I Took a Bunch of Women’s Cycling Gear for a Spin to Find the Best Kit

I Took a Bunch of Women’s Cycling Gear for a Spin to Find the Best Kit
I road tested four brands to find the best cycling kit for women. (Image: Lifehacker / Alice Clarke)

OK, so you’ve only been cycling for a year or two and you’ve decided to start dressing the part. Or maybe you’ve been watching the Tour de France Femmes and decided you’re ready to take the next step in your cycling journey. But, if you’re a woman or other kind of boob-owner, then you might be wondering where the hell all the women’s cycling clothes are.

I had this problem all last year. Trying to find a pair of bib knicks that would fit my load-bearing hips and DD rack, even in the Melbourne CBD. The pickings were slim unless I wanted the world’s worst shorts, or shorts that cost almost as much as a budget smart phone (and I didn’t understand why they cost so much, but I get it now).

So, I have reviewed outfits from four brands, to encompass several cycling styles and all four seasons, to find the best of what’s out there at a range of budgets. These are their stories. *Law and Order noise*

I’m going to be talking about things like gilets, bib knicks and undershirts all through this story. If you’re new to these terms, check out this newbie’s guide cycling clothes, because we were all new once.

Specialized – Spring/Autumn

A person with red hair stands in front of a bike wearing a women's cycling outfit
Image: Alice Clarke

When it comes to the cycling clothes from companies best known for their bikes, it can be a bit hit and miss. For example, I have a pair of Bontrager (the same brand that makes Trek bikes) bib knicks which feature the most perfunctory chammy of all time. It offers all the support of a sanitary napkin with none of the comfort.

So, going into this Specialized outfit, I was a bit apprehensive. But I’m pleased to report that, for the most part, it was actually really good!

What I tried from the women’s cycling range:

Women’s Prime Short Sleeve Jersey $190

Women’s Prime Bib Shorts $270

Rain Race Arm Covers $55

Therminal Engineered Leg Warmers $70

Women’s Trail Gloves $50

Women’s SL Short Sleeve Base Layer $80

Prime Series Thermal Neck Gaiter $40

Women’s Prime Wind Vest $170

Sizing

I went for a large in basically everything, because that’s what when I did my measurements I came out at the bottom of the large sizing, but I found it all ran just a touch big, so I ended up requesting some mediums as well. In the gloves, I had a large palm, but XXL fingers. While the gloves were indeed a bit short on my fingers, that’s totally fine and way better than having it be too large for my palm and bunching up on the handlebars.

The Good

I love this jersey. It is ridiculously comfortable and I really like the length of the sleeves — long enough to cover my tuckshop lady arms, but ends just in time to not interfere with the elbow. The fabric is nice and breathable and it’s my favourite short sleeved jersey that I have. It also didn’t pull at all around my boobs, which meant I felt comfortable and looked good.

The base layer is thin enough that it doesn’t add any heat, but it moisture wicks nicely and protects my delicate flesh from any rubbing of the bib suspenders.

The gloves feel great on the handlebars, with enough grip on them that I don’t feel I have to hold on for dear life, without adding any bulk. They’re not too hot, while still protecting from the harsh wind, and you can use your phone with them on.

This vest is the first time I understood the point of vests. I always thought it was weird to warm your torso (where most of the warmth lives) instead of your arms (the appendages that seem more likely to get cold), but it’s actually to stop your nipples from cutting through your jersey like steel in early morning wind. On a mild day when a jacket would be too much but a jersey would be too little, this vest is perfect, especially with the breathable panel on the back so you don’t get sweaty (though, I do wish it had pockets on the back like jerseys do, because I like easy snack access even when I’m cold).

The gaiter is also great — I really like the shape and fabric, so much so that I sometimes even wear it when I’m not riding for just a little extra warmth.

The Medium

There are some really great ideas in the bib knicks, like the quick release toggle at the back so you don’t have to fully undress every time you need to pee. However, the toggle is way up the back, so you have to be pretty flexible and still undo your jersey which slightly defeats the point. The chammy also doesn’t provide enough padding for my liking. It’s better than my old Bontrager ones, but can get a bit uncomfortable on rides over 25kms. They’re about right for a medium commute, though.

The arm warmers can fall down a lot, and I recommend going down one or two sizes. Your arms need to be like sausages in these things to stay up. But they’re great for mornings and you can take them off as the day heats up.

The Bad

The leg warmers are my nemesis. On the second wear they tore when I was pulling them up, and the grippy tape is only at the very top, rather than going down a few cm in strips, and they’re prone to rolling a bit so then there is no grip tape touching anything and thus no grip. That meant I spent the whole second riding constantly pulling them up. I do not recommend them.

Each garment comes with a care tag the length of War and Peace. They’re easy to remove, but then you don’t have easy access to the care instructions. It’s fine, it’s just a bit irritating.

Attaquer – Summer

A person wearing a women's cycling kit from Attaquer. Black shorts, bright orange top, white vest
Image: Alice Clarke

I chose Attaquer for summer for a few reasons. Firstly, I love the brand’s slightly more edgy aesthetic. Some brands try to give the vibe of listening to Mozart while pedalling with white poodles, while others emphasise that this is a fun hobby where you can go fast. Attaquer fits into the second category. Secondly, the brand has a long-sleeved summer-weight jersey, which is ideal for those of us who burn like natural redheads. Thirdly, Attaquer is an Australian brand, so the designers will be familiar with the hell on Earth we in Australia call “summer”.

What I tried from the women’s cycling range:

Women’s All Day Summer Long Sleeve Jersey $219.95

Women’s Race Bib Short 2.0 $299.95

Undershirt Summer Weight $89.95

Women’s A-Line Lightweight Gilet $99.95

Socks $30

Summer Gloves $69.95

Sizing

Once again, I was on the cusp of medium and large. I was just on the large side of the border, so I got everything in large, but I think I might have benefitted from going down to medium. Everything fits just fine, but the legs of the bibs are just a little loose, which means they might ride up a bit in future (you want a very tight fit on bibs so they stay in place), but the suspender portion of the bibs are still pretty tight and the chammy stays in place, so it’s fine.

The Good

I heard a lot about how the Attaquer bibs were supposed to be the best and I was sceptical. The padding feels so thin. And yet, these are the best bib shorts I’ve ever tried. It took 30km before I even remembered I was sitting on a bike seat. They are ridiculously comfortable. While, as I said, I got them a little big, the top half was still nice and compressed so I made sure I was using my core, and the legs (while not compressed) still felt nice and comfy.

The top fit my body perfectly, like it was made for me. The fabric stretched in all the right places and held firm in others. You could really feel the European craftsmanship and Australian design. The arms were nice and breathable, and while I thought I might freeze to death in the 17-degree winter weather, I can see this being my go to in summer.

Because of how the suspenders hit on the bibs, I do wish I’d gone for the shirt sleeve under shirt, instead of the sleeveless, but it was still supremely comfortable and moisture wicking.

The gilet was light and breathable, but still kept the worst of the wind out.

The gloves and socks fit perfectly. Both nice and light, but offering support in all the right places.

The Medium

The bibs were a little boob-hostile. While the top fit my curves perfectly, the suspenders on the bib knicks didn’t seem to have been designed with the well-endowed in mind. It took some careful arranging to stop crushing my busty substances. It’s fine, the bib knicks were still incredible, but this little detail stopped them from being 100% perfect.

The Bad

Nothing. They’re great.

Norman MTB

A person wearing a navy long sleeve top and black shorts
Image: Alice Clarke

Norman MTB is one of the newer mountain biking brands on the block. Based in the Snowy Mountains, the brand has a focus on sustainable fabrics, using recycled materials and non-mulesed Australian merino wool. Norman MTB is also partnered with Keep It Cool, a not-for-profit that plants trees in the Snowy Mountains.

What I tried from the women’s cycling range:

Merino-Edge Tech Tee $99.95

Bamboo Gravity Jersey $129.95

Recycled Enduro Shorts $139.95

Sizing

Mountain bike clothing is designed to be a bit bigger so you can fit padding for those inevitable falls. I don’t wear padding, because I am a wuss and I’m still working up to doing any of the mountain biking activities that would require it. I got a medium in the tops and found them comfortably slouchy. I could have gone down to a small for a more fitted look, but the medium is comfy. While I measured on the cusp of 12-14 in the shorts, they’re very fitted, so I went for the 14. Although the waistband is a bit tight, the legs are perfect at this size.

The Good

I really love the materials of the shirts. They feel like a much more premium version of an Adidas or Nike tech top, but they have pockets with zips, instantly elevating them to a new level. The long sleeved one offers just enough warmth that you won’t freeze on a cold morning but not so much you’ll boil on a medium-temperature day because of how breathable it is. I find myself wearing them to the gym more than I do on bike, because I only go mountain biking every few weekends, but they’re more comfy than most of my other gym clothes.

The shorts are really nicely fitted, and I like how many pockets they have.

The Medium

I wish the shorts could have a zip on the top of the phone pocket, because it doesn’t feel very secure. I also wish they had a bit of padding in the butt, but that’s personal preference when it comes to mountain biking shorts.

The Bad

I worry about how long this fabric will last on a bike. I managed to work through a pair of jeans on bike last year because of all the rubbing on the inner thigh, and if you have similar problems, I can’t see these shorts surviving for more than a few months. I hope I’m wrong, but I guess it depending on your saddle and riding style.

MAAP – Winter

A person wearing a bright yellow jersey, olive jacket, navy tights, and purple gloves
Image: Alice Clarke

I used to wonder what the point was of getting a cycling outfit that’s worth more than my bike, but I get it now. These are the most comfortable clothes I own and their features genuinely make me a better and happier cyclist. MAAP is the brand I see most of the super hardcore cyclists wear in my area, the ones that look like they’ve been riding their bike for years and have the best of the best.

What I tried from the women’s cycling range:

Women’s Force Pro Winter LS Jersey $255

Women’s Thermal Base Layer Tee $105

Women’s Team Evo Thermal Bib Tight $380

Women’s Prime Jacket $315

Alt_Road Glove $110

Alt_Road Merino Sock $40

Sizing

MAAP runs pretty true to size. I’m quite compressed in the large. But it’s important to keep in mind that if you’re larger than large, you’ll likely need to move to a men’s size, as the women’s winter range isn’t particularly stretchy.

The Good

Basically everything. My first ride out in this outfit was a foggy day in the mountains when it was 2 degrees. After I got up the steepest part of the mountain, it started to rain and the dirt track turned to mud. I got completely covered in mud, and yet my whole body stayed warm and dry for the full hour. What’s more is that the whole kit washed clean easily and kept its shape and colour, even though I thought the mud was sure to stain the pale shirt.

Moreso, the whole kit is extremely comfortable, especially the tights. If I could live in these tights, I would. They’re like wearing a warm, supportive hug. It feels like it’s made out of the dreams of lambs woven into fabric by virgins on a full moon. Aside from just the warm fleecy insides, the bib suspenders conform to the shape of my body and don’t try to crush boobs like pancakes. I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best bibs for boobs of all I’ve tried.

The socks are supportive in all the right places. The jacket is light but protective. I think my wife wants to steal the undershirt to wear as a regular shirt. The gloves are the perfect balance of protective and breathable. Amazing.

The Medium

The jersey doesn’t have darts for bigger boobs, so I find they pull a bit and gather slightly at the armpits. It’s a hard balance when there are so many body shapes, and I don’t find it bothersome, but it’s something to keep in mind for people with larger chests than me.

The Bad

I was originally planning on calling out the price here, but even though it’s a very expensive kit, I can see why it costs what it does. It’s just expensive, premium fabrics, designed in Melbourne, and made in Lithuania. That costs money. Also, about half of it is on sale now, and you can get $75 vouchers a few times a year by doing Strava challenges. The winter jersey is on sale for $150 at the moment, which makes it the cheapest fitted jersey on this list. So yeah, nothing bad.

The Verdict

In the end though, the best cycling kit is the one that feels good and makes you want to ride. Almost every one of these outfits is worth more than my bike. But it’s not hyperbole to say that the Attaquer and MAAP outfits in particular have made me a better cyclist because they made me feel like I could do an extra 10km, or ride when the weather was particularly cold, or it looked like it might rain. So, get the look, get out there, and have some fun.

Log in to comment on this story!