How To Choose the Best Bike Jersey

These higher performing tops are designed for comfort while handling the rigors of biking and defending you against the elements.

Technically, you can ride your bike in your favorite vintage band T-shirt, but if you’re pedaling for any distance or time, you might regret it. Cotton T-shirts look great with jeans, but they absorb and hang onto moisture like a sponge. Bike jerseys, on the other hand, are engineered to perform, with fibers that dry fast and features that come in handy when you’re in the saddle. Those jerseys come in a variety of different styles and are built for a variety of different situations. There are classic skin-tight jerseys made for racing and long-sleeve jerseys that don’t look like jerseys at all. Not to mention, there’s summer jerseys and winter jerseys and shoulder-season jerseys…but at their heart, every bike jersey is designed to be comfortable and handle the rigors of biking while defending you against the elements, whether that’s the sun and 90-degree heat, or stray branches crowding the trail on a winter afternoon. Here’s how to choose the best bike jersey for your next ride. 

Types of Bike Jerseys 

There are two main categories of bike jerseys: road jerseys and mountain bike jerseys, but within those two broad categories are a few niche styles that are separated further by the kind of riding you’re doing. Road jerseys are typically categorized as casual, or “club” jerseys, which have a looser fit; and the much tighter racer jerseys, some of which will have some compression component to them. Meanwhile, mountain bike jerseys are divided into cross-country and downhill categories. The difference between all of these jerseys comes down to the fit and features. 

Bike Jersey Fit 

Traditionally, road jerseys have a snug fit that might seem a bit uncomfortable if it’s your first time wearing one. That tight fit helps reduce wind drag if you’re racing, but more importantly, helps reduce chafing. Loose clothing rubbing against your skin over and over during a 50-mile bike ride will rub you raw, which is one of the reasons you’d regret riding in your favorite cotton T-shirt. So how tight should you go? A simple rule: The faster you’re going on your bike, the tighter the jersey should be. Pro cyclists even wear clothing that has a compression element to it. But casual road cyclists don’t need the tightest fitting jerseys. Fortunately, many cycling brands offer more relaxed-fit jerseys for casual cyclists. 

For mountain bikers, cross-country jerseys will look and fit more like a road jersey, with a tighter cut. Downhill and enduro jerseys have a looser cut and are often long sleeved to help protect you against errant branches and falls. 

If you’re looking for a high-end, pro-style road cycling jersey, you might need to know a couple of key measurements beyond your basic size: the circumference of your hips and the circumference of your chest. If you have a cloth measuring tape, both numbers are easy to get. 

A cyclist putting sunglasses in his jersey pocket

Bike Jersey Materials

Modern bike jerseys are technical wonders that practically pedal your bike for you. Kidding, of course…but they are made from materials designed to keep you comfortable on the bike all day long. 


The majority of jerseys are made from a blend of synthetic fibers, usually polyester with a certain percentage of Lycra or spandex thrown into the mix to create a shirt that stretches. Increasingly, manufacturers use recycled materials, like polyester made from used plastic water bottles, as the base material. 


This popular wool performs well in cycling jerseys. And while merino jerseys tend to be more expensive, the fabric offers a very soft next-to-skin feel, and can be sewed at varying thickness to accommodate different temperatures. Keep in mind, lightweight merino wool jerseys aren’t as durable as their synthetic counterparts. If a shirt is 100% merino wool, it will feel great, wick moisture and dry quickly, but also tear easily. To counter this, manufacturers will often blend a synthetic fabric into the merino yarn to help boost durability, giving you the best of the natural and synthetic fibers. 

Bike Jersey Features 

Road jerseys have a couple of key features to look for, starting with the full-length zipper down the chest. This makes it easier to get the tight-fitting layer on your body, but also allows you to unzip during a long climb to vent some heat. You’ll also find a couple of pockets on the back hem of the jersey. These offer built-in storage big enough to handle a light rain layer, snacks and even a small tool kit. The front hem of the jersey is short, stopping just below your waist, but the back hem will be longer to provide more coverage when you’re hunched over the handlebars on your bike. Road cycling jerseys will also often have grippy seams around the cuffs on the arms and the hem to help them stay in place. They’ll also have flatlock seams to reduce chafing. If you’re road cycling, also look for reflective highlights that practically glow when car lights shine on them. 

Cross-country mountain bike jerseys will have many of the same features as road jerseys. They have a looser fit, but will still often have a full-length zipper, grippy hems and cuffs, and pockets at the small of the back. Downhill mountain bike jerseys are typically long-sleeved and will incorporate tougher materials, like Cordura, at the elbows and forearms that can withstand the occasional crash without ripping. 

You can also find casual mountain bike jerseys that don’t look like jerseys at all. They look like flannel shirts or button-down, short-sleeve shirts, more like something you’d wear out on the town, but are built from the same moisture-wicking materials as bike jerseys and often have reflective fabric hits and hidden pockets. 

Consider the Seasonality and Terrain

Before you buy a jersey, think about the type of riding you’re hoping to do and the weather you’ll be riding in. Manufacturers make thin, ventilated jerseys built for humid, hot climates and thicker, long-sleeved jerseys that can help fight off the cold. 

But Don’t Be Too Strict About the Categories

Can you wear a mountain bike jersey on a road bike? A road jersey while mountain biking? Absolutely. Manufacturers might divvy up their jerseys per riding discipline, but there’s no hard and fast rule about when and where you can don a certain kind of jersey. The only true consideration is comfort—if you like the jersey, wear it regardless of the bike you’re pedaling. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.