The Sportiveur’s Guide To The Best Winter Cycling Tights

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).

Material (Girl)

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.

Superhero Suit

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).

Anything Else?

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.

Buying Recommendations

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

dhb Aeron 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).

Click here to buy / for more info

Mid-range choice: Sportful Fiandre No Rain Bib Tights

Sportful Fiandre NoRain Pro 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.

Click here to buy / for more info

High end choice: Castelli Sorpasso 2 Windstopper Bib Tights

Castelli Sorpasso 2 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).

Click here to buy / for more info

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

dhb Flashlight Thermal Waist Tights

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.

Click here to buy / for more info

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

dhb Classic Roubaix Waist Tights

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).

Click here for more info

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:

GripGrab leg warmers in box

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:

leg warmers for winter cycling
So pro…

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:

Click here to buy / for more info

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.

Click here to buy / for more info

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!

23 thoughts on “The Sportiveur’s Guide To The Best Winter Cycling Tights”

  1. Hi Monty,

    Cheers for the article. It’s well timed indeed; I have found the last week to be the proper transition time in terms of clothing. As it happens, I purchased a pair of Santini Poseidon bib tights at the weekend. I had my first cycle with them this morning and think that they are absolutely excellent. I also splashed out on a Santini Rebel winter jacket. With the tights and jacket combined I was extremely comfortable in the cold this morning.

    What I like about Santini is the fact that all of there products are made in Italy and are competitively priced. I have a few Castelli bits and pieces; they come from Romania, Bangladesh and China, which I find to be slightly weird. I have nothing against buying these things I just like to try and reduce the travel distance of these things, one of my favourite items ever is a Castelli cycling cap, its super absorbent and higher quality than soem of the other brands I have seen around. Other brands that are worth looking into are Lusso and Endura which are UK based. All my rain gear and my cycling club apparel is from Endura, I have a short and long sleeved base layer from Lusso, both of which I really like.

    Ok, i’m finished now, sorry…

    • No need to apologise Paul! All good tips. Will look at Santani’s range. I’m a big fan of Endura (despite not owning much of their gear…).

  2. I have been having pretty good rides in the cold with my underarmour coldgear tights. Not cycling specific but they do the job for sure. Showers pass rain jacket and pants for when the wet stuff starts coming down.

    • Thanks Glen. I’ve a feeling that at least one of my pairs of tights is not cycling specific, but they too do the job.

    • Hello! Yes, I’m good. I’ve been working our house renovation and it’s dominated my life these past few months. We moved in a couple of weeks ago so hopefully things will calm down soon and I’ll resume blogging (and resume cycling….)….

  3. Thanks for the article. I recently bought some tights and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized there was no padding. I had assumed the tights would be like my shorts (with padding) but longer. I wasn’t sure what to do until reading this. I will try wearing my padless tights over my shorts tomorrow.

    • Excellent.

      The thing that always confused me was pro riders seemingly wearing their tights under their shorts during winter racing/training. It took me far too long to realise that they were wearing knee warmers rather than full on tights….

  4. So thrilling were those black frog legs I have ordered myself a pair so I will have no excuse when my thin Oz blood whimpers on those cold mornings… I can now confess that working at an australian ski resort in the 70’s we used to sneak, heavily disguised, into a dance supply store to buy leggings to wear under our ski gear- at great risk to our manly public image…
    Keep up the good work, always interesting and a good laugh,

    Stefan

  5. Hi Monty,

    Any thoughts on the Rapha gear? They seem to have beatiful and functional rear but prising is steep. But the various Merino wool blends give it a less syntetic touch.

    • I’m afraid I can’t comment on Rapha, Helmut. I don’t think I’ve even touched their clothing, never mind worn it. I imagine it’s good quality, and it looks smart, but can you get over the pricing…?

      Anyone else here a Rapha wearer or fan? (Or prejudiced, without having tried it…?)

  6. Hi Monty, great article! I have just bought two long bib tights with pads but not thermal. I am still finding it a bit nippy round the boll….. I am a noob and it’s my first year any tips for my situation as this gear lark is getting expensive.

  7. Hiya
    So I’ve got a pair of Bib shorts that are dead comfy from giordana and they sell the matching pair of bib tights with no pad
    I think they go over the top of the shorts not to sure ,is this recommended and has anyone done this

    • The issue is assos is that they seem very expensive and, more importantly, all the photos I could ‘borrow’ to show in my table feature a topless musclebound bloke….

  8. If you ride hills in winter, windstopper can be a godsend for long descents. I have a pair of Castelli Meno Windstopper tights that I absolutely love. I wear leg-warmers until I notice that I’m leaving them on for the whole ride, and then I move to bib tights (with integrated pad, which is my preference). People’s cold tolerance varies, depending on various factors (age, body type, riding style, etc.) so part of the fun is finding out what works for you, preferably without going bankrupt in the process…

  9. Hi Monty,

    Nice review, but I think I missed your views on the UK based Rapha products. Usually on a really tight fit, but nice build quality and they know how to sell their stuff.

  10. Really enjoy the blog Monty!

    If the tights are thin spandex I wear them inside of my chamois shorts. Been doing this for a long time ( not the same tights). If heavier material especially merino wool then tights are outside of course. Never had a problem.

  11. Oh for non-black tights! So boring and black is not my colour. I have some blue Campag ones from a few years ago but have never seen any coloured ones since – anyone?

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