Trail jerseys should be simple. But if you base your choice purely on the fact that it's blue, or feels like that old T-shirt you love, you’re probably missing some tricks that could keep you more comfortable on the bike.
Everyone knows sweat-wicking fabrics are good. But how fast a fabric dries after moving the moisture away from your skin is important too. Anything that stays soggy for too long will give you the chills once you start to cool down.
Antibacterial treatments are also a useful feature. It’s a sad fact that fabrics designed for excellence in transporting sweat tend to eventually take on some of the smell of said sweat. We’ve all been halfway into a ride and been overtaken by our own armpits – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
You might also want to think about the weight of the material. Heavier fabrics give more protection but can be warm in the summer months. Lightweight, more open mesh is lighter and cooler but less durable. Some jerseys combine several fabrics to bring together the benefits of each – a regular solid knit through the body, for example, with mesh inserts under the arms or down the sides, and more durable panels on the shoulders and sleeves to protect against pack rub.
The cut may not seem as important on tops as on shorts, because they tend to be more simply styled. But designs with shaped panels that follow the articulation of your arms and body tend to feel right as soon as you put them on and prove more comfortable on the bike too. More basic styles often rely on stretchy fabric and a baggier cut to provide movement and more flexibility between sizes.
Once you’ve determined that the fit is right for you, get on a bike. Some jerseys feel terrible initially, but once you’re in the saddle they magically morph into the perfect shape and feel barely there. Likewise, we’ve tried a few that look cool when standing in front of the mirror but come up short at the back, hang down in swathes at the front or are just generally uncomfortable once you start riding in them.
Finally, always look at the seams. If you’re going to wear a pack then flatlock seams are your best bet to avoid irritation and chafing because there’s nothing to rub or dig in. Raglan sleeves are also good – because they’re cut in one piece with the shoulder, there aren’t any seams at the point of pressure. Got all that? You’re good to go...
How we tested
The only way to test jerseys is to ride in them. True, there are some that make you want to admire the reflection in the mirror for a while, but all are transformed (not always for the better) once you get on a bike. That’s where you find the back hem really isn’t long enough or that antibacterial finish isn’t as effective as you’d hoped...
We try to test all the styles under the same conditions, then once everything has been worn we start the random selections. Sometimes it surprises us which one works its way to the top repeatedly. Finally, all the jerseys are lined up, cross-referenced and rated against each other.
We assess and score four components to arrive at the final mark, starting with fit, because if that isn’t right on the bike then everything else is irrelevant. Next we consider fabric and construction quality – there aren’t too many poor materials around these days but when something is truly outstanding you need to know it’s worth looking out for. Finally, we look at value for money, which, of course, isn’t just about the price.
- Antibacterial: It’s bacteria that break down your sweat and cause it to smell. When searching for new kit, look out for anything that says ‘antibacterial’ because this means the fabric’s been treated to help prevent this and keep you smelling fresher for longer. Do note that this doesn’t mean you can dodge the washing forever though...
- Flatlock seams: These can be identified by a ladder effect of stitching found on the outside of the jersey, sometimes done in a contrasting colour as a design detail. They’re often used at points of contact because they lack the bulk of a conventional seam and so won’t cause chafing, particular if you regularly ride with a pack.
- Mesh inserts: Lighter fabrics or more open knits are often used under the arms and through the sides to increase airflow. If you ride with a pack, look for a mesh back for hot weather use.
- Printed back-of-neck label: Everyone hates an irritating size label. Most bikewear brands now print all the information you need to know directly on to the fabric of the jersey.
- Raglan sleeve: A construction that gives better freedom of movement because there’s no seam circling the shoulder to potentially cause restriction when you reach forward on the bike. Raglan sleeves can be identified by the diagonal seam that goes from the armpit to the neck on both the front and back of the jersey.
- Taped neck seam: A smooth-taped back-of-neck seam and printed product details rather than a stitched-on label reduce irritation and the opportunity for chafing.
- Wicking: When people talk about ‘breathability’ they mean the ability of a garment to keep you cool and it’s the wicking action that does this by moving sweat away from your skin to the outside surface of the jersey.
Best trail jerseys
Pearl Izumi Big Air – best jersey on test
We often remark that less is more when it comes to riding gear and that sometimes all you need is a great fabric and immaculate cut. The Big Air jersey, with its slightly US college inspired fresh good looks, is the perfect embodiment of this.
The cut is relaxed and especially good through the shoulders, so it sits in place perfectly when you’re in the saddle but doesn’t restrict movement. The overall effect is relaxed rather than baggy and, dare we say it, just a little bit more grown up than some of its rivals.
Even the cuffs meet our requirements, with a soft, stretchy construction that ensures they’re comfortable around your wrists but stay in place when pushed up too. When you spend a lot of time in a jersey it’s the little details like this that really matter.
It’s the fabric that really sets this jersey apart though. Incorporating Pearl Izumi’s Transfer technology, it’s incredibly light, to the point that you barely feel like you’re wearing it, and while open mesh can sometimes have a hard edge to it, this is soft to the touch and comfortable against the skin. It’s cool to wear and if you do happen to sweat up a storm it dries quickly. And although you’d think such a pared-back design couldn’t possible conceal anything, you’ll find a lens cleaning cloth sewn into the hem. If you fancy a stealthier look, a black version is available too.
This jersey has a relatively heavy feel to it when you pick it up but feels lighter than expected once you put it on. This is usually the sign of a good cut, and this proved to be the case with the Rhythm. Shaping through the arms and shoulders provides lots of movement and the body has a relaxed but not too loose fit.
The material wicks efficiently and mesh sides help keep you cool too, while flatlock seams are a quality detail that contributes to smooth comfort. Simply put, we enjoyed wearing this jersey – it goes on easily and doesn’t bother you from that moment on.
Our one gripe is that the lens cloth is sewn into the front with a white stitch line. Yep, that’s being very picky, but it’s a jarring note on an otherwise well made jersey.
Endura MT500 Burner II S/S
Endura has packed the Burner II full of features, so while it’s not covered in snazzy graphics, it’s one you’ll reach for time and again because it just feels right.
The cut is relaxed and plenty long enough at the back. But because the shoulders are shaped and the jersey doesn’t rely solely on the stretch of the fabric for movement, it’s neater through the top half and doesn’t shift around every time you do. We like the clever use of fabrics too, with lighter mesh panels used under the arms and more durable material on the sleeves.
It’s not just the performance practicality of each fabric that impresses either. Because the construction quality is high, the extra seams needed aren’t lumpy. There’s even room for a zipped pocket too.
Race Face Indy SS
We like the Indy’s cut, which means it fits more like a T-shirt than an overly baggy freeride jersey. The matt (as opposed to shiny) fabric gives the Indy a high-quality look and it feels good next to your skin.
The construction detail is good too, including chafe-eliminating flatlock seams and a lens wipe sewn into the pocket. Overall it’s a well thought through and well made jersey, with an incredibly light feel. Our UK test team did identify an unusual downside on their sample though – the print was so heavy that it actually crackled when bent, which felt a little disconcerting when moving around on the bike.
One Industries Atom Lite Icon – best budget jersey
This uncomplicated design performs well thanks to its combination of a spot-on cut and lightweight fabric. It’s loose and extra-long in the body but because it’s neat around the shoulders it doesn’t flop around. We definitely recommend that taller riders should check the Atom out for the fit alone.
We like the cuffs too. It’s something we’re especially picky about because there are few things more irritating than long sleeves that you can’t push up. The Atom’s sleeves are soft and comfortable when down, but easily shoved up your arms when you want to.
The final element of the mix, the fabric, is light and breathable. All in all, this is a simply styled jersey that performs well at an excellent price.
Fox Indicator L/S
The Indicator looks like a long-sleeve vintage T-shirt and we’d be just as happy to wear the Fox jersey with jeans as on the bike thanks to those casual good looks.
In the saddle that translates into a top that’s slimmer cut than the others on test. Although the fabric is stretchy enough to ensure movement on the bike isn’t restricted, the snug fit does mean that the body of the jersey tends to move when your shoulders do. The neat fit is married to a flatlock seam based construction so there are no ridges to dig in and next-to-skin comfort is good, even if you’re wearing a pack.
If red isn’t your thing, there’s a more subtle black/grey version of the jersey available too.
If blocks of colour and printed graphics aren’t your thing, look no further than the POC Trail. Its understated style is matched by the fact it doesn’t even feel like a bike jersey – although it’s made from nylon, it has a cotton-like finish that makes it feel like you’re wearing a high-quality heavyweight T-shirt.
The Trail is warm enough to be worn on its own for spring evening rides and even on warmer days it doesn’t feel like you’re about to overheat. And the beauty of it feeling like cotton but not actually being cotton is that it dries faster. It’s treated with a Polygiene antibacterial finish, so it stays pong free for longer too. This is handy when you want to go straight from your bike to the bar, which you can easily do in this top too.
Troy Lee Designs Ruckus
You can always rely on Troy Lee to produce knockout graphics and the Ruckus will definitely get you noticed on the trails.
The cut is ‘oversized slouchy cool’ so there’s good movement through the shoulders. Although there’s plenty of room in the body it manages to avoid being ‘pouchy’ at the front when you’re on the bike, which can be the downfall of similar tops. The mix of solid knit and mesh is comfortable when you up your work rate, the design and specification is good for the price, and the side pocket and lens wipe are the icing on the cake of what is a good combination of design and specification for the price. The Ruckus looks set to become something of a Troy Lee Designs classic.
The Crossmax has a durable, heavyweight feel but wicks and breathes well. Flatlock seams and removal of the neck label would have won it a higher rating.
This is a good basic tech tee at a good basic price. It’s cut quite close around the neck though, which we found a little irritating and makes you heat up quicker.
Scott Trail 40
The Trail 40's fabric is great – it’s smooth, light and dries quickly. Fit strikes a nice balance and details are good, but flatlock seams would be beneficial.
There's a good blend of fabrics here for summer riding. But with basic seams and a no-frills finish it seems expensive compared with other jerseys in this test.