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Ironically, the perfect women’s cycling kit is one you almost never think about. It does the job, fits comfortably without chafing, rubbing, or irritation, and allows you to ride hard or long or short or on dirt or whatever you want without problems. But when there are problems with your cycling clothing, it can ruin an entire day’s ride.
A well-designed cycling kit helps regulate temperature, relieves pressure, prevents saddle sores, and allows you to ride harder and recover faster. That requires more than just a pair of spandex and a t-shirt. We tested five different cycling kits—shorts and jerseys—to find the right cycling clothing that can stand up to the heat, and that you can turn into a year-round staple with the right accessories. (We’re assuming most shorts are worn year-round with leg warmers or other cool-weather layers.)
These are the women’s cycling kits; the men’s cycling clothing was reviewed last week.
2021 Summer Cycling Clothing: Let’s Talk About Bib Shorts
Bib shorts are a touchy topic for a lot of female cyclists. Bibs are cycling shorts that don’t stop at your waist, but rather have straps that come up over your chest and shoulders. Many cyclists tend to favor bibs because they stay put and don’t pinch around your stomach. But, at the same time, many female cyclists tend to dislike the full wardrobe change that is required to go to the bathroom—because your jersey (and jacket or vest during cold weather) go over your bib shorts, you have to take everything off every time you need to pee. (For what it’s worth, somehow most male cyclists are able to just pull the short’s leg up or to the side and pee without issue.) However, a growing number of women’s bib shorts are increasingly designed to solve this problem by simply being pulled down via elastic straps. We tested a mix of bib shorts and non-bib shorts here. And while the features on bibs can vary, all cycling shorts come with some chamois—ie. padding between you and your seat. Ideally, the right chamois allows you to ride all day comfortably.
2021 Summer Cycling Clothing: Chamois
Chamois (pronounced “shammy”) is the padding in your bike shorts that provides some vibration protection, relieves pressure, and keeps your groin area dry and chafe-free. While personal preferences on chamois vary, there’s generally an agreed upon Goldilocks-level of chamois: not so thick it feels like a diaper, not so thin it does nothing. There are also a number of new kinds of foam and design that are aimed specifically at women’s pressure points.
2021 Summer Cycling Clothing: What To Look For
Whatever cycling clothing you choose will likely come down to personal preference and fit. While there are some features you can simply choose to pay more for (or not), your choices will typically come down to the cycling details that are important to you and the price. Look for a jersey that fits you, and choose bib shorts that offer the features you’re looking for. When making the purchase, choose a retailer that lets you try on items, and if you’re ordering at home make sure you can return items that don’t fit.
We’ve tested five different offerings for women’s cycling clothing to give you some insight into making your next purchase. Full disclosure: I am very small and not particularly picky, primarily I want to look awesome and not think about my clothes—though my biggest issue tends to be chafing around the seams of chamois particularly against the seat (likely a byproduct of how I sit on the saddle on one side).
Editor’s Note: While the gear below was loaned out by the brands represented, all choices were selected independently by the tester without any promotional consideration or brand input. Also, unlike other “best triathlon cycling shoes review” websites, our testers actually wear and try the gear ourselves—no glancing at spec sheets and rewording marketing terms! For more on how we review gear, click here.
2021 Summer Cycling Clothing – The Ratings, Explained
|Fit||Notes on sizing.|
|Overall comfort||Scale from 1-5 on overall comfort while riding—this can include construction and materials, but pad is rated separately.|
|Pad Thickness||Scale from 1-5 on pad thickness with 1 being minimal and 5 being very thick.|
|Moisture Control||Scale of 1-5, this is overall moisture control that includes the pad and all other materials; 1 indicates that it gets soggy/wet and stays that way, 5 indicates excellent dissipation and evaporation.|
|Durability||Scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most durable, this rates how tough the materials appear and roughly how many seasons the clothing might last.|
|Saddle Relief||Scale of 1-5 that specifically looks at the construction of the shorts and whether they chafe and/or give a reasonable amount of cushion for the normal rider; 1 indicates poor relief/lots of chafing, 5 means excellent relief with absolutely no chafing.|
|Value||Scale of 1-5, this is not just the price itself from low to high, but how much bang you get for your buck.|
DeSoto Skin Cooler Full Zip Top + 400-Mile Shorts | $140 Jersey, $158 Shorts
|Fit||The shorts run a slightly shorter length than men's shorts, but hit very much mid-thigh. The jersey is cut on the smaller side.|
Basics: A super lightweight jersey, made of cooling moisture-wicking fabric, and a pair of sturdy cycling shorts with padding that’s just right.
What I Liked: These shorts might be that hard-to-achieve absolutely perfect length for women’s cycling shorts—not so long you feel like you’re wearing mini-tights, but not so short you end up with weird seat chafing. There is also a thick stiff band (with a drawstring if necessary) around the top of the shorts, except for a softer thinner section in the front at your stomach. This oddly manages to solve the bunching problem around the waist you can get sometimes from non-bib shorts. And the lower band that holds the shorts in place around your legs also does something really smart—while it doesn’t use grippers or elastic to stay put, it’s simply a curled around piece of fabric that leaves no seams but doesn’t ride up.
What I Didn’t: Most of what I didn’t like had to do with the cut of the jersey. Do you remember early-2000s women’s cut t-shirts—where everything was v-neck and cap-sleeved and weirdly cinched at the waist and cut high on the sides? That’s what this reminded me of. The sleeves were so short they got bunched up around my armpits and the women’s cut of the jersey left me with oddly flared extra material on the sides and a bunched up zipper in the front. Keep the shorts, lose the jersey.Section divider
Velocio Concept Radiator Jersey + Ultralight Bib Short | $179 Jersey, $239 Shorts
|Fit||Euro-style fit, snug and with long sleeves. True to size.|
Basics: These shorts and jersey are the super lightweight summer version of Velocio’s standard bib shorts and jersey. The shorts come with their long elastic straps, which allow you to pull down for a pee break without fully undressing. The jersey is nearly full mesh (with built in sun protection in the fabric), except for extra SPF blocking across the back.
What I Liked: Velocio makes high-quality, comfortable, nice stuff. You’re going to look cool and be comfortable. That’s not a question. I also appreciate the elastic strap system for pee breaks. But a pro tip: This is very much a summer kit. You may be chill in 60 degrees F and remember to wear a cute sports bra because the mesh top is almost entirely see-through.
What I Didn’t: I’ll be honest: I put these shorts on and walked around my house for 20 minutes before I realized I had them on backwards. (“Something feels weird…”) But once they’re on, you’re good. I also slightly prefer Velocio’s other model of shorts without the thick band around the thigh—but some people would disagree with me on that.Section divider
Pearl Izumi Pro Mesh Jersey + Shorts | $113 Jersey, $132 Shorts
|Fit||More fitted than expected, but true to size in the Euro-style trend.|
Basics: If you think of Pearl Izumi as a budget brand, then you might be surprised at the look and feel of this kit. With an updated, very on-trend cut, the jersey is full mesh except for extra SPF protection on the shoulders. The shorts are basic non-bib, soft, simple cycling shorts.
What I Liked: Hands down the softest shorts I think I’ve ever worn (and I’ve tested a lot of cycling kits). Something about the fabric almost feels silk-like. There’s absolutely nothing fancy about them—they even have the laser-cut unfinished seam with simple silicone grippers around the legs—but they’re surprisingly comfortable and cool. The jersey, especially in the bright color, looked excellent and fits snug without moving around; I also prefer the slight collar to no collar. While this wasn’t the most expensive or flashiest kit, it ended up being a favorite
What I Didn’t: The tags. Weirdly the tags in the shorts and jersey kept poking and stabbing me. It seems silly, but after a few hours of riding it becomes maddening.
Members can read an extended, in-depth review of the Pearl Izumi Women’s Pro Mesh Jersey and Shorts. Not a member? Become one today for as low as $2 per month.Section divider
Smashfest Queen Weekend Jersey in Pink & Navy + Aero Cycling Bibs | $140 Jersey, $198 Shorts
|Fit||This is not as tight-fitting as many kits and the sleeves only go partway down your bicep (not to the elbow); a bit of a middle ground for people who want form-fitting but not too much.|
The Basics: Having been sponsored by Smash back in the day, I own a lot of Smash kits. The thing about one-of-a-kind matching cycling kits is they don’t match with anything else! The idea with The Weekend kit is to have a mix-and-match kit where different versions of the jerseys and shorts would go with each other. This is their basic pink and navy, with light material that isn’t full mesh and bands around the arms to hold them in place. The bib shorts have a thicker pad and light straps.
What I Liked: I looked cute. And as we’ve established, that’s my main priority. (There are also sports bras, undershirts, and running clothes to match if you really need to coordinate.) This kit is also a nice in-between for those who want a lightweight aerated jersey but not full-duty mesh; longer sleeves but not the ones that go all the way to the elbow. It’s a premium kit without being too much.
What I Didn’t: While the shorts are plenty comfortable, they’re certainly not as high-end as, say, Velocio’s for instance. And one of the seams on the back edge of the chamois rubbed—a problem I commonly have because of how I sit on a bike seat. I could also fix how I sit on the bike seat.
Betty Designs Speedway Race Fit Jersey + Bib Shorts | Jersey $135, Shorts $150
|Fit||Fit slightly larger than many of the other kits.|
Basics: The white version of Betty’s Speedway collection (also comes in black and pink). A women’s made kit with bib shorts that ride high and mesh straps. Varying levels of light wicking mesh-like material throughout the jersey and lots of silicone bands to hold things in place.
What I Liked: Obviously, Betty makes tri and cycling clothes specifically for women, and these shorts had a women’s specific chamois, with sections meant to hit in the right places. It’s also all about looking not cute, but badass.
What I Didn’t: For some reason, I could never quite get this to sit right. In addition to the grippers around the thigh, there was an extra strip of silicone, which meant that those shorts did not move—but I found myself constantly fidgeting to try to get them to the right spot. The jersey also rode low on me and the shorts rode high, with a front section that went almost up to my chest. This might not be an issue for women who aren’t as small, but it just felt off on me.