Many people write mountain bike jerseys off as expensive t-shirts, and on the surface, they aren't totally wrong, but subtle details like seams that play nice with backpacks and neck braces, drop tails, reinforced panels, built-in ventilation and goggle wipes are among the many features which set them apart.
THE BEST SHORT SLEEVE MOUNTAIN BIKE JERSEYS
At first glance, the Pearl Izumi Canyon Graphic jersey might look like something you'd reach for heading out for a road ride with its full-length zipper and three rear pockets. While it could pull double duty, the relaxed fit makes it more at home on the trail. Speaking of the zipper, it's a semi-auto lock design meaning if you leave the pull flipped up, the jersey can be easily tugged on to open, or flipped down if you want to lock it in place.
The three rear pockets hold heaps of bars, layers and tools and a small zippered pocket on the right side is angled so it's still accessible if you've got a pack on. The combination of a raglan sleeve and rotated side seams make this jersey hydration pack friendly, and the mesh back and side panels help your body manage the heat.
Sitting at the top of Nukeproof's clothing range is the Blackline collection. Even though it's labelled as 'premium' the price sure doesn't reflect it. The majority of the Blackline short sleeve is made from 100% recycled S.Cafe Polyester (said to be UV rated), while under the arms and the majority of the back panel are made from mesh (not recycled). This is not only to keep you fresh, but also to limit sweat from your backpack - the panel is also black so nobody can see if your back gets a bit swampy.
There's also a sizable stash pocket - more than large enough for a phone. The Blackline short sleeve is also available in men's cuts, with the women's version showing a more tapered fit. Even better, with a long list of features, it's also one of the cheaper jerseys on our list.
Fox's Ranger top is one of the most comfortable jerseys I've worn, and the TruDri fabric is soft to the touch and efficiently wicks moisture off your skin. The middle third of the jersey is mesh, allowing for plenty of air to find its way into the shirt and the seams are non-intrusive and flatlock stitched. While it does not command the same price as some of Fox's other tops like the Flexair and Indicator, it's made from the same material - the only difference being the lack of lie-flat cuffs and the perforations not being laser cut.
The Ranger jersey has a looser fit and as Fox puts it 'drapes' around your body. While this leaves ample room for padding underneath and airflow, if you like something a bit more fitted, consider sizing down.
THE BEST THREE QUARTER LENGTH SLEEVE MOUNTAIN BIKE JERSEYS
Hailing from Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, Mons Royale started making merino wool underlayers for skiers, however, with the Kiwis being MTB mad it's no surprise to see them with a range of bike clothing. The Mons Royale Vapour Lite three quarter is one of the first jerseys I reach for getting ready for a day on the trail, in large part because Mons Royale's Merino Tencel wool/Lyocell blend feels more like a warm hug than an MTB jersey. The material does not dry as quickly as open mesh synthetic materials, but it still keeps you comfortable even in the heat and humidity of the summer. The wool also staves off smell and can be worn multiple rides without you being relegated to the back of your riding group because you stink.
The three quarter length sleeves hang just below your elbows, and have enough room for pads underneath, but aren't loose or floppy should you ride protection-free. At the bottom there is a stepped hem, meaning the back of the jersey extends lower to prevent riding up, and there's an integrated glasses/goggle wipe too.
With its founders coming up through outdoor brand Arc'Teryx it's no surprise the gear from 7Mesh is top quality and versatile. The Desperado Henley doesn't scream bike dork from a distance; however, closer inspection reveals a drop tail and articulated cut through the torso and sleeves so the top won't bunch or bind when you reach for the handlebars. Even still, the aesthetic and fit also don't look out of place off the bike at the pub or on a hike. Snap closures at the front can be popped should you need a bit of extra airflow, and the buttons are low profile and don't rub.
Made from a 54% polyester and 47% merino blend the fabric breathes well, and the slim cut also means it can double as a base layer when the temperature drops. Like the Mons Royale jersey, it doesn't dry quite as fast as fully synthetic fibres, but it also doesn't pick up a smell when you think the word 'sweat.'
The Race Face Ambush three quarter sleeve jersey is made using Race Face's Cool Touch polyester yarn, a silky warp knit fabric designed to be soft and quick drying yet hard wearing. Stitched together with flatlock seams throughout, the jersey is airy and seems to hold up pretty well against spiky trail side fauna and dirt rash.
With a looser fit, there is ample room for pads and armour underneath, and if you're not quite that rowdy, you may want to consider sizing down to achieve a slimmer fit. The jersey gets a drop tail, and a plush suede goggle wipe under the hem for keeping your eyewear clean. I'm also a big fan of the camo print on the front.
THE BEST LONG SLEEVE MOUNTAIN BIKE JERSEYS
Lightweight and stretchy, Troy Lee Designs has given the Skyline jersey a complete redesign starting with the fabric. The top is made using a 92% polyester and 8% spandex mix, giving it a surprising amount of stretch. The material itself is Bluesign approved, meaning the manufacturer has been audited for its impact on the people working throughout the supply chain and the environment.
Troy Lee Designs has improved the female-specific fit, and the jersey is perforated throughout with a Lycra rear neck panel so it will easily slip over your head without a catch. Perforated material also runs under the arms, and there is a drop tail at the back. With the fit being slim, the stretch in the fabric means there is plenty of room for armour underneath.
Dhb is best known as Wiggle's in-house clothing brand and in recent years they have impressed with the quality of gear they offer at a comparatively low price. The dhb All Mountain Long Sleeve Jersey is made from polyester and features mesh panels under the arms to combat sweaty pits. dhb has given the fabric an anti-odour treatment, which works to a point, however eventually like most other poly jerseys it will pick up a degree of perma-stink.
The cut is relaxed but not so much so that the jersey becomes flappy, though we'd like to see a bit more stretch built into the fabric. There's a small zippered pocket on the hip, plenty big enough for a modern mobile phone, and hidden inside is a wipe for your sunnies.
One of many mountain bike brands with moto roots, the 100% R-Core DH Jersey definitely looks fast. The top is made from polyester mesh, so it's quick drying and has received an antimicrobial treatment to stave off smells. There is a semi-raglan sleeve, with the seams situated so they won't interfere with a neck brace.
Being a DH jersey the fit is relaxed, leaving abundant room for armour underneath, and there’s a drop tail with a goggle wipe inside the hem.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Fit and riding style
Beyond just navigating size charts to find the correct size jersey, your riding style will also play a role in how a riding top should fit.
XC whippets will usually err on the side of skin-tight Lycra, and may even wear road style jerseys (or even skinsuits) to eke out any possible aero gains, and use the rear pockets for spares, food and water.
Trail jerseys cover a large swath of riders and can mean anything from casual looking dry-release t-shirt style tops to full zip garments with a mix of stretch and non-stretch panels and rear pockets. They come in several weights, sleeve lengths, cuts and materials, and some feature zippered pockets and goggle wipes too.
Downhill jerseys are usually made from slightly thicker fabric, have a baggy fit to accommodate body armour underneath and have long or three quarter sleeves. Often DH jerseys will also see extra panels of soft fabric devoid of seams around the collar to play nice with neck braces, and may even have reinforcements in high friction areas.
Regardless of your riding style, a jersey should be comfortable in the riding position and should not restrict your movement or bind, which in some cases may make for an awkward fit off the bike. At the most basic end, this should mean a longer rear hem or 'drop tail,' and may also influence the placement of seams, moving them away from areas that rub.
Even if a mountain bike jersey has every bell and whistle and the cut is bang on, if it's made from scratchy fabric it's still going to be uncomfortable. For the most part, jerseys will use materials designed to wick sweat and dry quickly to prevent you from overheating. For those that live in colder climates, there is also a broad range of thermal jerseys and jackets, but we will cover those in a separate guide.
MTB jerseys come in all sorts of polyester blends, and natural fibres like merino wool. While synthetic fibres often dry faster than natural ones, they do tend to pick up a perma-stink that will persist through an infinite number of washes - which also releases microfibers into the water supply. On the other hand, your merino jerseys can be worn multiple rides in a row and won't pick up a funk. Often fabrics will receive chemical treatments or something like silver thread woven throughout to add wicking properties or keep body odour at bay, however, these solutions don't seem to last.
Quite often, mountain bike jerseys will have mesh panels or lighter weight fabrics in areas like the armpit or the back to further the ability to dump heat and moisture as you ride.
MTB jerseys are available in short, three quarter length and long sleeve varieties. Look for a Raglan sleeve, meaning the sleeve starts at the collar and the seam runs down under the armpit. This not only allows for a bit more freedom of movement, it also moves the seams well clear of backpack straps that might cause chaffing.
Obviously, longer sleeves are going to be warmer than short sleeves, but the layer of material over your arms also offers added protection from spikey trailside plants, the ground if you come unstuck and the sun too. For both long and three quarter sleeve tops if you wear elbow pads, make sure they fit underneath, however, don't get something overly baggy as it will flap when you ride. And no one likes that.
The roots of MTB clothing comes from motocross, with quite a few of the top brands making gear for both. With this, it shouldn't be a surprise the fluoro MX pyjamas complete with massive logos have made the jump across to mountain biking.
While there are people on both sides of the debate, in recent years many brands have adopted a more casual style, with smaller logos and muted colours. However, there is still plenty of MX steeze to go around if that's your thing, no judgement here.
Beyond what we have listed above, MTB tops will often feature goggle or glasses wipes inside the bottom hem of the shirt and a zippered stash pocket situated behind your kidney.
Also be on the lookout for flatlock stitching, which will not only help the seems to last longer, but reduces chafing too.
Finally, some jerseys will feature reinforced fabrics around high friction areas.