Women like to overthink, so why would it be any different when it comes to cycling. Men just put the jersey on and go, while we have to think also about another layer of clothing. We need to decide whether to put on a bra or not.
Women should wear a bra when cycling. Even if cycling doesn’t cause much boob movement and boob support is less crucial, wearing a bra will prevent nipple chafing, which can be very painful. A bra will also help you catch boob sweat and wick away the moisture from the body.
There are millions of bras on the market, so in this article, we’ll look if it’s absolutely necessary to wear one, which bras are the best to use when cycling and what are the alternatives if you want to ride without a bra.
Is a bra necessary when cycling?
The biggest question women cyclists have about the bra is if it’s even necessary. It compresses you around the chest, one of the most important body parts when cycling. As you breathe deeper and deeper during activity, especially during climbs, your chest muscles have to overcome the resistance your bra offers. Isn’t that a waste of energy?
Well, yes, one might argue that, but there are many bras on the market that offer less support and less resistance. You just have to find them.
The sports bra was invented in 1977.
The advantages of wearing a bra far outweigh the disadvantages, so in my opinion, wearing a bra on a ride is a no-brainer. The first time you will come home with painful nipples from chafing, you will start to agree with me. Trust me on that one.
Now that we establish that you should most definitely wear a bra on every ride let’s look at why you should wear it. I already told you it has a few benefits, so stay with me as I break it down further.
Why should you wear a bra when cycling?
Most women wear a bra on their first ride and won’t even think about not having it. It’s a few rides into a cycling career that this thought enters our mind. And that’s why you’re here, so welcome again. Let me tell you why you should keep your bra on.
Cycling is not a sport that causes significant chest movements, but there will still be some, especially if you are cycling on bumpy roads like the ones in my country.
Having some sort of boob support that keeps them in place is welcome. If for no other reason, it’s because you spend most of your time on the bike leaning forward and hanging boobs aren’t exactly desirable while cycling.
The biggest reason for wearing a bra on a bike is to protect your nipples from chafing. A sweaty jersey rubbing against your nipples for three hours will leave a mark on them and it’s not a pretty one.
Nipples are sensitive and quickly become irritated. So it’s necessary you protect them from chafing. The best way to do it is by wearing a bra, but it can also be done with a base layer, it just has to be very tight so it doesn’t move and rub your body.
When you cycle, you sweat. There is no denying it. People sweat from all over the body, but especially from body parts that have extra fat stored in them. Boobs are one of those parts, so women have to deal with sweating between and under boobs.
It’s annoying when a little drop of sweat starts running down your body all the way down to the shorts. And that’s why you wear a bra.
The band at the bottom will catch any sweat from under the boob and will also catch the sweat running down between the boobs. If the bra is made of suitable material, it will wick away the sweat and help you regulate your body and chest temperature.
Another heat-related reason to wear a bra is that you want to ride unzipped from time to time, especially on climbs.
I probably don’t have to explain why wearing a bra is a good idea if you ride unzipped. I mean, if you’re not going to wear one, you better be prepared to be responsible for a few accidents involving male cyclists.
Moving boobs also waste your energy, something you already lack after a few hours in a saddle.
I was surprised when I read about it, but according to the research, not wearing a bra causes a 55% increase in chest muscle activity, making you fatigue quicker. You can actually save a lot of energy just by wearing one piece of clothing.
Wearing a bra when cycling might be optional, but wearing panties is not. Read an article about whether female cyclists should wear underwear under cycling shorts.
Reasons to NOT wear a bra
I presented reasons to wear a bra, but I’ll admit there are a few reasons not to wear it. It is then up to you to weigh the reasons and decide about wearing a bra.
So without further ado, here are the reasons not to wear a bra on a bike.
Women cyclists sometimes complain about wearing a bra with a high impact level, as it does not stretch well and makes breathing difficult. Breathing on steep terrain is already tricky and you really don’t want to make it even harder.
There are a few solutions to the problem that allows you to still wear a bra and not have breathing problems.
- Lower impact level bra. The obvious solution is to wear a bra with a medium or even low impact level.
- Old looser bra. Old bras are fantastic for cycling as they are normally a bit stretched and loose, which is exactly what you want if you have problems with breathing on a bike.
- Cycling bra. The best solution is also the most expensive one. Cycling bras are made for cycling, so the manufacturers addressed the breathing problem when they designed them. It’s also superior to others at wicking sweat.
- Size up. Most women, not just cyclists, wear the wrong bra size. Don’t let that happen to you on a bike. Wear the right size or buy a size bigger if you have breathing problems. That way, the bra won’t bother you when breathing.
Combination with heart rate monitor
Heart rate monitors are a popular accessory for more advanced cyclists. They are also the only reason I support not wearing a bra on a bike.
A heart rate monitor is positioned under your boobs, right where the bra band is. A heart rate monitor must be in touch with the skin, otherwise, it’s not working. That means you place a bra band over it.
A heart rate monitor is not the most comfortable thing to wear. It usually has quite a strong elastic, which holds it in place, but it also digs into the skin a bit. Putting a bra band over it will dig it into the skin even more, making it even less comfortable to wear.
There is a solution, but it does not include a bra. You should wear a tight base layer that covers your body, including the boobs. That way, you avoid chafing but can wear a heart rate monitor as the base layer compresses it much less than a bra strap.
If you’re not familiar with a base layer, you can read my husband’s article about them.
What kind of bra should you wear?
By now you probably learned there is a flood of different bras on a market. From sports to lace bras, you can find it all. Obviously, when you’re cycling, you’ll be looking for a sports bra, but there are millions of those as well.
Let me help you with some guidance on what kind of bra even makes the cut and what to pay attention to when buying them.
You can choose different types of bra for cycling purposes.
- Compression bra. My favorite type of bra. It compresses the boobs against the chest and prevents any significant movement. Since it compresses the boobs, it’s best suited for women with cups A or B. My pick is a Champion’s sports bra.
- Encapsulated bra. Still a sports bra, just a different model. It separates and supports each breast individually, making it more suitable for larger cups, but it can be used even for smaller ones. Many women prefer this one to a compression bra as it doesn’t compress the boobs. Once again, I recommend Champion’s bra.
- Cycling bra. It’s only logical to recommend a cycling bra for cycling. There aren’t many on the market, as they are not that different from other compression bras. They’re made from breathable material that helps you wick away the sweat. It also offers less support and compression, making it more breathing-friendly on a bike. Extra features come at a price, as the bra is more expensive than normal bras. My pick is Castelli’s bra.
- Shelf bra. I’m also including a shelf bra, as some cyclists recommend it. I never used it and probably never will, as I don’t see any benefits from using it. However, a shelf bra does protect you from chafing, offers support and doesn’t make breathing difficult. So it does everything you want from a bra. If I had to wear a shelf bra on a bike, I would wear something like this.
Fabric-wise there isn’t much to think about. While cotton is comfortable to wear, it’s not recommended for sports clothing, as it gets wet quickly and stays moist for the rest of the ride.
You should choose a bra made from nylon and/or polyester. Both materials are known for their moisture-wicking abilities, so most sports bras are made from one material or the other. But still, check what material the bra you purchase is made from.
We already talked about the bra impact level you want on a bike. A high impact level is not wanted, as it may cause you some breathing problems. Go with a bra that has a medium or even low impact level. That should keep you away from any breathing problems or potential chest pains.
Straps can cause you problems if not chosen correctly. I don’t like narrow straps, as they dig into the skin and often cause chafing.
Choose a bra that has wider straps, potentially without snaps. This will eliminate potential chafing spots.
A wire is also not welcome in a bra when cycling. Most sports bras don’t have them, as manufacturers figured out years ago that we don’t want them. A wire is usually not a problem, but it becomes one when it pierces through the fabric straight to your skin.
A bra that meets all the requirements is Champion’s sports bra. It’s available quite cheap on Amazon, so check it out if you want a proper bra for your cycling experiences.
Alternatives to wearing a bra
If after reading the whole article, you still don’t want to wear a bra on your rides, that’s OK. I get it, people are different. Some like it one way, others another. So let me present you with some alternatives.
High-cut bib shorts
High-cut bib shorts are a great solution for women who don’t want to wear a bra. They were designed by a team of women who addressed the issue and came up with a solution.
High-cut bib shorts have a breathable stretch material sewn between the shoulder straps to control boob movement, prevent chafing and wick away moisture.
The downside is that you cover your body with a lot of material, which heats you up on the bike and makes you sweat more.
High-cut bib shorts also make it harder for women to pee mid-ride. You must take the jersey and straps off, completely exposing your bare upper body. It is therefore important to learn the specific peeing technique used by female cyclists.
The only other solution is to wear a base layer. It serves the same purpose as high-cut bib shorts, only without the bib shorts.
Having a base layer as a cyclist is always recommended. It helps you regulate body temperature by wicking sweat and protects you from chafing. If you can use it also for boob control, even better.
If you’re going with only a base layer, make sure you wear your bib short’s straps over it. If you’re wearing them under the base layer, they can chafe your skin and the side of the boobs.