Check our video at the end of this feature on washing bras
Having never found a sports bra I am entirely happy with, I was never going to be a pushover with this review. Even my favourite sports bras I can’t wait to get out of after a ride.
It goes without saying that testing clothing is a very personal thing – and as you probably already know, all new bras and especially sports bras are going to feel tight, particularly at first. Buying the wrong one can be an expensive mistake to make, so take into consideration which brand or type of bra has worked well for you before. With such a broad range of sizes that need to be stocked, an online specialist such as Less Bounce might have more options for your size than a local shop.
For the record, I am a size 30F; this has been verified by both Bravissimo and Rigby and Peller (bra supplier to the Queen, if that kind of thing impresses you). I can never stress enough that you should have your size checked by a reputable company. I wore the wrong sizes for years – 36D at one point! It turns out that my ribcage is quite small but my boobs are comparatively large. What works for one size may not work for another, but this review is definitely aimed at larger cup sizes, or at least more difficult to cater for sizes.
Unfortunately the disparity in my own sizing means that there are some highly recommended brands I’ve been unable to test; for example, I have friends who love the Castelli Cafe bras, but unfortunately Castelli’s sizing assumes proportion in back and cup, and proportional I am not.
What makes a good sports bra?
Issues I’ve had with sports bras in the past are an uncomfortably tight feeling around the chest; underwires that dig in; thick, sweaty fabric, and a feeling that I cannot expand my lungs. Don’t get me wrong – when you have big boobs it’s always something of a relief to take your day-to-day bra off at the end of the day, so with sports bras needing to offer more support, it’s even more of a challenge to the manufacturers to make them comfortable.
Encapsulation or compression?
Mountain biking is classed as a high-impact sport, so any bras aimed at running or aerobics should be suitable for mountain biking. There are two different design approaches to restricting unwanted bounce – encapsulation and compression. Compression is good for restricting movement, but doesn’t do much for shape and can feel restrictive. Encapsulation should work to restrict movement but also prevent the dreaded mono-boob. Some bras use one, or a combination of these
Panache Non-Wired Sports Bra
I’ve found Panache bras have always given me great shape, and the brand’s current line of sports bras is no exception. The moulded shape gives me the trademark up-front profile, but with added squish. This one manages to do that without the use of wires; instead, it forms the fabric under the boobs into a moulded shape, which works pretty well. The bra might come away from the sternum a little bit more than a wired bra but it makes up for this in comfort.
From the wide shoulder straps, which can be hooked together for a racer-back option, to the padded hook and eye closures and the high coverage at the front, this is a comfortable bra with good support. I wore it all day, with the only issue being sweat. Although it’s made from a wicking fabric, it is thicker than some sports bras and that section under the boobs can take a while to dry when you’ve been working hard.
That said I would not hesitate to pick this bra for a long day in the saddle. The lack of an underwire doesn’t seem to affect the support and I think it’s no coincidence that as Panache is one of my favourite brands for everyday bras, I also found this bra particularly comfortable.
Panache Wired Sports Bra
This is Panache’s underwired sports bra, which uses wires to perfect that perky shape and fully separate your boobs. I found it almost as comfy as the non-wired version – I did notice the wires against my chest, but only if I really thought about it.
Everyone has a different shaped ribcage, so it might suit some better than others. Again it looks great; full coverage means you could get away with wearing it as a cropped top if you so desire. I didn’t notice any unwanted bounce when riding and it supports in all the right places. A great bra for any sport.
Shock Absorber Active
A sports bra has to be snug around the chest band – if it isn’t, it can’t do its job of reducing bounce. However this bra from Shock Absorber was the only one that I had to exchange for the next chest size up. Most specialist retailers do advise going up one or possibly even two sizes for your regular size with this brand, so bear that in mind if you’re buying.
Even armed with the right size, I still found this the most difficult bra to get on due to the double straps at the back, and it definitely compresses! The fabric isn’t too thick and the load is well spread, with even pressure all around the chest strap and over the shoulder straps. There isn’t one point where it feels too intense or uncomfortable for me and overall I found the support from this bra is excellent. It can withstand the most jumpy of exercise classes, and I was able to wear it for quite a long spell with no issues.
Freya Active Soft Cup
This bra looks a bit old fashioned to me, especially in white – like an old woman’s bra. It gave me the strangest shaped boobs, all a bit Vogue-era Madonna, but if you can get past the aesthetics, I found this bra fits really well in all the right places.
It does a great job of keeping your boobs apart without using wires and although it has an ‘inner sling’ to provide support, the fabric is thin yet still manages to be strong and supportive. It was definitely one of the more comfortable bras in the test, especially as it was light and quick drying. I was happy to wear this all day, and if anyone noticed my pointy boobs, they were polite enough to keep it to themselves.
Freya Active Crop Top
This is by far the most substantial bra in the test; it is designed so it can be worn alone as a cropped top, so it comes up high at the front and sides. It looks good and the moulded cups encapsulate well with the help of underwires. The inner cup is seamless, and the bottom band wide and very secure. The shape it gives is impressively uplifted, separated and compressed. The fabric is thick, but the microfibre lining is designed to wick moisture and keep you cool. Bounce control is also very impressive.
However all this support does come at a price; I was aware of the structure in place to keep my boobs locked down. Thankfully this isn’t so much from the shoulder straps, but I definitely felt it under the cups and round the sides. It’s not a bra I would want to sit around all day in. However for short blasts on the bike or exercise classes, it does its job well, and looks good to boot. This is the sort of bra that ladies who have had to previously double-bra for exercise would probably like.
I had high hopes for this bra when I unpacked it – so light and soft, with promises of compression and encapsulation. When I put it on at first it felt nice and light, with wide straps, and definitely did a good job of compressing my boobs to my chest, although they weren’t fully separated. I didn’t notice it was there at first, which is always a good sign, and there were no bounce issues. It also dried out really quickly when it became sweaty.
However, I did have problems with the band under the boobs; although it’s wide, it’s fairly thin fabric and after a while it started to roll up. As it folded up on itself, it began to dig in and then to resist being flattened out. My boobs also moved closer together over the day and although this didn’t quite lead to a mono-boob, it wasn’t particularly comfortable.
This bra does a decent compression job with a relatively thin fabric, but at the cost of not quite keeping the boobs apart. All-day comfort is also compromised due to the pressure of the band rolling up.
Anita Extreme Control
The Extreme Control bra is designed for high impact sports, has double-layered cups with a toweling liner, and control is provided by a C-shaped panel around the outside of the bust. Everything about this bra felt soft when I put it on – the fabric and seams are gentle on the skin and the only pressure at first is the slight tightness of the wide chest band.
It doesn’t have the uplift and shape of some of the others, and doesn’t sit flush to the sternum between the boobs; however they do sit apart. Slightly more pressure is taken by the shoulder straps and these are beautifully designed; wide and soft where the support is needed most, pared down elsewhere. It’s a quite low cut at the front so I had slight overspill but this didn’t affect the bounce control, which was very good. The band underneath is wide and flat and rolled up when I bent forwards; it didn’t dig in but I was aware of it.
On a long ride with rests I found it remained quite cool and comfortable throughout the day, helped by the mesh-like fabric used on the back straps. Tellingly, at the end of the day I was not desperate to take it off.
The main thing I noticed when testing all these bras is that when the riding gets gnarly, your mind is only on one thing – controlling your bike. The clincher comes when you’re hanging about at the end of the ride. If you can’t wait to rip your bra off, just as you can’t wait to rip those knee pads off, then it’s possibly not the comfiest bra you could have.
I had no problems with bounce control with any of these bras when riding, but the least movement came from the Shock Absorber and two Freya bras.
The models which impressed me most – the Panache non-wired, Anita Extreme Control, Freya Soft Cup and Shock Absorber – are all quite different, the only real similarity being that they’re all non-wired. I’ve never been a fan of underwires in a sports bra; these bras prove that, for my size at least, you can have better comfort and equal support without them.
Overall though the bra which gets my Singletrack Recommended seal of approval is the Shock Absorber Active Multi Sports Support Bra, as this definitely gave the best combination of all-day comfort and support.
Machine Wash or Hand wash?
And finally Vic attempts to see if it really is all that bad to put a handwash only bra through the washing machine.