Women Ride: Sports bras

As women, there are a lot of topics relating to cycling comfort which are either not frequently talked about or just too embarrassing to ask a male salesperson at the local bike shop. Topics like: “I’m hurting down there” or “Do you have any tips about riding while menstruating?” or “Why can’t I find cycling clothes that fit?” You get the idea: personal, women-specific and potentially awkward to explain. We’ll do our best in addressing these topics here.

Today’s topic: sport bras

We received a few questions about choosing the right sport bra for cycling and how to prevent chafing. While comfort and support level are personal, here are a few tips to help you find the right sports bra.

Try them on

Shopping for a bra isn’t always easy. Sizing varies among brands and your own cup size changes over time as well. What fit a year ago, may not be the right fit anymore. I suggest going to a store to try some on instead of guessing your fit online. When trying them on, jump up and down, move your arms and take a deep breath. Sure, you want to keep the jiggling to a minimum, but you still want to be able to move freely.

Support

Road riding is generally considered a low to medium impact sport, meaning that the amount of jostling and full body movement is limited. This means that you won’t need as much support or compression as you would if you were mountain biking or doing cyclocross. Many manufacturers will identify the impact level on the tag, and a medium impact sports bra will fit more loosely and be less restricted than a high-impact bra. They are usually made of slightly thinner materials as well.

Cup size

There are two types of sports bras: compression bras and encapsulated bras. Compression bras compress the breasts against the chest, and are best suited for A and B cups. Encapsulated bras on the other hand will support each breast individually, and are best for larger cup sizes.

Band

If you have chafing issues below the breasts, where the band rubs against your skin, the band may be too loose. The band should not be moving, even when you’re sweating. Also, a wider band provides more support than a narrow band.

Seams, wire and snaps

Every wire, hook, snap, seam or crease is a potential chafing point, go for the bra with the fewest seams. I’d also suggest a bra without a snap or closure for minimal pressure points.

Material

Similar to a base layer, a good sports bra needs to wick moisture away from the body to keep you cool and sweat free to reduce chafing. Stay away from cotton as it tends to stay wet for a long time.

Range of motion

Shoulder straps should neither slip off nor dig into your skin. Like the band, wide straps are often more comfortable than narrow spaghetti straps. You should be able to comfortably put your arms above your head. Also, make sure the bra isn’t too tight around the armpits. When trying on bras, place your arms ahead of you in the riding position to check tightness. 

Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. We’re happy to help! Please continue to email me your questions at amrook@cascadebicycleclub.org and I’ll answer them anonymously.

Read our previous columns here.