There are a few important factors to consider when purchasing a cycling jersey. Rather than look at what can go wrong, because there’s a lot that can, let’s just stick with what to do so we can get it right. The first time. Before we get into this, I want to make one thing very clear; this post is for the discerning newbie cyclist who actually cares about how they look. If you’re one of those super-dorks who doesn’t care that your jersey is three sizes too big because “too big” means you can stuff more junk in the back pockets (even if that means all of that junk will be hanging down below your butt), wear super-dork well and own it. I’m not here to change you.
The hardest thing, IMHO, to get right when purchasing a jersey is the fit. There’s the club fit, and the pro fit, the relaxed fit, and the mountain biker’s fit… For example, I wear a medium in anything Specialized. I wear an XL for pro fit in Borah, a Medium or Large in club fit (depending on who makes the jersey), a Large jersey in Cavelo (pro-fit), a Medium in Pearl Izumi, a Medium in Primal… so how to sort all of this and keep it straight so I get the proper fitting jersey?
For ordering jerseys online, I always go with a mix of the American and European sizing. Between the two I can get very close to what I want. I also find the European sizing to be a little more exact:
With the basics out of the way, let’s get down to the goods. First, Rapha, Castelli, and some of the other wildly expensive brands are excellent choices. They will cost an arm and a leg but look impressive for years. The mid-range options, Specialized, Pearl Izumi, Bontrager, Mt. Borah, Primal, etc. will also hold up for years – that PI jersey I’m wearing in the photo on the bottom right has five hard years on it and it still looks fantastic – they also won’t make you question your sanity when you press “add to cart”. Then there are the cheaper options; Cavalo (much to my horror, I don’t think the brand exists anymore), Coconut, Funkier, etc. Cavalo is, or was as the case may be, excellent for the lower-end of cycling apparel. I have a full kit (top right) and a jersey still in my normal rotation (third from the top on the left). Coconut is fair as well (the bibs leave something to be desired, though). Funkier is exceptional for the price, IMHO (I highly recommend them – their bibs/shorts are very nice as well).
Shopping on the internet can be a little tricky, so pay attention. Always check the sizing charts and look for sayings like “race-fit” or “pro-fit” in the description. Also, make sure to look at the customer reviews for sayings like, “runs small”, “runs big” or “fits true to size”. Those will help immensely. On the other hand, if you’re looking for simplicity, shop at your local bike shop. About half of my cycling wardrobe (and it is extensive) was purchased at the local shop. First, because I have the money to shop there. Second, because my local shop sells Specialized clothing and it holds up and looks fantastic for years – the quality is exceptional. Third, because I appreciate my local shop being there. Also, if there’s any doubt on whether or not something fits, I can try it on first.
Finally, like anything, cycling jerseys often fall under the banner of, “you get what you pay for”, but there are some tremendous deals to be had in some of the Chinese merchandise. Just know going in, your Sponeed kit will never be mistaken for Specialized. Coconut will never be mistaken for Castelli… You can see the quality difference from a mile away. Okay, maybe a quarter-mile away, but you get the point. If that’s all you can afford, though, far better to ride in something you can afford to wear than not ride… or worse, ride in a tee-shirt… tucked into your shorts… God help us all, don’t go there.
In the end, with online purchasing being so prevalent lately, the best I can offer is look how the clothing fits on the website’s muscular model. You won’t look that good so the kit won’t look that good on you… So if it looks loose, baggy and ugly on the model, guess what it’ll look like on you? Not very good. If, as in the photo of the Coconut kit above, there is no model, well, hope for the best. Coconut worked out for me but there were a couple of Nashbar jerseys early on that simply had to go:
If you’re going to be riding fast, try to pick tight-fit cycling jerseys. Flappy material costs watts, so unless you have a thing for self-flagellation, better to go for something that fits a little tighter. If, on the other hand, you’re just going to cruise about, go for what you feel comfortable in. Comfort is King… with one exception.
It could be worse. No jersey is always worse than an ugly jersey. Trust me, I speak from experience. Don’t do it. Es no bueno. In fact, no shirt is even worse than aerobars on a mountain bike. Well, maybe not.