A good sports bra can make all the difference to comfort and performance. Get it right, and you feel great, but the wrong bra can lead to discomfort, tenderness and pain. With so many bras out there to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. BikeRadar is here to help, with some key things to look out for, and with a selection of bras we’ve tried, tested and rated.
First, decide what level of support you need. For road cycling, a bra with medium support will keep you more comfortable than a restrictive bra that is necessary for high-impact sports such as running. However, mountain biking can add a lot more bump to your ride, so if you’re more of a hucker than a smooth road kind of rider, a little extra support can go a long way.
There are both underwired and soft-cup sports bras on the market, and it’s often a matter of personal preference as to which works best and is most comfortable
The level of support you need is also influenced by bust size. Those with bigger breasts may need firmer support whether road cycling or mountain biking, and those with a smaller cup size may be fine with light or medium support even when mountain biking.
2. What type of support do you need?
Next, determine what kind of support works best for your body: compression, encapsulation or a combination of both.
Compression sports bras: Using elastic materials, these bras press the breasts against the body to restrict movement. Compression bras are best for low- to medium-impact activities and for smaller chest sizes ranging from A to C cups.
Encapsulation sports bras: With separate cups for each breast, encapsulating sports bras keep things in place without relying on compression or added pressure against the body. Each individual cup is typically molded and semi-rigid to provide support and restrict excess movement. Encapsulating bras are best for high-impact sports and for women with chest sizes ranging from C to DD cups.
Compression and encapsulation combo: These sports bras use both compression and encapsulation for a medium level of support. Encapsulating each breast reduces the level of compression needed and makes for a more comfortable yet functional bra. These bras are best for medium- to high-impact and for a wide range of chest sizes including anywhere between B and D cups.
3. What style of bra do you want?
After deciding what level and type of support is needed, think about the comfort and style of the bra, and by style we mean how the bra is constructed. Key components to focus on are the bra’s shoulder straps, under-bust or chest band and construction.
Women with a larger bust may find that bras with wider straps and wider under-bust bands distribute the weight better and provide more comfortable support.
Shoulder straps come in a range of widths and orientations, with regular and racerback options, and several bras which allow a number of different strap set ups. In general, wider shoulder straps are often more comfortable for cycling. If you’re riding with a rucksack, you may find a bra that has straps without fasteners or metal adjusters are more comfortable, as the pressure from the rucksack can cause them in some cases to dig in.
There are both underwired and soft-cup sports bras on the market, and it’s often a matter of personal preference as to which works best and is most comfortable.
Keep in mind that every woman’s shape and size is different and that can make a big difference in comfort and fit. We’d recommend regularly getting a bra measurement to ensure you’re buying the right sized bra, as this can change with time, and with changes in weight and muscularity.
We put a selection of sports bras to the test, using several different testers with different chest sizes and body shapes. The bras below are the ones that impressed us most from those on test.
Keep in mind that every woman’s shape and size is different, which can make a big difference in comfort and fit. Some of the bras we tested worked well for certain builds, while others were universally liked.
The wonderfully monikered Tata Tamer from Lululemon was one of our favourites for bigger busted womenLululemon
Support: Despite being a non-underwired bra this provides great firm support due to the panelled construction, which has just enough stretch to make it comfortable and is sturdy enough to keep larger breasts supported and secure.
Shoulder straps: These are wide, stayed in place without slipping down over the shoulders, and have plenty of adjustment. They are also adjustable and can be set up to a cross-back formation.
Construction: A wide underbust band with three hook-and-eye fastenings provides a stable and firm base, and the bra itself uses different lycra fabrics for support in some areas and increased breathability in others, such as between the breasts. The removable foam pads stay in place and overall the bra gives a good shape, avoiding monoboob and providing a degree of uplift.
Overall, this is one of our favourite bras for larger busts. It’s firm and supportive without digging in. It works well for road cycling and mountain biking, and is supportive enough that it can handle a cardio workout or run too.
Support: Designed for larger bust sizes, the Panache sports bra fits from a 24D right up to a 34J, which is great news for bigger breasted women who want a decent sports bra for exercise. This bra features underwiring and an encapsulated cup, which gives great support and noticeably reduces movement when active on the bike, and keeps bigger boobs in place when leaning forward on the drops on a road bike.
Shoulder straps: As with many of the other bras here, straps are wide and with plenty of adjustment. The top of the adjustment section is a hoop of metal that can be snapped together with its opposite number to give a racerback style strap orientation, and prevent the straps falling down. However, we did find that the catch did dig in to the back when riding with a rucksack.
Construction: A wide underbust strap with three hook-and-eye fastenings provides a secure and comfortable base around the chest. The fabric is breathable and wicks well, and it’s available in a range of colours.
Designed for high impact sports and running, the Shock Absorber offering pack ’em down and doesn’t let them budgeShock Absorber
Support: The support provided by this bra is about as secure as it’s possible to be, which is great for running or mountain biking over technical uneven terrain where you’re likely to get bumped about lots, but was a little too much for road cycling, almost being a little constrictive. The bra works better for larger cup sizes, and the full bust coverage means the breasts are fully encapsulated and supported when leaning forward on the drops on a road bike.
Shoulder straps: Wide high straps are soft and smooth on the shoulders and distribute weight well. An additional panel mid-shoulder keeps the straps together and prevents them slipping down over the shoulders, as well as giving a racer-back shape. However, it’s a bit tricky to get this done up when the bra is on. The additional padding under the back straps had a mixed reception from those mountain biking; some found the additional padding helped cushion the back when wearing a pack, others found it a bit fiddly.
Construction: There’s some serious engineering gone into this bra. Layered construction across the soft cups means no chaffing and the fabric breathes and wicks well. The bra also goes from a 30A up to a 38DD so a wide range of cup sizes are catered for.
If you want light support, the UnderArmour HeatGear Alpha is a good betKristen Legan / Immediate Media
Support: With a classical compression design, the Alpha Printed bra gets the job done without any fancy shaping cups or underwires. The elastic band across the ribs is wide and comfortable and keeps any sized chest in place. Not very supportive for larger bust sizes, D or above.
Shoulder straps: The straps are wide and stretchy across the shoulders, which disperses pressure evenly and painlessly. The razorback design in the back helps the bra feel more supportive without compressing too much.
Construction: This bra is very comfortable against the skin with minimal seams and a soft stretchy material. The basic design does not include any padding or removable cups to worry about. Despite being comfortable, this lack of structure also means it lacks any flattering details and leads to a very obvious uniboob.
Athleta Va Va Sports Bra
While our 36C tester loved this bra, the 34B tester didn’t get on with it, so this is clearly a love it or hate it kind of bra and we’d therefore recommend trying it on before purchasing.
The Athleta Va Va was popular with some testers, not so much with othersKristen Legan / Immediate Media
Support: The compression and encapsulation support system worked great for our larger chested reviewer (36C). The “sling” between the cups helped provide more shape and more support throughout the bra.
Shoulder straps: The racerback straps are very comfortable. Using wide straps, Athleta creates even pressure and support without pressing too hard. However, we found limited adjustability so if it doesn’t fit out of the box, you may not get on with this bra.
Construction: The seams of this bra don’t rub and the material feels nice on the skin. The hooks in the back were intimidating at first but it turns out they are fairly convenient to make adjustments as the bra stretches over time. The construction does pull the bust up making it sit quite high initially.
A wide three-clasp strap on the back of the Va Va bra helps provide plenty of supportKristen Legan / Immediate Media
A great choice for smaller-busted women, the Lululemon Energy braKristen Legan / Immediate Media
Support: Lululemon creates a uniform compression throughout this bra for support and comfort. With thin, removable padding, the bra supports each breast gently while relying mostly on compression to reduce movement. For larger chests however, this compression may not be enough to feel fully supported.
Shoulder straps: Each shoulder strap starts as a thick single band on the front and then splits into two smaller straps over the shoulder. These smaller straps intertwine and crisscross in the back creating a uniform pressure along the shoulders and across the back.
Construction: With the softest material of the roundup, the Energy Bra feels great and is very comfortable. It feels seamless and also wicks sweat really well. The small padding in each cup helps reduce the uniboob look but only slightly.
The Handful Bra provides a good degree of support for smaller bust sizes, and looks good tooHandful
Support: Handful combines a looser compression style of support with extra padding for shape and coverage. While this looser style is comfortable, it does not provide enough support for most medium to high impact sports.
Shoulder straps: Adjustable straps allow for different levels of pressure and support throughout the bra. The straps can also be rearranged into razorback or traditional straight straps depending on personal preference. However, the thin straps aren’t as comfortable or as supportive as thicker straps of other bras tested in this roundup.
Construction: The bra’s material is very comfortable on the skin and wicks sweat well. There is also some ruching in the middle of the bust area making the bra feel more flattering and reducing the uniboob look.