Bike Shirt (bīk SHərt) noun: A shirt suitable for cycling, styled like a casual shirt with a collar, made with technical fabrics and features helpful to cyclists.
Why bother with a nerdy definition? It distinguishes bike shirts from bike jerseys, tech tees and wing suits. Many companies that make them call them jerseys but I think they need their own name. It also distinguishes them from fashion wear that is usually all cotton and not cut for cycling. I started wearing bike shirts for commuting and touring, but now I find that I like them for almost all of my riding. I am doing a survey of shirts I bought with my money (that is why you see all men’s shirts here. Of course there are women’s shirts, too). No one asked me to review them. Because, well frankly, no one cares what I think. But that has never stopped me before, so here goes.
Bike shirts make it easier to get off your bike, socially speaking. You can go to a party, sit down at a restaurant, get groceries or walk into the office and not get the same old questions and funny looks from non-cyclists. Even if you want to change clothes eventually, you can take your time and stay in your riding clothes for a while longer. Ironically their slight dressiness can give a more relaxed look while you are riding. It is like making a statement that you always ride your bike, even when you need to look a little nicer, no big deal
Bike shirts are defined by fit and fabrics in addition to the collar. They should give you room to move around, esp across the shoulders when your arms are forward in a riding position. They should be shorter than a tuck in shirt. And while I prefer 100% synthetic fabrics for their ability to handle sweat, some cotton blends are acceptable. Synthetics seem to be getting more cotton like and comfortable every year. And most of the fabrics used have a UPF sun protection rating, which is the equivalent of SPF but for clothes instead of sunblock.
There are many other features you might find on a bike shirt. The shirts I like all have snaps that are styled like buttons. It is easier to snap and unsnap and as you ride for air flow adjustments. And if you crash or hit something, snaps come undone instead of tearing off. Extra pockets, usually with zippers and often hidden to maintain the casual look, are handy. A mesh yoke across the shoulders can allow the shirt to move around by sliding across the mesh instead of your skin. Pleats can provide freedom of movement. Reflective material, media cable ports, mesh panels and vents are all options you might find on a bike shirt as well.
Hiking shirts often fit the bill, and sometimes a fashion brand will surprise and make a shirt that works. I will review a bunch here. I have worn all of these shirts on multiple rides.
And while it is obvious, let me say it here in black and white: you must wear casual style shorts or pants as an outer layer with a cycling shirt. A cycling shirt and Lycra only shorts combo is just, no. I wear shorts OVER technical riding shorts, that is OK, But no “Lycra lower” look, please.
The Zoic District is shown above. The lightweight 50/50 nylon polyester fabric performs well and looks great. It has a mesh yoke with a vent flap in back for great air flow, making this a good warm weather option. The vent is positioned higher than hiking shirts to stay above your hydration pack. It is tacked into 4 sections so that if one gets pulled shut the others can stay open, and you don’t get all the flapping that comes with one big untacked vent. It features two hidden zip pockets on each side at the bottom. And all the “buttons” are snaps. All in all a nice alternative to regular cycling tops.
I bought the Club Ride Vibe partly because it was available in a sportier color, but it is still muted enough to wear casually. This shirt is styled to send signals that it is a techy top. Its 97% polyester 3% spandex blend gives it a natural jersey feel. The mesh panels in the underarms aren’t see through, but the contrasting color tells you that this is no ordinary casual shirt. Also noteworthy are two zipped pockets including a low side pocket with a media port and a zipper pull that does not try to hide itself.
The low pocket is given away by the zipper pull. A media port in side the pocket lets you route a cable out of the pocket while it is zipped.
The Troy Lee Designs Grind shirt has a different mission than most shirts here, and like all things TLD it goes about it in it own funky way. All of the other shirts here have woven patterns. The plaids you see are created by the color of the threads in the garment. Not so with the Grind. It is a printed pattern on a very technical fabric of 91% polyester and 9% elastane for lots of stretch. My wife did a double take and spotted the print vs woven pattern right away, but I think it is cool and not everyone will have her eagle eye. It is a warmer shirt, so no vents and it has a heavier fabric, but it works in a wide range of temps due to its extra techy fabric. It uses snaps everywhere but hides most of them under a flap, showing off collar and gauntlet faux buttons for a super classy touch. Arm length was spot on for me for riding, and it is longer in back to keep you from getting a case of biker’s crack. It is tech riding gear disguised as a flannel shirt.
The Bass Trail Flex is part of Bass’ technical “Propel” series of clothing, something a little unexpected from a mostly shoe company. The blend is 60% cotton, 37% polyester and 3% Lycra. The cotton would usually rule it out completely, but it can handle short commutes fine, and amazingly 3% Lycra makes a big difference. This is a heavier fabric which gives it a sturdy feel and the cut gives you just enough room to be comfortable. Otherwise it is pretty basic, no extra pockets, mesh, vents or snaps.
Next up is the Columbia Westerly Winds short sleeve shirt. Columbia turns over styles very quickly, you may not find this exact shirt. It is 100% polyester, thus the “omni wick” moniker. The breast pockets have dual velcro closures so they would hold on to something while you were riding. Another basic but effective shirt that does work on the bike.
The Eddie Bauer Rainier Long Sleeve is similar to the Columbia in that it may differ a little from what you find when you shop. I wanted a long sleeve to contrast the Troy Lee Grind, and this surely does that with some surprising twists. It is full synthetic at 73% polyester and 27% nylon, featuring a mesh yoke and a big pleat between the shoulders. The breast pocket is flapless, closed with a hidden bit of Velcro on the inside. The tab sleeves are a useful feature, sort of like having arm warmers that you can get rid of without having to figure out where to put them.
The Orvis Short Sleeve Tech Shirt is 73% nylon 27% polyester. It features a mesh yoke and a couple of pleats across the back. I took this on my recent week-long tour, and the nice thing about this shirt is how well it resists wrinkling. I got it on a blow out price so it also wins the best value award.
Overall these are all worthy shirts for riding. Get a technical fabric cut with room to move and a length that won’t ride up. Add a few nice to have features and you may find that getting off your bike has never been be easier.