comfortable off the bike, but at the top end you’re essentially getting the same clothing the pros wear. And it’s meant to be raced in, which means a super-slim, aero cut.
One of the most essential features of a cycling jersey is the dropped tail. The reason for this one is pretty obvious: it means that when you lean forwards on the bike there won’t be a gap between the bottom of the jersey and your shorts. Bib shorts also help with this, as they extended further up the back than standard shorts, so there’s a far smaller gap to become exposed. The other benefit of the dropped back is that it allows the pockets to sit further down the back than if both sides of the jersey dropped down to the same level. With the pockets being further down, it means access to them is more like an easy stretch rather than a bit of on-bike contortionism.
Almost the exact opposite to the dropped back is the raised or U-shape front. This is a feature you’ll see quite a lot of race cut jerseys as it helps the front to sit flush without bunching up when you lean forwards. It’s especially popular on the newer ‘aero’ jerseys, as nothing says wind catcher like bunched up material.
The collar is another area that will vary depending on the intended use of the jersey. The traditional style is to have a collar that zips up to the base of the neck, providing a bit of protection from air nipping down the front and giving you a chill. But a lot of modern aero jerseys have ditched that altogether and gone with a cut similar to a t-shirt where the jersey stops around the clavicle area and sits flush against the skin. Again, it’s another race-specific feature that, in our experience, is not as comfortable for every day riding, so it’s worth thinking about whether you really need it before you buy.
Pockets on the back are one of the specific features that mark a jersey out as a bike-specific piece of clothing and most will have three open pockets at the rear.
Location is the first thing to think about. You need to be able to access your pockets easily, and if they’re too high on the back it can make things very difficult, or even make getting into the back pocket impossible. Most of us don’t want to have to go full pro and sit up with both hands off the bars just to grab a gel that’s slightly out of reach, so make sure you can get to anything you store in the jersey before you get on the bike.
But getting pockets right can be a difficult task, as there is a careful balance that needs to be struck to make the perfect storage pouch. The first thing is capacity, and it’s certainly not the case that bigger is better. While you don’t want pockets that can barely fit a gel in each, you also don’t want something that’s so vast you struggle to find what you’re after. Plus, the bigger they are the more tempted you’ll be to fill them up with stuff that you don’t really need, and the more likely they are to sag. On that note, you want the material around the pockets to be well supported, to ensure they don't have around your backside when loaded with the essentials for a local ride.
The openings of the pockets are normally elasticated, and once again careful balance is needed. If the openings are too loose, then contents will rattle around and you might even lose something when you hit a bump, but if they’re too tight it'll be a real pain trying to get your hands in. Quite a few jerseys, mostly ones aimed at riding in poorer weather conditions, have also started to add flaps over the pockets for a bit of extra protection. Some of these can be very difficult to get into easily as they’re more fiddly; a process which requires even more manual dexterity when you’re wearing gloves.
Zipped pockets are another recent and popular add-on. Usually, the zipped pocket will be built in to one of the other pockets, and big enough to hold your keys, some cash and not much more. It’s just an easy way to make sure that the most important things you’re carrying don’t go astray. Because no one wants to have to sit on the doorstep after a four hour ride as they've dropped their keys somewhere around a 100km loop. Sometimes the zipped pocket is made from a water resistant fabric but often this becomes prone to condensation.
Much like their leg-hugging counterparts on bib shorts, jersey grippers have improved immeasurably over the last decade. Where once sleeves were held in place by harsh, skin-pulling silicone bands, there are now a host of different options.
The main point of note is that grippers are generally wider and deeper these days, spreading out the pressure over a larger area that makes sleeves more comfortable, and keeps them in place better too. Some brands have even gone as far as to only put grippers on the front side of the sleeves, allowing the backs to move around as you change your position on the bike.
Becoming more common are laser cut finished sleeves that do away with grippers altogether, allowing the natural stretch of the fabric to fit flush on the riders upper arm. While very comfortable, there's often a question over their durability in comparison to more traditionally finished garments.
Well, we say special, but pockets are essentially pockets no matter what you do with them. But jerseys aren’t restricted to three rear pockets any more, and even those that opt for that design still like to play around with them. Some jerseys may feature extra side pockets for storing empty gel wrappers or even small zipped chest pockets.
Similarly, some jerseys have a small hole cut in a pocket to channel headphones through the inside of the jersey. Not that we advocate riding with headphones, mind you, but if you have to, keeping the wires out of harms way certainly makes sense.
If you’re planning on a long ride when the sun’s out, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re equipped with plenty of sun cream. But obviously, getting to the parts of you than are covered with clothing can be a bit, well, exposing, when you’re out and about, so lots of bike kit now comes with in-built UV protection.
Because bike clothing is so thin, it doesn’t always provide protection against sunburn and it’s far from unheard of for riders to burn through their jerseys and shorts, so buying something with a UPF rating is a sensible precaution if you intend to use it a lot in the height of summer.
By no means a deal breaker, but reflective detailing or logos are always a nice touch and useful if you’re out for an early morning ride or stay out for longer than expected and it starts to get a bit dark. It doesn’t have to be overly intrusive either. The odd reflective panel here and strip of piping there, or even reflective flatlock stitching, can make a big difference when the light starts to fade a little.