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Apparel & Accessories

Technical FAQ: crash-resistant cycling apparel

The VeloNews technical expert takes a deeper dive into protective cycling apparel.

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Have a question for Lennard? Please email him at veloqna@comcast.net to be included in Technical FAQ.

Dear Lennard,
Thanks again for another answer that was very insightful and detailed. And more than I was expecting when I sent in that question [about protective cycling apparel]. I sadly learned that much of the hype over sun protection is just that, hype.

I still cannot understand why a jersey for example could not be made with a mix of materials/weaves similar to, say, a wind vest that has solid panels in the chest, breathable mesh on the back, or how my Pearl Izumi arm warmers are made with wind block material on the forearms and upper arms with softer material for the backsides. Regardless, I will defer to Shane’s knowledge, as his answer shows they’ve researched this heavily.

What really struck me about the answer you provided was not the answer itself but rather how informative the answer was. Your column consistently does this. Rather than simply answer the question, you always deliver an understanding behind the answer that teaches and explains. My simple question about greasing fasteners led to a much deeper understanding about the hardness of materials, finishes, and torque values. And the same with the question over-protective clothing. I doubt that I’ll ever look at an SPF sticker the same.

During the pandemic, I have been surprised where I have been finding small periods of respite and relief. One such has been your columns. Like the favorite comic strip I visit every day, you have been a source of normalcy and familiarity that has been a welcomed and needed distraction.
— Peter

Dear Peter,
Here’s an answer to your original question from Hugh Walton, who was highly successful as a pro rider and for decades headed up some of the world’s finest cycling apparel brands, including Pearl Izumi and Descente; he is currently the general manager of CCNSport-USA, Inc. He addresses each of your questions or statements separately.
― Lennard

Peter asks:
“The crux of my letter is asking why clothing manufacturers have not developed a line of cycling clothing incorporating abrasion-resistant materials in key areas, lightweight temperature regulating fabric throughout with a high SPF rating. Also, if some cyclists use sun sleeves and knee “coolers” to both keep cooler and prevent sun exposure, why haven’t clothing companies designed lightweight long sleeve jerseys and bib knickers using the latest technologies in fabric?”

Hugh Walton answers:
The answer is complex but involves commercial viability. Such materials tend to be very expensive and are difficult to cut and manipulate in a sewing factory.
In the USA, there is a fundamental legal liability issue regarding claims. Such garments tend to be heavy, hot, not very stretchy, and, consequently, uncomfortable.
Ultimately, in my experience, the market is not willing to pay the necessarily high price required for such road racing garments. People often tend to discount the likelihood of crashing and therefore don’t agree that the price makes it “worth it”

Peter asks:
“Equally important, I questioned why cycling clothing did not also utilize SPF fabric to a greater extent.”

Hugh Walton responds:
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) used to gauge creams etc, and UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) Used for textiles and almost all modern textiles you would tend to buy at a bike shop offer a significant UPF of ~ 20-40. By their nature, modern, typical bike jersey fabrics’ knitting, weight, and density provide a UPF of 25 – 40 = ~ 96 percent of UV blocking which is very good. The factor most affecting a UPF Rating is fabric weight. Almost all bike jersey fabrics weigh about 100grams/meter. Anything below this is going to provide a worse UPF rating. The more a garment stretches, the worse the UPF. Meshes, of course, provide a lower UPF. Most garment manufacturers make long-sleeve bike jerseys. CNN offers their CLUB L/S jersey with fabric with no spandex, little stretch, and a high stitch count (Density of + 200 stitches per square inch); the higher the density, the better for sun protection. Typical jersey textiles are all at +200 SPSI.

100 percent Polyester: Polyester is far better than cotton for UPF properties, especially when dry. The CNN L/S CLUB jersey provides +50 UPF = 96% UV protection. Dark colors are better. Avoid mesh-type fabrics or the typical “Birdseye” knit. Chemicals do not add meaningful protection on top of the natural UPF provided by a typical knit textile. But dark dyes offer more protection. With no dye, a typical white bike jersey (+120gm/mtr, 100 percent polyester or nylon) fabric offers 50+ UPF.

Peter asks:
“Why hasn’t any manufacturer developed a line of clothing specifically aimed at gravel riding?”

Hugh Walton answers:
Many of the MTB styles offered suffice for such riding. And many typical road styles also suffice. The market is not big enough to support the development cost or the manufacturing minimums. The investment by a typical IBD is too high and carries too much cash flow risk. There’s generally not enough specific knowledge among retail staff.

Peter asks:
“There are two-three companies currently offering summer weight long sleeve jerseys aimed at gravel riding, but little else. When contacted, the replies I received basically stated that the public buys what the pros ride, and pros will not ride the clothing I was suggesting. I believe if the clothing was properly designed, the pros would be the first in line.”

Hugh Walton answers:
For the reason above, such a line may not be commercially viable, as it requires:
– High development cost
– High retail costs
– High factory minimums
– Too hot; not stretchy enough
Pros think in terms of invincibility; they don’t think in terms of “What if?”. They don’t typically consider crashing ahead of time.
—Hugh Walton, general manager, CCNSport-USA, Inc.

Sunweb’s kits are made by Craft, which employs Dyneema fabric for abrasion protection on the sides of the short legs. Photo: Courtesy Team Sunweb

Dear Lennard,
Thank you for the valuable information from DeFeet on sun guard clothing. I did not know that the UPF value changes with stretching. I guess it makes sense when you think about it. I’ve found that some golf clothing manufacturers make sun sleeves at a fraction of the price compared to bike-specific sun sleeves. During the summer here in SoCal, I find it more comfortable than going sleeveless. Again, appreciate your insight on this topic.
—David

Dear Lennard,
In your recent column, a reader wrote in lamenting the lack of quality, stylish, durable, UV-protectant cycling garments.

The founder and president of DeFeet shared some interesting comments, but there is more to share. I’ve been a customer over the years of De Soto Sport, whom I believe pioneered the segment of sun-protective yet stylish garments for endurance athletes with the Skin Cooler line of arm coolers, leg coolers, jerseys, and more. The Skin cooler fabric has improved technically over the years.

While it may be fair to say their focus is on the triathlon market, there are many items (jerseys, shorts/bibs, coolers) that dedicated cyclists can utilize. I was in contact with founder and President Emilio de Soto just last week on a new kit I was looking at when your column came up. I mentioned it to him, and he kindly obliged my interest to pass this information on to you.
—Tom


Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of “The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” “DVD, as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.” He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Follow @lennardzinn on Twitter.