Review: In Search of the Perfect Jersey

I’ve been looking for the perfect cycling jersey for a couple of years.

After a lot of trial and error, I think I’ve found it. Before I tell you what it is, I need to explain the journey I took to discover the perfect jersey..

In Australia it’s hot and humid in summer, sometimes it’s rainy, and in winter it can get cold. We have the highest rate of sun-related skin cancer in the world. Where I live has the highest rate of skin cancer in the country. In fact skin cancer is such a problem here that the government has funded skin clinics where most people go once or twice a year to get free check-ups, and treatment.

When I first started mountain biking I decided I wanted to be “Sun Smart” and tried to buy a long-sleeved jersey to keep the sun off my arms. The range in my local bike shops was limited. All they had were either skin-tight Lycra gear for roadies, or baggy MTB stuff with floppy sleeves and no pockets in the back.

In my frustration I bought a short-sleeved firm-fitting Fox MTB Jersey that had great pockets in the back including a zip-up pocket, then supplemented the outfit by adding “arm coolers” which slip over your arms, hugging your biceps with elastic and silicone gripping. Apart from having short sleeves, the Fox Jersey was great. It didn’t snag on passing trees, it didn’t tear when I crashed, and it looked good.

The arm coolers were OK at first, but eventually they snagged on passing trees. They also had an annoying habit of creeping down my arms.  (Perhaps I need bigger biceps 🙂 )

After one or two crashes in the dirt and grass the arm coolers stained easily, they were uncomfortably hot in summer, and stayed wet when I sweat.

I decided they were probably OK for road riding where you’re moving faster and don’t have to crash through spiky trees, but they were pretty useless on the dirt.

My next experiment was with that German icon of cycling fashion and discount food – Aldi! They had a cheap long-sleeved polyester jersey on sale for $25. Because it was so cheap, I didn’t have high expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was bullet-proof in rough country, it didn’t snag, and when I did a few OTB’s and face-plants, it held together well.

The downside was that the color faded pretty quick, and instead of a masculine navy blue jersey, I eventually ended up with a funky purple number with hints of “psychedelic”. The other disadvantage was that it was hot in summer, so even though my arms were shielded from the sun, I sweat profusely. And strangely enough, in winter it didn’t keep me warm. I had to wear a base layer under it to keep the cold out. And if it ever rained, the jersey stayed wet for most of the day. No good in summer, no good in winter, no good in the wet, but tough as an old boot. Way to go, Aldi! For $25 I still think it was an adequate jersey.

One other thing – Our house caught on fire a while ago.  It wasn’t a major fire, but the Aldi jersey caught alight, and melted!  So I suppose you wouldn’t wear a garment like this if you were a fire fighter 🙂

At this point, I decided to bite the bullet and get a better quality garment online. I decided on Ground Effect – they’re a New Zealand Company run by mountain bikers. After browsing their website, and checking out some of their fun product names I thought it would be worth trying out some of their stuff.

My first choice was the “Rock Lobster”: a long sleeved high collared MTB jersey made from a magic fabric called “Intercool”. It was perfect in the sun. As I thought of the name, I sang my favourite B52’s song and didn’t overheat at all.

The fabric was tough, even when I was bashing through notorious prickly Lantana weeds. When  I had a nasty crash on gravel the jersey didn’t fray – it just got a small hole which was easy to mend with a few stitches.

But there were one or two downsides.

It’s a summer jersey. To be fair to Ground Effect it’s marketed as such.  They don’t claim that it’s a winter jersey.  You’ll need extra layers in cooler weather as the breeze cuts through the Intercool fabric. Wearing a base layer or a shell worked well for me – although I sometimes overheated on hill climbs with this configuration.

The other downside was that while it soaked up sweat, it stayed pretty wet. So on a downhill after a long sweaty climb the breeze was quite bracing.

But my biggest frustration was what Ground Effect call the “Whale Tail”. The Rock Lobster is longer at the back to cover your back when you’re bent over and pedaling. The problem is that the fabric stretched.  I have a bad habit of putting too much stuff in my rear pockets.  This caused the “Whale Tail” to stretch way below my backside, dangerously snagging on my seat, and causing me to crash on one occasion.

Ground Effect’s customer service is amazing. After writing an email, company founder Jo Wynn-Williams wrote back and offered to swap my old blood-stained Rock Lobster jersey for a new “Zip Tie” free of charge – Awesome!

The Zip Tie was great. It didn’t sag at the back, it was reasonably cool in the heat (although not as cool as the Rock Lobster), and it dried really quickly. When I got sweaty on a hot ride, the jersey would soak up the sweat, but unlike the Rock Lobster it stayed a lot drier.

As an added bonus, it was comfortable in cooler weather too. It seemed to keep out cool breezes better than the Rock Lobster.

There was only one snag. Literally. It snagged easily. One afternoon after wrestling with a particularly evil Lantana thicket in a pine plantation, I emerged with pulled threads all over the place. To its credit, though, once the fabric snagged and pulled it didn’t get any worse. It just didn’t look nice and smooth like when it was new.

Most people would tell this little princess to harden up. There are worse things in life than snagged fabric. But I complained to Ground Effect again. This time I said I loved the jersey, I wasn’t asking for a freebie, I just wanted to know if they had a tougher long-sleeved jersey that was still OK in warmer weather.

Enter the Berglar….

This has to be the best jersey I have ever worn.

The merino wool fabric is cool in the heat, but it’s warm when the weather is cold. Last week it was a rainy winters day – about 14C (57F). (OK, I admit,. winter in South-east Queensland isn’t really cold, is it?) Despite being soaked to the skin in my Berglar jersey, I was toasty warm. How do they do that???

I’ve worn the same jersey on long hill-climbs in full sun. It keeps me cool. It absorbs my sweat and stays dry. And it keeps the sun off.

The fabric feels great. Some lighter fabrics (like polyester) feel flimsy when you pinch them. The woolen Berglar feels much more substantial. I’ve bashed through prickly thickets in it many times, and every time the jersey comes out unscathed. The bare skin on my legs was cut to shreds, but the jersey was bullet proof.

After thrashing this jersey mercilessly for the last 4,000 km, it still looks good as new.

It doesn’t stretch either. I squeeze sooooo much junk into my rear pockets, and the jersey doesn’t ever complain, or stretch.

When I’ve had to repair my bike on a wet, muddy trail, and had to “roll my sleeves up”, the Berglar always returns to its original shape.

Cool in summer, warm in winter, dry when I sweat, tough as nails… and it looks great.

The Berglar is the perfect jersey for me.

Next time I need a new jersey (will this baby ever wear out?) it’s a no-brainer for me. I’ll be getting a Berglar.

The Bottom Line

All these Ground Effect jerseys will protect you from the sun with their high collars and long sleeves.  They come with three pockets in the back, including a deep zip-up middle pocket.  They also come with an emergency puncture repair patch sewn into the pocket (what would you expect from a company run by Mountain Bikers?)

Product MSRP Link Info
Rock Lobster $USD 79 Pros:
Cool in hot weather,
Protects from sunCons:
“Whale tail sag”,
stays  damp,
no protection from cold
Zip Tie $USD 109 Pros:
Cool in hot weather,
Dries Quickly,
Protects from sun
Slight protection from coldCons:
Snags easily
Berglar $USD 119 Pros:
Cool in hot weather,
Dries Quickly,
Protects from sun,
“soft feel” fabric,
stretches without deforming,
warm in the wet,
protects from coldCons:

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