Today’s question is about getting a cycling-specific top (jersey) or just wearing a running top…

What are the differences between running and cycling tops? Just wondering what the main differences are, and could I get away with just cycling in running tops without having to invest in a whole new load of specific cycling tops.

Topped-Off Thomas

Hi Tom,

I feel your pain. It gets annoying to buy new gear for every different sport, doesn’t it?

I tend to use the same mixture of base layers (undershirts) for running, cycling, hiking, skiing, and skating, but it’s the cycling jerseys that set themselves apart from the rest.

Here are the big differences between running and cycling tops:

1. Pockets

This is the most prominent feature of a cycling jersey – the three pockets on the lower back.

The pockets allow you to carry a cell phone, energy bars, and a little tool kit (spare tube, CO2 cartridge and tire pump, tire lever, and mini tool) with you at all times. It’s also very easy to access these items, even when riding, by reaching into the pockets.

Also, when riding, you’ll usually be out for much longer than when running, so you need to carry more food and water. You also have to take care of your machine (bicycle) if anything breaks, so you need to carry a tool kit.

Save money: It is possible to carry these items in a seat bag attached to your bicycle. It’s less convenient, though, especially when you want to grab an energy bar without stopping and pulling over.

2. Zippers

Most cycling jerseys offer half or full-length zippers that allow you to better regulate the amount of ventilation.

When running, your speed doesn’t change a whole lot. But when cycling, you could be climbing a hill at 5mph then descending at 55mph! You need extra ventilation at slow speeds to stay cool, but when going faster, you want covered up since there is a wind chill.

Save money: Zippers are overrated. Running tops are generally good, moisture-wicking garments that will work just fine.

3. Tight Fit

Every cycling jersey I own is a tight fit. They stay tight to my body when riding, rather than flapping around like a sail in the wind. This is important because you move a lot faster on a bike than on foot, and aerodynamics play a bigger role.

Some of my running tops are tight, but just as many are a loose fit. So if your running tops are all loose fit, they could get annoying when they flap around.

Save money: If you have a tight-fitting running top, you’re all set.

The bottom line is this:

If you can do without the extra features and conveniences, running tops will work fine for recreational cycling.

But honestly, look at my “cycling kit under $300” article. Cycling tops don’t have to be expensive. You can get Nashbar brand tops for $20 regularly, and check Sierra Trading Post for brand name tops ranging from $10-30.

Just one jersey will go a long way.

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  1. My cousin is thinking about getting some biking clothes for his trips but wasn’t sure where to start. I really like that biking tops have 3 pockets in the back to store things like energy bars or a cell phone. I imagine the more pockets you have, the better you are when cycling because there really isn’t much time to stop. Thanks for sharing!

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