by Castelli

We have daily conversations on just about every imaginable topic of cycling and triathlon clothing, spanning from the most benign to those which are questionable for print. One of the most frequent questions we receive from triathletes, however, is an easy one to answer, which revolves around the differences between road and tri clothing.

Believe it or not, there are several significant differences, and ones which can make big differences in both the daily comfort and performance of triathletes. Your clothing needs are different when you are training vs. when you are racing, and here’s a basic breakdown of the two.

Tri clothing is designed primarily for racing: the aim is generally versatility and performance.

  • Tri Shorts
    • The pads in tri shorts are minimal, like Castelli’s Kiss Tri Pad, which utilizes a non-absorbent, high density foam pad…this means you can swim with it, it provides comfort on the bike but you can then get off and run and not notice it’s there. No one likes the feeling of running with a wet diaper (we’re guessing), and that’s one of the main reasons you wear tri shorts and not road shorts while racing.
    • Tri shorts are designed so you can save time in transition by wearing them during the swim, bike, and run. They’re also great while training if you’re doing a swim/bike brick workout.
  • Tri Jerseys
    • Tri jerseys are designed to offer great shoulder mobility so you can wear during the entire race, including the swim where they don’t inhibit shoulder mobility. This includes both sleeved and sleeveless tri jerseys (if designed properly!).
    • Tri jerseys also have a different cut around both the neck and the arms, and are designed with materials to minimize chaffing while worn while swimming and under a wetsuit.
    • Tri jerseys are usually very lightweight, and they’re great at wicking moisture, which means they dry quickly after the swim.
    • Tri jerseys are also designed for speed, and typically have smaller, more aerodynamic pockets for carrying your race-day nutrition needs.
    • And finally, tri jerseys are often designed to be hydrodynamic so they can be used in the water during a non-wetsuit swim.

    Tri clothing is designed and is great for…doing triathlons! But what about for your daily training needs? This is where cycling – or ‘road’ clothing, comes in. Cycling clothing, while also designed for performance and for racing, is designed specifically for use on the bike. Good cycling clothing is cut for a cyclist in the riding position, and is not made for running or swimming.

  • Cycling Shorts/Bibs
    • A good pair of cycling shorts/bibs are designed and build around the position you maintain on the bike. A quick test and visual is to hold a pair of bib shorts by the tops of the straps; you should notice the legs of the bibs ‘folding’ forward vs. hanging straight down like a pair of non-cycling shorts
    • Cycling shorts have a more substantial pad, both in pad thickness and in overall size, which is more comfortable while riding but would be awful during a swim or a run. The pad would be too large for the run and hold too much water. See soggy diaper reference above.
  • Cycling Jersey
    • Similar to cycling shorts, a good cycling jersey is cut for the riding position, and not intended to be used for swimming or running. The design doesn’t take into account the shoulder mobility needed for swimming, and a road jersey typically has a slightly higher collar.
    • Cycling jerseys typically have sleeves and offer better sun protection over a sleeveless tri jersey, and tend to have far better storage for your longer training rides. Cycling jerseys usually have 3 large pockets in the rear as opposed to 2 found in most tri jerseys, and the pockets are larger. They are perfect when you need to carry a cell phone, extra clothes or food for your longer training rides.

A general rule of thumb is that you should race in tri clothing, and do your final tune-up – or taper – workouts in tri clothing, but stick to road clothing for the rest of your training. You’ll be far more comfortable while training in a good pair of road or bib shorts and a good road jersey, and better off racing in your tri kit. Visit to find out more about triathlon and cycling apparel, and happy training!