How should my cycling clothes fit?
Have you ever wondered how cycling clothes are supposed to fit? Whether you buy online or at your local store, kits vary by brand, size, gender, and fabric. With so many options, what do you need to know? Let’s find out what to look for when fitting your road bike clothing. Above all else, always size the tops and bottoms separately.
Not all cyclists wear a base layer, but they should. Because they are worn directly against the skin, they serve as the first layer of defense to keep the skin dry and comfortable when you sweat. Yes, cycling jerseys are supposed to do the same thing, but base layers provide an extra surface area to absorb moisture.
Base layers should be snug but comfortable, like a second skin, with no extra material. They should move with you and essentially disappear from your thoughts when you wear them. They are available in many fabrics and styles, including a seamless construction, high winter collars and a front wind protection panel.
Cycling jerseys and jackets
Your choice of cycling jersey is a matter of body type and personal fit preference. Most brands offer different fits to determine exactly how well a jersey hugs the body, so it’s important to read the description of the garment. Common fit names are club, race, and pro/aero, each with their own distinctive characteristics.
• Club: Generally the most relaxed fit, meaning it will hug the body the least. It’s the common choice for new cyclists, occasional cyclists and the type of souvenir jersey offered by a large local fondo, sporting events or other special events.
• Race: Defined as the athletic cut, often associated with a slim silhouette and only a small amount of play in the cut.
• Pro/Aerodynamic: The most fitted and ultra-tight jersey of the three, designed for maximum aerodynamic gains, designed for riders with thin chest, waist and arms.
Put on your jersey and get into a driving position, ideally on your bike placed on a home trainer and pedal. The swimsuit should be long enough to cover the waistline of your bottoms. Even when you turn to look behind you, no skin should stick out. Long-sleeved jerseys should cover the wrists and have a cuff that prevents air from entering. Jackets should be fitted as close to the body as possible to prevent excess material from blowing in the wind.
Trying to go back as if you were taking a gel during a ride. The pockets should land on your lower back. Is it easy to do or difficult? Pockets you can’t access are of no use, and even if you like the look of the jersey, you probably won’t reach it in the future (pun intended).
Move around in the saddle a bit and think about how the chest and shoulders feel. Is it tight or restrictive in any way? And how about those short sleeves? Elastic sleeve bands can vary, but ideally they should be made of a wide, flexible material with a slight grip that doesn’t constrict or cut your upper arm.
Cycling shorts or tights
Cycling shorts should fit snugly to prevent chafing and have a chamois pad for comfort in the saddle. (Be careful, a larger saddle is not the automatic solution to discomfort! Any saddle that bothers you is not adapted to your anatomy or you are badly positioned on a bike that does not fit you well.)
The shorts are made from panels sewn together to follow the anatomical shape of the body. Generally, the more panels used, the better the fit. Hold shorts by the waist. If their shape is not defined, it is probably made with fewer panels. A tighter fit means more panels and seams go into the garment, which also makes them more expensive.
Shorts (and tights) are classified with or without bib (braces). The choice is very personal. More experienced riders opt for bib shorts because they provide a better fit, more comfort, better range of motion, and stay upright! Yes, bibs can be a hassle for women when nature calls, but there are several brands that have eliminated this inconvenience by creation of folding seats.
Put on the shorts, get back on your bike and start pedaling. Is the short length right for you? Different brands have different lengths, so some trial and error may be in store for you. The waist should be comfortable without restricting your breathing or movement. The same principles apply to tights. Do they cover your ankles and follow the contours of your leg?
Stand up while pedaling, then try to sit down. Is material clinging to the saddle? If so, pull your socks up a little more and try again, go down a size or, in the worst case, try another brand. You don’t want any extra material anywhere that can cause chafing.
The comfort of the leg band on the shorts is also important. It should be wide and made of a soft, stretchy material with sufficient grip. Road bike shorts should stay fixed on your thigh, never slipping or riding up. The amount of leg band compression is a bigger issue for women who don’t want the sausage leg look. Leg bands that are too tight on someone are unattractive and affect your riding enjoyment. Once you find your mark, treat yourself to several pairs.
The chamois is the soft padding sewn into shorts (and tights) with a covering material that wicks moisture away from your skin. They are designed to provide comfort by dampening road vibrations passing through the saddle. Chamois come in different thicknesses, densities and shapes, including specific to women. Some brands rate theirs by number of hours driven, so check those product description labels.
Online shopping has become the norm and many quality brands sell direct to consumers in addition to being available at your local bike shop. Similar to your civilian clothes, it really depends on the brand. Use the size charts as a guide, but until you dial in your favorite tag and fit, you won’t know until you try it on.
Don’t let that deter you from buying online, but read the fine print regarding the source’s return policy. Consumer-focused brands won’t charge their customers return shipping for clothes that don’t fit or fit them, but minimum values likely apply. And if you’re buying custom apparel for a team or special event, ask potential vendors to send in a fitting kit first. This is standard practice, as there are never any returns on custom clothing.
Women against men
When I started riding, women’s clothing didn’t exist and I was doing just fine. That said, I try women’s specific shorts first, but if you look at men’s and women’s chamois side-by-side these days, the differences are minimal at best. I own pairs of both but we each have different needs. Cyclists shouldn’t feel pressured to buy clothes based solely on their gender. The important thing is the fit.
The same goes for shirts. I almost always buy men’s jerseys because the chest size is ideal for me. I fall between two standard women’s sizes and the extra fabric flutters in the wind; very inappropriate. Some women’s jerseys have only two pockets against always three for men. Don’t female cyclists need so many pockets? (I never understood that). Either way, don’t let gender on the clothing label dictate your choices; fit and your comfort come first.
Take care of your clothes
Now that you’ve potentially spent a small fortune on your cycling apparel, you’ll want to protect your investment by taking care of it properly. The technical fabrics used in cycling clothing are designed to wick moisture away from your skin when you sweat. High-tech fabrics have pores similar to your skin to achieve this effect. Fabric softeners block these pores and render the technical capabilities of the fabric completely ineffective.
Therefore, avoid fabric softeners at all costs to preserve your cycling wardrobe. The same goes for putting your bike clothes in a clothes dryer or on a hot radiator to dry. Just lay them out in the air. They’re made to dry quickly and could be worn before you know it, certainly in time for tomorrow’s release.