Tech behind the two stripes: Protective racewear


Cycling clothing and protection seemed to be two different worlds until very recently, when we (Team DSM) became the first professional cycling team to integrate protective fabrics into our race kit.

Crashes are an inevitable part of our sport, as are the wounds and abrasions that come with them. That wound recovery has impact on the optimal recovery between races or stages, and precious energy is wasted that can really make the difference out on the road.

“The idea came in the mid 2010s when the team explored the idea of how they could minimise the risk of injuries and energy consumption for recovery after crashes during Grand Tours”, explained Team DSM R&D expert Piet Rooijakkers. “We worked with DSM already in the early years of this project, and in time we could finally integrate a protective fiber called Dyneema into the bib shorts. This was a great step and one we are really proud of.”

A quick analysis of the technical possibilities soon showed the team’s experts that it was not feasible to then integrate these protective fabrics in more types of specific high-performance race wear at speed, considering other key performance aspects (aerodynamics, lightweight, stretch, breathable) of race clothing for use at the highest level of elite sports.

Team DSM Textile Technologies Scientist Tina Brückner explained why: “Using Dyneema fibers in textiles is a challenge since it’s not suited for most textile processes. It is a unique material that enables protection in clothing in a crash, but it is very stiff, cannot be coloured, it is cut-resistant. The combination of different materials (elastic and printable) and the exact way of creating the fabrics is the secret on how to achieve the desired properties in the kit.”

“It’s also important to know the process of making textiles: threads are made from fibers, sheets are made out of thread, and panels are cut out of sheets. To get Dyneema fibers into sheets, it first needs to be twined into the thread, then later during the weaving, threads of other materials are added just to have the balance. It’s a complex process!”

So, what next? The team made the decision to step away from a traditional commercial model to faster integrate protective materials into more items of their race wear and it was the world’s most premium brand Nalini, who partnered with the team to work on the project. This means that our in-house R&D, Aerodynamics, and Textile Technologies Engineer specialists now work together with Nalini’s state-of-the-art MOA Lab. This ensures that the development of a wider range of specific high-performance race wear can be accelerated and at the beginning of last year, another huge step was made as the team launched its own high performance athletic race wear.

Amazing news for the team! But to make this happen, some challenges had to be solved.

“It was a really challenging process to integrate the Dyneema fibers in such a high-performance kit. We basically had to reinvent every step in the production process of making professional racewear and come up with new solutions working with our new materials. The process has been adapted in all aspects from thread composition to the final seams in the kit”, Brückner explains.

At this year’s edition of the Vuelta, Team DSM presented the latest edition of their line of clothing. The Team DSM science group, DSM, and Nalini set a benchmark with the last sprint suit in terms of aerodynamics and speed – faster and also protective! Impressive work from the team. The suit is another benchmark in terms of speed and a huge step towards rider safety and protection in case of a crash.

“It’s really nice to have Dyneema in our clothing because it has proven time and time again that it is really protective against crashes. In the grand tours if you fall, then it’s of course not nice, but if you wear Dyneema like we have then you have less abrasions through the fabric; that saves a lot more energy for the rest of the grand tour which you really need. It’s super nice to have the Dyneema and the fact this sprint suit is even faster well, it’s just a great invention”, said Team DSM rider Thymen Arensman about the sprint suit.

Rooijakkers explained the aerodynamic benefits of the new suit: “The baseline level in performance was for us to have protection at an aerodynamic level of a normal sprint suit. Testing it at the TU Delft wind tunnel showed us a surprising benefit of five watts, which gave us the energy to push the project into a final sprint and have it ready before the Vuelta”.

“Although the Dyneema panels might be a bit abrased after a crash, the riders are fully protected up to 45 km/h. Depending on impact the skin might still be a bit scratched but provides serious reduction. Riders really rely on this in the races now.”

We are still busy at work as we approach the 2023 season with the goal of integrating protective fibers into more and more products in our custom clothing line. We hope to continue to set benchmarks and raise the standards in cycling with regards to protective race wear, and hope that in the future more cyclists can integrate protection into their race wear too.