You don't need a cycling jersey if your journey to work is the cycling equivalent of a stroll; normal clothes will be fine. If your cycle commute is more like jogging – exercise that makes you sweat – then a dedicated cycling jersey is a sensible option. The fabric is designed to wick away perspiration, so you won't get clammy like you would in a cotton shirt. The cut is close, so it won't flap about in the wind. And it will be ideal for recreational rides at the weekend.
Cycling jerseys have three options when it comes to sleeves: short (mid-bicep, the standard road jersey), long (wrist length, for cooler weather), and none (a style favoured by triathletes). If you're going to get one jersey, choose short sleeves. This will still be cool enough on the hottest summer days, and unlike a sleeveless jersey can be sensibly combined with arm-warmers when it's chillier.
Design & cut
Jerseys for road cycling are cut close from stretch-fabric, so that they won't slow you down when you're powering along at 20mph. They have a long back, a high neck with a zip, and elastic at the sleeves and hem. Jerseys for mountain biking are cut looser, partly for style reasons, partly because aerodynamics is much less of an issue off-road. Women's jerseys are cut differently from men's for reasons both obvious (bust) and less obvious (narrower shoulders). Sizing for both men and women can vary widely between manufacturers, so try before you buy if possible.
The vast majority of cycling jerseys are made from polyester, sometimes blended with lycra for extra stretchiness. Coolmax is a trademarked polyester whose fibres and weave are designed to wick sweat away better, and there are other brands of polyester that aim to do the same. Some expensive, retro-style jerseys are made from wool. Wool absorbs odours better than polyester and insulates well when it's damp, but doesn't hold its shape as well and takes much longer to dry. Cycling jerseys are made of Merino wool – that's wool with fine fibres – as it can be made into soft, lightweight garments. Some are pure wool, others a wool/polyester blend.
A front-zip gives on-the-go temperature regulation. A quarter-length zip is usually ample ventilation for the UK. Most road cycling jerseys have two or three elasticated pockets in the back. These are really useful for carrying arm warmers, a windproof, snacks, tools, etc. A zipped pocket offers better security for keys, money, or a phone. Off-road jerseys may lack pockets – you'll miss them. Reflective details are useful for summer evenings, when they might not be hidden by a jacket.
Road cycling jerseys are traditionally bright (e.g. yellow or red) to make the wearer more visible. Off-road jerseys are more muted. Dark jerseys have become more popular in recent years. They're not as inconspicuous as they're made out to be – in good light, they contrast well against most backgrounds – but you don't want to be dressed like a ninja on a gloomy winter's day.
Most cycling jerseys can be machine-washed at 40 degrees. For woollen jerseys, it's usually 30 degrees; sometimes it's hand-wash only.
Here's a selection of jerseys at different prices.
Altura Women's Night Vision Short Sleeve Jersey
Like other Night Vision products, this polyester jersey has reflective stripes – on the shoulders and back – to make it more conspicuous in car headlights. There's also a Velcro mount for a Night Vision LED light, an optional extra. There are three rear pockets. It's available in raspberry or yellow in sizes 8-18.
Foska iPayRoadTax Fluro Yellow Jersey
Fed up with motorists accusing you of not paying 'road tax'? This jersey directs them to the ipayroadtax.com website, which explodes the myths about how roads are funded. Made from Coolmax, it's brightly coloured and has a three-quarter length zip and the usual three rear pockets. Foska offer a wide range of other distinctive designs. Sizes: S-XXL
Ride BDS Long Sleeve Winter Jersey
The fabric here is Super-Roubaix, a stretch polyester with a fleecy inner that insulates well even if it gets damp. Don't assume this jersey's just for winter: you'll appreciate it in autumn and spring too. There are three rear pockets, plus a zipped pocket with a waterproof lining that's ideal for a phone. Reflective logos and piping provide extra visibility. Sizes: S-XXL
Endura Urban Coolmax Merino S/S Polo Shirt
Endura's commuting jersey looks like a polo shirt, so you won't stand out when you get off the bike, but has some subtle, cycling-specific features. It's made of a blend of Coolmax and Merino wool, so it breathes well, and there's enough stretch for it to keep its shape. There's a zipped pocket at the back, while concealed buttons let you open up the front. Sizes: S-XXL
Polaris Mica Ladies Jersey
This long-sleeved top is made from Therma-Stretch, a stretchy polyester fabric with a fleecy inner face, making it feel snug on cool days. The front has a windproof panel to keep the breeze out, but also a full-length front zip for ventilation when you need it. It's breathable too, of course. There are three pockets at the back and a chin guard to stop the zip rubbing your skin. It's also available in blue or yellow, and in sizes 8-16.
Santini Tech Wool Short Sleeve Jersey
Blending wool and polyester, this jersey is soft against the skin. It's very breathable too, and won't whiff after a day's wear like polyester. The style is deliberately retro. Cuffs and collar are knitted, like jerseys of old, and the three pockets at the back have buttons to keep the contents in. Also available in blue and white. Sizes: XS-XXXXL
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