QUESTION: How tight should a cycling jersey be? I ordered one online in my usual T-shirt size, and it’s way too small. I can barely get into it, and it is very uncomfortable. —Steve L.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Jerseys for road cycling should be snug but not uncomfortably so. And normally, your usual shirt size is the place to start. But since your T-shirt-size jersey didn’t fit, there’s a chance that you purchased a race-cut jersey instead of a roomier club-fit.
Many jersey manufacturers make their tops in at least two “fits” or “cut,” (race and club) and some, especially those that cater to professional bike racers, may produce three cuts plus skinsuits.
Riders who race seek every aerodynamic advantage, so they want jerseys that have no excess material to flap in the wind and create drag. And since racers keep their body weight to a minimum to keep them competitive, they don’t usually have the physical bulges some of the rest of us who don’t watch our weight as closely develop. So a race-cut jersey is designed to conform closely to the physique of a slender athlete.
Some jersey makers have an even snugger fit level called aero-cut or pro-cut, which is ultra-tight to keep drag to an absolute minimum.
A skinsuit is, as the name suggests, a one-piece jersey/shorts combo that literally fits like one’s skin. It’s usually made of special material that lets the rider “slip” through the wind with almost zero drag. Professionals use these for time-trial competitions, and occasionally in stage races as well, but the emphasis with these garments is not comfort, but speed.
Club-fit is the term for jerseys designed to accommodate casual riders and those with more average figures.
If you’re not in top athletic form but happen to want a particular jersey that’s not available in club-fit, you can usually purchase a race-fit a size or two larger than you normally wear and may find it suitable. That once happened to me when I was pedaling with a team for a charity ride. For some reason, the person in charge of ordering team jerseys got them all in race-cut. I found that one two sizes up from my usual jersey size fit me.
When testing jersey fit, it’s a good idea to stretch your arms out and squat as though in a “riding” position, since that’s the posture jerseys are cut to accommodate. Even then, you don’t want an overly long tail on the shirt, since it will catch on the back of the saddle when you attempt to stand and pedal.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.