In a RBR poll, 53% of readers said they always or usually slather on sunscreen before a ride. But only 3% use sun protection clothing. Perhaps this is because not many riders realize there are long-sleeve summer jerseys that protect arms from the sun without causing overheating.
Trepidation about skin cancer has piqued family interest in such clothing. My wife Deb and I have ridden, run and hiked in the high-altitude sunlight of western Colorado for almost 40 years. In college I worked outside at sports camps in Ohio, usually wearing only shorts and a T-shirt. Deb did a stint counseling at a summer camp too and soaked up the sun on the beach.
Because our skin is subjected to the worst that Old Sol can throw at it, we were interested in trying sun protection jerseys from Boure Bicycle Clothing, located in nearby Durango, Colorado. Boure sent each of us Club SPF-35 jerseys that we wore for a total of 38 hours in temperatures ranging from 45F to almost 100F (7-37C).We usually rode in bright sunshine but encountered cold rain and hail too.
Sizing, for my men’s medium and Deb’s women’s small, was accurate. The jerseys fit comfortably without being baggy. The sleeves are long enough to stay down on the wrist when hands are on the drops. This jersey is advertised as a “club cut” but fit a bit tighter than the typical roomy club jersey.
As the name suggests, the Club SPF-35 long-sleeve jersey has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 35. SPF is a gauge of how much time skin can be exposed to the sun before being burned. For example, if you burn in 10 minutes without sunscreen and you apply a liberal dose of sunscreen with a SPF number of 35, you should be protected from a sunburn for 350 minutes (5.8 hours). Sunscreen is available with an SPF of 50+.
But instead of smearing on a lotion, you can wear this Boure jersey. The sun-resisting material is lightweight to let air circulate but substantial enough to provide some protection on chilly mornings.
Wearing our Club SPF-35 jerseys, Deb and I rode our tandem in a July century that started at 7 a.m. at an elevation of 8,000 feet. Although it was a brisk 45F at the start and climbed well into the 90s at the finish, the jersey was a good compromise. We were a bit cool early, especially on downhills, and our covered arms were warm at the end. But most of the time the jersey was neither uncomfortably cold nor too hot.
The jersey worked over such a wide range of temperatures because of its micro-mesh material that Boure claims “enables air to easily pass through the fabric, keeping you dry, cool and safe from the sun.”
I was skeptical that a mesh fabric could block the sun while allowing air flow. I noticed a cooling breeze over my forearms when temperatures were low but the effect lessened as the mercury climbed above 80F (27C). Deb liked the lightweight arm covering for cooler morning rides but in warmer temperatures the long sleeves felt hotter to her than a conventional short-sleeve jersey with sunscreen.
In theory, the warming effect of fabric on the arms is counteracted by how the material shields skin from the sun. At first we attributed the additional warmth to the strange feeling of wearing long sleeves in hot temperatures. However, even after we became accustomed to covered arms, the feeling persisted. It didn’t cause us to overheat but it was noticeable because we couldn’t feel much air flowing over our skin.
The sleeves did seem to protect from the sun. We never wore sunscreen on our arms while wearing the jerseys and didn’t get sunburned. However, our arms were already deeply tanned despite careful sunscreen application earlier in the season when we were wearing short sleeves. So it was difficult to say how protective the jersey was. A good test would be to wear it over arms white from winter during a spring cycling camp in Arizona or Florida. Our shoulders, sans sunscreen, didn’t burn through the jersey so I’m sure our arms were as well protected.
The sleeves fit tightly and have elastic at the wrists, so they didn’t flap in the breeze. But this snugness meant they couldn’t be pulled up over our forearms when long sleeves felt too hot. Of course, pulling up the sleeves defeats the sun-shielding purpose of the jersey but it would have been a nice option for extending the temperature range even more.
Another nice bonus of long sleeves: When it rained there was fabric between our skin and clammy rain jackets. No need to tote arm warmers.
The light blue color (think North Carolina Tar Heels) reflected the sun’s rays and also provided excellent visibility to motorists. A gray side panel added an attractive contrast. There is a small Boure insignia on a rear pocket. Boure has also offered this jersey in white (with full Boure team lettering) and it says other light colors will soon be available.
The full-length zipper aided ventilation and operated easily. We have learned from experience, however, that open jerseys are bee catchers. Zip down at your peril. Another nice feature — 3 deep, spacious rear pockets that swallow a light jacket, food and cell phone.
We haven’t worn the jerseys enough to judge long-term durability. They have stood up to 15 launderings, including washing them in a motel sink on a tour, with no problems. Voler, who makes this jersey for Boure, also provides jerseys to Pac Tour using a similar fabric and design. I have used the latter for 14 years and have never seen excessive wear despite hand washing and wringing while at camps and on tours. I’m confident this Boure version will be equally hardy.
I noticed that my jersey retained body odor more than similar jerseys made of technical fabric. Maybe the chemical that provides UV protection played a role but That’s just a guess. I hope it Wasn’t due to some loathsome personal uncleanliness. Deb didn’t have this problem, maybe because horses sweat, men perspire but women just glow.
Note: We didn’t have the opportunity to try our jerseys in humid weather. Western Colorado is arid and we usually rode in humidity of 10-20%. Perspiration didn’t collect on our arms under the long sleeves, but this might be an issue in more humid climates.
Based on our testing, I can recommend Boure’s Club SPF-35 jersey for riders concerned about protecting their arms from the sun. Deb and I agree that the additional warmth is a minimal tradeoff.
For a jersey such as this, I think the best conditions would be when the sun is bright but temperatures are relatively cool. For instance, it would be ideal for riding into late spring and then again in early fall. As temperatures rose toward 90F (32C), covered arms became less comfortable for us.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.