Colder temperatures will soon be upon us. A vital aspect of enjoying your cycling during the winter months is to ensure you’re adequately attired. Cycling tights should be an important part of the your adequate attire.
The aim of this post is shed a little light on the subject of winter cycling tights. I doubt that too much light is required, for it is hardly a challenging subject.
I’ll let you know the different leg warming options available to you as a road cyclists (yes, you have options) and then provide some recommendations on what to buy in each category.
I’ll also throw in some inane chatter (you’re welcome). Now bring on the men in tights!
If you really can’t wait (and you don’t like vital information mixed with inane chatter), click here to scroll down to my updated 2018 winter tights recommendations
Why You Shouldn’t Wear Tights Underneath Your Shorts
For a long time, when I saw pro riders (or those who wanted to look like pro riders) training in cold weather, I assumed they were wearing tights underneath their cycling shorts.
It took me an awfully long time (too long) to realise that this wasn’t the case (I hope it wasn’t the case) and they were most likely wearing knee or leg warmers.
Just in case this is something of a revelation for you, a brief explanation.
Cycling shorts are designed to be worn sans pantage. The pad (or chamois) is meant to placed directly against your, er… skin [Monty successfully avoids being overly explicit].
If you put your tights on beneath your cycling shorts, you’re negating the effect of your (potentially expensive?) chamois and increasing the chance of material bunching up, causing saddle sores.
If the tights have a pad as well, then you’ll be double padded, and have to waddle around like a sumo wrestler.
So tights are worn over your cycling shorts.
Got that? Good. Moving on.
Cycling Tight Options
So here we go. There are a number of factors you might like to consider when identifying your perfect set of tights. And below are a few of those factors.
(And yes, it is one of my life beliefs that everyone has a ‘perfect set of tights’ … out there in the frozen tundra… waiting to be found…)
How The Tights Stay Up
Cycling tights stay up either by having an elasticated waist (and have the appearance of tight trousers or, er, … tights) or by having shoulder straps like bib shorts (and therefore look much like bib shorts but with longer legs).
Both of my pairs of tights are elasticated at the waist. I’ve never had a problem with them either digging in or falling down (to be honest, I hadn’t realised this was even a consideration until I started researching* this post).
(* Yes, I do research these things, in a fashion).
Cycling shorts are generally made from lycra (what else would you expect?).
That said, there are different types of lycra depending on how warm the manufacturer intends to make the shorts.
Most popular tights tend to have some degree of fleecy lining, generally identifiable by their fancy, trademarked fabric names, such as Roubaix, Super Roubaix, Thermoflex, Nanoflex.
You’ll sometimes see ‘Roubaix lycra’ used as a more general term to refer to any lycra that has a fleecy inner surface. Hence the dhb (Wiggle own-brand) Aeron Roubaix thermal bib tights below are described as having a Roubaix finish, despite being made from another type of lycra (Lombardia, in case you’re interested – oh, you’re not…?).
Pad – With Or Without
Apparently, cycling tights are available with or without integrated ass pads (alright, chamois). Who knew?*
(*Not me – neither of my pairs of tights has one).
Clearly, if you buy tights with a pad, you wouldn’t wear another pair of cycling shorts underneath them.
Perhaps this is an obvious point, but I’m going to make it anyway. If you buy shorts with a pad, you only have one layer of material between you and the elements.
If you buy overtights, there are two layers of lycra where your shorts are, providing additional insulation at the top of your legs and around your boll…. your lower vital organs.
This is a category of ‘cycling tights’ in and of itself. And to be honest, I feel they’re stretching the meaning of the term ‘tights’.
Essentially, Castelli, purveyor of expensive cycling clothes (as worn by pros, even when they have a different clothing sponsor), make a winter cycling suit comprising a pair of thermal tights sewn into a thermal cycling jersey. A bit like the pants and vest combo that poor East End evacuees were sewn into during the 1940s (a bit like that).
Beyond the obvious, there are few ‘features’ of cycling tights.
Many will have reflective elements, either in the form of stickers or piping near some of the seams. I wonder how effective these are, given 99% of tights are otherwise almost entirely black. Better to have a decent set of lights on your bike.
The bit around the foot is…. interesting (alright, I’m grasping at straws here!). Specifically how the cuffs at the end of each leg get over the foot before forming a tight seal around the ankle.
Many tights have small zips just below the calf to facilitate this. Others go for a stretchy cuff (which sounds like a medical condition). I prefer the zipped ones.
Leg (And Knee) Warmers
If you want to look like the pros mentioned at the top of this post, with black-clad legs beneath brightly-coloured pro team shorts, then wearing knee/leg warmers are the way to achieve it.
Essentially, these are lycra tubes, shaped to a greater or lesser degree (often based on how much you paid) to fit closely around your legs. Whether said tube is a knee warmer or a leg warmer is a question of scale – if it goes to just below your knee, it’s a knee warmer; to the tops of your socks (and below) it’s a leg warmer.
If it’s made of pink wool and just warms your shin, you might have gone to a 1980s dance shop rather than your LBS.
The accepted wisdom appears to be that your cycling short legs should overlap the tops of the leg warmers in order to provide continuous clothing coverage.
The advantage of leg (and knee) warmers, versus the common-or-garden tight, is that they are easier to remove mid ride and occupy less space in your jersey pockets, in the event that the temperature of your mid- to lower-leg becomes unbearably high.
I promised some updated buying recommendations. And here they are. I do like to deliver.
Best Winter Cycling Bib Tights With Padding
(Which is a mouthful of a heading and no mistake).
In this section I look at three versions of essentially the same bit of kit: a set of padded bib shorts, just with the legs extended down to the ankles (er, like human legs).
Pick the one that best suits the amount you have to spend…
Performance on a budget: dhb Aeron FLT Roubaix Bib Tights
Disclaimer: I am biased because Wiggle sent me a pair of dhb roubaix tights very similar to these to test (yes, for FREE, dear reader).
I can honestly say that they have been excellent. Toasty warm. Good build quality.
207 reviews on the Wiggle site (presumably impartial) seem to say similar (in fact they say 4.5 out of 5).
Mid-range choice: Sportful Fiandre No Rain Bib Tights
I am somewhat at a loss as to how Sportful can ensure there is no rain on your winter ride. Still, they’re an Italian company – let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
What these tights do have is a water repellant treatment, that causes moisture to bead up on the surface of the tights, rather than soaking them through.
Double layer of fabric on the front of these tights means you’ll be nice and toasty, even if the cold wind doth blow.
High end choice: Castelli Sorpasso 2 Windstopper Bib Tights
Everyone needs a little Castelli their life (and a little money on their credit card to afford a little Castelli in their life).
These tights purport to be windproof, insulating and highly breathable. With an almost 5 star rating (4.7 to be exact) from over 80 reviews on the Wiggle site, it’s likely these tights do what they purport.
The thing to be aware of with Castelli products is sizing. Most Wiggle reviewers suggest going a size bigger than with other makes (which concurs with my experience of their jerseys).
Best Cycling Waist Tights (For Want Of A Better Term)
Interesting (not so interesting) fact. The first two sets of cycling tights I bought did not have a pad (for yo’ bum) in them. They were made by Nike before the whole Lance Armstrong kaboodle caused them to quietly depart the cycle clothing market.
Anyhoo… I assumed that the vast majority of cycling tights were therefore sans chamois. How wrong I was.
In researching this post (*messing around on the internet*), it appears that most cycling tights these days, do come with a fitted pad.
So unless you want to ‘double-pad’ it, you probably won’t want to wear bib shorts beneath them.
Anyway, behold a couple options (depending on how visible you want to be)…
Reflective overload: dhb Flashlight Cycling Waist Tight
I am most disappointed. The previous version of these involved a load of reflective hexagons, allowing me to roll out all my Blockbuster jokes (it’s a UK thing…).
The new version instead uses what look like reflective gun targets. So other road users will be able to see you. And shoot you.
I’ll take a P please bob.
And actually, there is an un-padded version of the Flashlights as well, in case you want tights that can work with your existing cycling shorts, not against them. Wait, I mean instead of them.
Slightly perplexingly, the unpadded version costs slightly more (for less stuff?), but remain good value. You can see this version of the tights on Wiggle by clicking here.
Good value choice: dhb Classic Thermal Waist Tight
That’s just classic Thermal. Classic.
These tights used to have ‘Roubaix’ in the title, denoting the fact that they’re made with the Lombardia fleecy lycra fabric (which I mentioned at the top of this article). Despite the slight name change (which is probably more understandable to the lay reader) they’re still made from that material. So still nice and warm at a reasonable price.
There’s a good number of reviews on the Wiggle site (over 50) and the vast majority would recommend (as would, since effectively I own the ‘bib’ version of these tights).
Keep Your Legs Warm Without Wearing Tights
And then for when you absolutely, positively do not want to put on a pair of tights over your funky-coloured bib shorts, we have…
GripGrab Classic Leg Warmers
Confession time: I don’t wear cycling tights all that often.
(“What?!? And you have the audacity to stand here preaching to me about the merits of tights? Hypocrite!!”)
Nope. I’ve taken to wearing leg warmers. These leg warmers in fact:
I bought a pair a couple of years ago because I had a Wiggle voucher, plus they were on offer. They’re my ‘go to’ leg covering for when the weather turns cold.
I wrote a full post on leg warmers, which included a review of the GripGrabs (and if you can contain your excitement, you can read it here).
In short (and below shorts), they’re excellent, and they make you look pro, particularly if you have colours on your bib shorts:
In terms of warmth, they’ll do me in most conditions, so they’re a very versatile bit of kit that doesn’t take up too much room in your cycling wardrobe (or your cycling go box). Go get yourself a pair:
That’s it for all my recommendations. Thank you for comi…
Oh Wait, You Want To See The Superman Option?
This suit essentially combines Castelli’s Gabba/Perfetto jersey (the one that pro’s use with the logo blacked out) and the Sorpasso tights shown above.
If you care about staying uber-warm, and you have the funds, this might be the choice for you.
That’s Enough Tempting Tightwear
There’s only so many lycra clad legs you want to gaze at in a single sitting (where ‘so many’ generally equals zero).
Hopefully this summary of the ‘issues’ has been useful. If I help just one person prevent saddle sores through incorrect tight wearage then I’ve done my job.
Just to say, the links above are affiliate links. If you like this article, and you’re in the mood to buy some cycling tights, then doing so after clicking one of the product links in the table means I get paid a small commission. Which helps keeps the lights on here at the Sportive Cyclist Service Course. Well, one light. For an hour maybe.
Until next time, happy (warm, winter) cycling!