How Are Cycling Jerseys Supposed To Fit: How tight is too tight?


When it comes to cycling jerseys, they always seem to be too tight, certainly, that’s how I felt when I first got into cycling. But over the years I’ve gained more confidence and realized the benefits of having a well-fitting cycling jersey. I thought I’d help other cyclists work out how a cycling jersey is supposed to fit, hopefully, a little quicker than I did.

A cycling jersey should feel “snug” but not so tight that it becomes uncomfortable. It should be long enough to cover your bum without dropping behind the saddle and it should not have any excess material around the chest, waist, or arm. The pockets should sit in the center of your body, just above the lower back.

So, we’ve established the main criteria for a well-fitting cycling jersey, but how do you actually size a cycling jersey, what if you are buying one online and can’t try it on, and why are cycling jerseys so tight in the first place?

How are cycling jerseys supposed to fit?

Before we start there are a few key points we need to get out of the way.

First of all, the fit of your jersey will depend on the type of cycling you are doing. If you are mountain biking then you don’t need a tight-fitting jersey or even a jersey at all. However, for road cycling or bike racing you will notice the benefits of a tighter jersey. Most of the advice in this article will focus on jersey fit in terms of road biking.

Secondly, when looking at bike jerseys, it is important to know that there are two main different types of bike jerseys you can get. These are called racing jerseys (also called aero or road jerseys) and club jerseys.

Race jerseys are designed to be more skin-tight, these are made to be the most aerodynamic and are used by more serious riders or riders during racing events.

Club jerseys are typically a little looser than racing jerseys (although still quite tight), and are designed for more casual riders or those who don’t necessarily want to wear a skin-tight piece of clothing on their weekend bike ride. They also tend to be a little warmer and so make a good choice during winter rides.

So, now we’ve got the basic out of the way, how is a cycling jersey actually meant to fit you? There are 6 key areas to look at when looking to see if a cycling jersey fits you correctly.

General Fit

In general, a cycling jersey should be tight enough to feel “snug” but not to the point where it is uncomfortable or suffocating. Having too loose a jersey can result in excess material that can flap in the wind, however too tight a jersey can be uncomfortable or be hard to take off at the end of a long, sweaty ride.

While how tight your jersey will be overall will be dependent on the type of jersey you are buying (race or club), a good suggestion is to think of a jersey as tighter than a t-shirt, but less tight than a base layer.

Length

You want any jersey to be long enough to cover your bum when you lean over in the saddle, but not too long that you have excess jersey material hanging down behind you.

If your jersey is too long, then you get to the awkward situation of having it fall down behind your saddle, or even tucking under your bum as you cycle, which is not only annoying but can also make your ride much more uncomfortable, causing excess chafing around your saddle region.

Pocket position

When you are sizing a riding jersey, another key area to look at is where the pockets are positioned and how tight they are.

The pockets should be sat nicely in the center of your back, just above your lower back or bum. You will want to ensure that they are tight enough that they can safely hold a piece of equipment or keys without you being worried about them falling out.

You also want to ensure that the fabric is tight enough around the pockets that they don’t move around too much as you cycle, which can be very annoying and impede your performance.

Sleeve size

Your sleeves want to be tight enough that they do not flap around in the wind and collect excess wind drag, but also not too tight that they compress your arms.

If your sleeves are too tight they can impair your control over the bike, making it more difficult to adjust the handlebars, and you obviously don’t want anything tight enough that cuts off the circulation!

Chest size

In general, your jersey should run smoothly over your chest with no excess material or folds. However in reality you will want to make sure you measure your chest and compare this to the sizing guide from the jersey manufacturer that you are purchasing.

If the chest area is too loose this can cause excess drag as you cycle, however, if it is too tight it can become uncomfortable (even not fitting at all).

Waist Size

As with your chest, the jersey should also run smoothly over your waist without excess material. Again, it is best to measure your waist before purchasing a jersey and comparing this to the manufacturer’s guide.

Having too loose a jersey can result in the jersey riding up as you cycle, which can be uncomfortable and affect your performance.

How do you size a cycling jersey?

You can use these steps to ensure that you are properly sizing a new jersey as you buy it.

The basics

First of all, make sure that when buying a new cycling jersey you check the fit when you are either sitting in the saddle of a bike or trying to hold yourself in the “riding” position. Cycling jerseys have been designed to fit when you are riding, stretched over the handlebars.

This position will effectively shorten the front of your torso and lengthen your back which means that if you try on your kit while standing then it may feel short at the front and long at the back when it is actually the right size.

If you try on a cycling jersey while standing you might also find that there is excess material around the shoulders, which is meant to allow more flexibility in the riding position, but which appears unnecessary while standing.

It is also helpful to try on your jersey while you are wearing your bib shorts, as this will help to give you a better idea of where the jersey will lie on your back with your shorts (making sure there isn’t an unfortunate gap between the two).

We’ve already established that there are two main types of cycling jerseys, but it is important that you know which type of jersey you are trying on at the shop. This will greatly impact how tight the jersey should be as it will have been designed in a specific way.

The final point in this section is to clarify that just because you are a medium in the bib shorts of a particular brand, that does not mean you are a medium in the same brand’s top.

Sizing your jersey

The first step when sizing a new jersey is to measure your chest and waist size. I’ve already established why this is important but it really helps to narrow down which size range you should be looking at.

If you are in between a waist and chest size, I would suggest prioritizing waist size. Jerseys have a little bit of give in them and will stretch in the chest region, however having too loose a waist can be very annoying, riding up frequently and causing your pockets to sway as you cycle.

Once you have an idea of which size jersey you should be looking at, then you should try them all on individually. This is where you should take account of the other key areas such as sleeve tightness and pocket position.

It is worth actually popping something in the pockets so that you can see how much they move around. Also, if you are prone to overloading your pockets, try this out too, making sure the extra weight doesn’t cause it to slide off to the side, or sag down.

Make sure that the jersey covers your bum without being too long, and also that there is no excess material gathering around your waistline, chest, or zip.

Do cycling jerseys run small?

In general, we’ve gone through the steps to try on a jersey in a fitting room, but what if you are buying a jersey online. In that case, should you be getting a size up or down from what you would expect?

Obviously, cycling jerseys are designed to be tight, as such I would suggest that if you only just fit into the next size up based on the manufacturer’s suggestions, that you get the size below. You want to aim for a jersey where you are at the top of the sizing range.

I’ve often experienced that if I get a jersey that I only just fit into, they are overly flappy and less aerodynamic. If you like a looser fit, even then I would only aim for a jersey where I fit into the middle of the range for suggested sizes.

I asked a large group of cyclists if they regularly sized up or down the jerseys they were buying. For example, sizing up meant that if the manufacturer’s sizing suggested a medium, they would go for a large, and sizing down meant that if the manufacturer’s sizing suggested a medium, they would go for a small.

As you can see, the majority of cyclists went for the suggested size however a large proportion went for a size down.

This is obviously a large generalization and will be very manufacturer and brand dependent, but hopefully, this helps in your decision.

How do I know if my cycling jersey is too big?

If your cycling jersey is too big, there are a few areas you will notice this the most.

First of all, if you notice any sleeve flapping while cycling, this is a clear sign that the jersey is too big. Sleeves should not flap in the wind as you cycle, this is one of the worst ways to increase your wind drag and make your cycling harder.

Apart from this, having a jersey that hangs below the saddle as you cycle or folds over itself around the zip suggests that there is too much excess material.

Finally, you may notice that your jersey is too large through your cycling. If cycling is much more difficult than you expect, you may find that the extra drag that the jersey is causing might be the problem.

Do cycling jerseys stretch out?

So, you’ve bought a new jersey and it feels too tight, does this mean that you should send it back, or does it just need a little time to stretch out?

In general, cycling jerseys will stretch over time. However, there is a limit to how much they stretch and really a jersey should fit when you buy it.

Jerseys are most often made of lycra, however, some are made from cotton or polyester. The material that the jersey is made from will impact how much it can stretch. With lycra stretching the most over time and cotton or polyester both being more difficult to stretch.

If you are trying to stretch out a too-tight jersey (be that one you bought that was too tight or one that has become too tight over time), you can try soaking the jersey in hot water.

Normally jerseys should be out into a cold wash to avoid it changing their size. However, we can use this to our advantage when we are trying to change its shape. By washing it in warm water and then stretching out the required areas by hand as it dries, you can help the stretching process.

Why are cycling jerseys so tight?

So we’ve established that cycling jerseys are designed to be tight, but why is this? In general, jerseys are designed in such a way that they make your cycle smoother and more enjoyable.

Firstly, tight jerseys are more aerodynamic, especially when you compare them to a normal t-shirt. This is because a tight jersey does not have as many folds that can flap in a head or crosswind. Studies done in wind tunnels have shown that a baggy jersey will cause the equivalent of 20 watts of drag.

As such, buying yourself a skin-tight jersey is the single most cost-effective change you can make to improve your performance on a bike.

“The less bag the less drag”

On top of aerodynamic effects, tight jerseys also have other benefits too. The tight-fitting material makes it more effective at wicking away sweat from your body as you cycle, helping to keep you dry and fresher (which is particularly useful if you plan to stop off at a shop or cafe).

Not only this but it will also help to keep you cooler, and reduce the amount of water you need to drink on a cycle.

Finally, a well-fitting jersey will help to reduce chafing and saddle sores. If the jersey was too loose it might allow fabric to group up, causing areas of pressure points on your body which as you cycle can become painful.

Overall

As you can see, how a cycling jersey should fit involves a lot more information than you would expect. In general, a cycling jersey should be tight enough to improve your aerodynamics and wick away sweat, while not being so tight that you expose parts of your body or become uncomfortable.

If you are looking at getting some new cycling gear, take a look at my article on how long cycling shorts should last you, and which brands last the longest.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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