Even the least observant among us can tell the difference between a mountain bike and a road bike with one glance. If the bikes are that different, it stands to reason that the riders of those bikes will look different, too, right?
A mountain bike has fat, knobby tires for a reason, and those tires would be entirely out of place on a road bike. When it comes to apparel, we find the same kind of disparities. Of course, they’re not as pronounced as they are with equipment, but differences exist between a mountain bike jersey and a road bike jersey.
What They Have In Common
No matter what you ride, if you’ve moved into the point in your biking career that you’re purchasing jerseys, you’re past the point of throwing on a cotton t-shirt from your favorite 90s band concert and heading out.
Riders wear jerseys for a few reasons, but the shirts’ moisture-wicking abilities are among the main ones. To understand why this matters, we need to revisit our physical science class from the ninth grade and remember how sweating works.
When the body’s core temperature begins to rise— maybe because that body is riding a mountain bike— sweat gets produced to help lower that temperature. This works through evaporative cooling. As the sweat on your skin (which contains the heat your body is trying to dissipate) evaporates, it transfers heat away from the body.
When you wear a cotton shirt while riding, your sweat soaks into the fabric and just stays there. Sure, a nice breeze blowing on your sweat-soaked shirt can impart a cooling sensation, but the liquid isn’t evaporating. The sweat and the heat in it stay there.
Moisture-wicking fabric pulls the sweat away from the skin. It evaporates from the material, but it’s already been removed (along with the extra heat the body is trying to rid itself of), so you’re cooling off faster.
Bottom line? Moisture-wicking fabric is better than cotton for biking and other kinds of exercise.
The big difference between mountain biking and road biking jerseys is how they fit. Let’s think about the goals of these two different riding styles and how clothing and equipment differ due to those goals.
Most mountain bikers aren’t necessarily after speed records but rather want to be out in the rough, flying down trails and steep declines.
Because of the varied terrain mountain bikers encounter, riders tend to be up out of their saddles a lot more than road bikers. They’re using their handlebars not just for steering, but also for navigating hops and jumps over various obstacles.
All this movement means that a loose-fitting jersey allows for more freedom and range of motion for the rider. A skin-tight jersey might bunch up here or pinch there. A tighter jersey won’t make you fail at mountain biking, but you’ll be much more comfortable in a looser one when riding off-road—shop MTB jerseys here.
A note about safety, here, too— some mountain bikers wear pads or braces and having a looser-fitting jersey much more easily accommodates that extra bulk. Let’s face it— mountain bikers do tend to have more crashes than road bikers and so the jersey must reflect that.
Mountain bike Jerseys are also made of more durable materials so that when you do come off the jersey is much less likely to be damaged and it also protects your skin from being shredded. Arguably enough of a reason to wear a MTB jersey next time you’re out on the trails.
Speed and aerodynamics sit on the top of the list of things road bikers want. You remember that guy in college who was a serious biker and shaved his legs, right? He did that to cut down on aerodynamic drag.
Road biking jerseys are much tighter than mountain biking ones so that the material won’t flap in the wind as you ride. Check out road bike jerseys here— close fit, three back pockets, and a full zip for easy removal when you finish your sweaty ride.
Anyway, that flapping increases wind resistance, so a tighter-fitting jersey eliminates that. For the same reason, road bikers wear helmets with much sleeker aerodynamic profiles than the brain buckets mountain bikers wear.
A seemingly innocuous difference, the pocket placement on jerseys is another big difference between road biking and mountain biking wear. In general, a mountain biking jersey will have fewer pockets— often just one or two zippered pockets on the sides. A road jersey, though, usually has pockets across the back.
Pockets go back to the aerodynamics discussed above. Mountain bikers typically don’t take rides as long as their road biking brethren. That means they need to carry fewer things. If a mountain biker does plan on a longer trek, he can carry gear in a waist pack or some type of saddlebag setup without having to worry about fooling around with his aerodynamics.
A road biker, though, will both ride longer and conceivably need to carry more. If she stuffed her pockets with gel packs and protein bars and those pockets were on the sides of her jersey, that would alter her aerodynamic profile. Having pockets on the back, though, means that when they’re full— even to bulging— they won’t produce any drag.
Road bikers might have an under-seat bag for their keys and maybe some CO2 cartridges for flats, but looking to reduce drag means not having a lot of extra stuff on the bike. Anything they want to carry will go in pockets, so there are generally more pockets on a road biking jersey than on a mountain biking one.
Can you ride your bike in a t-shirt? Sure. But if you’re a serious rider— mountain or road— you’ll find yourself much more comfortable after you invest in a jersey or two for your rides.
Jerseys’ moisture-wicking qualities make for better cooling, so no matter what kind of bike you ride, you’ll be happier in a jersey than a cotton tee. Mountain biking jerseys will generally provide a looser fit than road jerseys, as the road version of a jersey works to reduce aerodynamic drag. You’ll also find more pockets in your aerodynamic road biking jersey.
If you have the same question about shorts – check out our article on shorts!