UV-Blocking Bike Jersey Eliminates Need for Sunscreen

Applying sunscreen in the outdoors can be a pain. As such, whenever possible I wear clothing that can do double duty by blocking the sun’s harmful rays. Wide-brim hats, Buffs, and handkerchiefs on the neck are no-brainers. But less known is clothing with built-in UPF protection.

Last month, on a two-day mountain bike trip to the Maah Daah Hey Trail, I tested a shirt called the Solar Jet Jersey from Specialized. The long-sleeve top has a rating of UPF 50, meaning my arms and upper body would be about as protected as I could ever hope without applying copious amounts of tacky white stuff from a tube.

trailhead image.jpg

The author at the trailhead, suited up against the sun; photo © T.C. Worley

The venue for the Maah Daah Hey trip, the desert-like Badlands of North Dakota, featured long days with clear skies. (See our trip report, “Back From ‘Maah Daah Hey’ Trail.”) Sunlight burned for 13 hours at a stretch nonstop each day as we rode, with 50 miles our per-diem goal.

My plan was to wear clothing with maximum coverage and protection from the sun. I would apply sunscreen on my neck, lips, cheeks, and the back of my calves — but that was it.

Otherwise, my sun-defying kit included gloves for protecting the hands, a cycling cap under my helmet for shade on the face, and knicker-length bike shorts that extend past the knee. Sunglasses protected my eyes. Then the Specialized jersey covered me on top.

Solar Jet Jersey.jpg

Solar Jet Jersey

Made of a sun-screening polyester fabric, the $100 Solar Jet jersey is a slick piece. Long sleeves, a mid-height collar, and a full front zipper give it the feel of a jacket. But the fabric is light and breathable enough to wear on an 85-degree day.

Specialized calls its sun-blocking fabric technology “Reflexsun.” It works to deflect harmful rays via white fabric with an ultra-dense weave. The company touts “two to three times the sun protection” as compared to a regular shirt.

The dense-weave fabric also holds almost no moisture. This means sweat does not easily soak through, though the top is not clammy either. On our bike trip, I dunked the Solar Jet Jersey underwater once to soak it in a creek in an attempt to cool down. But the hydrophobic polyester material retained almost no water, and the top was dry within a half-hour biking in the wind. Foiled!

During the ride, my partners rubbed sunscreen onto their arms multiple times a day. As planned, I never applied a drop except to my neck, face, and lower legs.

Solar Jet Jersey - back.jpg

Rear view of Solar Jet Jersey

I ended the bike trip sunburn-free. My legs were tired, and my body was beat. But my scheme to block the sun had worked like a dream.

One caveat: With its gleaming white fabric, the Specialized top begs to attract stains. The fabric is fairly dirt-resistant, though after two days of hard use on a dusty trail my jersey no longer looks new. Its white fabric is faded to a subtle yellow now in spots where sweat, dirt, and other detritus of the trail got in the way.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

Posted by whiskers - 05/22/2012 05:49 AM

I can see that this is a bike-specific jersey with pockets and a zipper… However, I find that all this “UPF” and “sun-blocking fabric” hoopla is just that – marketing. I’ve been using $10 long-sleeve polyester shirts from TJ Maxx, wore them on vacations in Mexico/Dominican Republic, played beach volleyball, snorkeled, kayaked (in Caribbean heat), have gone hiking in them, and guess what, nary a burn. Same amount of sun protection for 1/10th the price. Sometimes, with all the technology and the hi-tech-sounding marketing terms people forget to stop and think. Sun-blocking technology? It’s called cotton or polyester (if you want wicking and breathable/cool)

Posted by Joe - 05/22/2012 03:09 PM

Agree with whiskers – last time I checked, I don’t have to use sunscreen under any clothes I’m wearing. It’s called wearing clothes to protect you from the sun, and people have been doing it for thousands of years. I’m disappointed someone called the “Gear Junkie” is biting on this UPF, “sunscreen polyester” garbage – it’s just a nice way to charge more money for a standard shirt or jersey. I’d expect someone as experienced as Stephen to recognize it and call a spade rather than talking like a member of Specialized’s PR team.

I just got back from a trip to Moab, which was probably hotter than this Dakota trip, and my non-sunscreen shirts and jerseys did just fine in keeping me burn (and tan) free. I’m sure the nomadic tribes of the Sahara would report much the same.

Posted by Editor - 05/23/2012 08:29 AM

Perhaps what was missed in the review (or not emphasized enough) is the fact that this is a long-sleeve shirt with a high collar that you can comfortably wear on a sunny 80-degree day. Its fabric is thin and breathable, and the fit is great. It’s made for biking, too. Most of these characteristics could not be found in a normal shirt. The whole “sun-blocking fabric technology” part I admit is more of a mystery. But this fabric is different from normal bike jersey stock, a thinner material with a tighter weave. Other jerseys I own are more mesh-like or (on the other side) too warm for sunny summer rides. The Specialized stuff here strikes a nice in between.

Posted by SomaRider - 05/24/2012 12:58 PM

SR is correct – the interesting thing about this is that it’s a BIKE JERSEY that’s sunblocking. I too have tried the same concept for summer climbing or backpacking: wear a light, tightly-woven long-sleeve shirt instead of applying the gunk. It works to a point; the Cap 1 (Silkweight) top I used did protect me, but wasn’t breathable enough to keep me from pushing up the sleeves when it got hot.

Two years ago I got a Boure jersey much like this Specialized one – long sleeves but very light and sun-blocking fabric. This allowed me to push long sleeves past 70F, though I have yet to try past 80F. Sun protection without the gunk. Nice. The Boure jersey’s colors make it show dirt/staining less, but it absorbs more light and so heats up more. A tradeoff..

I could wear a Cap 1 long-sleeve under a short-sleeve jersey and get sort of the same effect, albeit a bit hotter from two torso layers. I like the long-sleeve sunblock jersey though, and I think I ride enough to make a sunbocking jersey worth the cost. glad to see another manufacturer stepping into the category..

Posted by T.C. Worley - 05/24/2012 09:08 PM

I’ll weigh in here. I wore the same jersey and chose white for it’s obvious sun-reflecting. The fabric does come in other colors, but I knew we’d be in full sun all day. I wore a long-sleeve dress shirt (more or less) last time I did the MDH trail. I much prefer a cycling jersey. I cannot say that it was magically awesome, but it did the trick and I rarely thought twice about the shirt. If I lived in a warmer, sunnier locale, I’d likely get a lot of use from this piece.

Posted by Sandy - 08/19/2012 04:36 PM

Hoopla????
I spent a very crappy several months as a result of chemo and it’s affects because I had melanoma. I was a triathlete and love to ride but I am more than a little paranoid of the sun exposure. This stuff looks great. I will give it a try.my oncologist has advised me a “normal” jersey has upf of “2”
Have fun

Posted by Chris - 10/02/2012 07:03 PM

Any type of clothing is better than wearing sunscreen. The problem with sunscreen is you never put on enough or you sweat it out. My dermatologist told me that a cotton shirt has a upf max of 8. That allows about 20% of uv rays to pass through. UPF 50 allows about 2% uv rays to pass through. She told me all of this while removing two basal cell skin cancers. I’m 29 years old and have spent a lot of time cycling, climbing and living in high altitude towns and regret not taking care of myself. I’m now religious about covering my skin while I’m outside playing and it’s worth it compared to the alternative.

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Posted by nancy - 11/13/2013 05:32 PM

Merino wool, undershirt weight, in black. Long sleeves. I wore it every day on a 5000 km trip that included -10 and +40 temperatures, and 170 km across the Mojave desert. Washed it every night. And it still looks like new. The color never faded and I never got a bit of sun.

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