Leg Warmers vs Tights: Mont’s Guide For Road Cyclists With Chilly Knees

A few years ago, I had something of a revelation. It involved skin-tight black stockings. Or ‘leg warmers’ as they seem to be called in cyclo-world.

Now I feel compelled to share my epiphany in the form of a blog post comparing said leg warmers with tights, and discussing which is (are?) best for road cycling.

Like all good epiphanies, this story starts with e-commerce. Whilst perusing the Wiggle site (other online cycling retailers are available), I saw that a pair of leg warmers made by GripGrab were available in the sale. So I plunged. And I also bought a pair of leg warmers.

And now, after using leg warmers for, ooh getting on for nearly four years, I feel somewhat qualified to write about them. Please to enjoy my words. 

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click them and buy something, I make a small commission – at no extra cost to you.)

If You Are Just Looking For Some Good Leg Warmers…

You would could do far worse than buying a pair of the GripGrab thermal leg warmers (more detail further down the post). I’ve got two pairs (black and high vis yellow) and I’ve been very happy with both:

Alternatively, I’m a big fan of Castelli (I’ve told you I love my Perfetto jersey, right…?), so here are the Thermoflex 2 leg warmers, which are approximatelt the same price as the GripGrabs:

A Short History Of Mont And His Tights

My relationship with tight black sheaths (for my legs) goes back over a decade. I used to wear a pair of unpadded waist tights under board shorts* whilst winter-cyclo-commuting in London.

(*Why? Because I was into surfing, that most London of sports).

When I moved on to road cycling for road cycling’s sake (and became more comfortable with wearing lycra in public), I used to wear said waist tights over (padded) cycling shorts when the mercury fell.

After that, when the kind folk at Wiggle sent me a pair of thermal bib tights for review (and thus compromised my impartiality for ever), I interspersed waist tight/bib short wearing with dedicated bib tight wearing.

Finally, when the website nymphs bestowed a cheeky money-saving opportunity (by spending more money on cycling clothes…), I invested in a pair of leg warmers. These ones in fact: 

GripGrab leg warmers in box

Advantages Of Leg Warmers Over Waist Tights (Over Bib Shorts)

Until I tried these leg warmers I was quite happy wearing tights over my bib shorts. And to be honest, I’m sure I could have gone on to lead a happy and fulfilling life without leg warmers.

That said, having worn the GripGrabs these past few years, there are a few things about leg warmers that I prefer over wearing waist tights (over bib shorts…).

Leg Warmers Are More Comfortable

Waist tights can be a bit uncomfortable. Since they don’t have bib straps (which may or may not be what they’re called), tights need to be elasticated at the waist. Which can dig in to your skin.

I’m sure wearing two layers of lycra is nice and warm (that’s layering, innit), but it can also, for me, feel quite constricting. And going to the toilet becomes one layer of lycra more difficult.

Tights are a faff to put on. You need to pull them up and over your cycling shorts and then do some sort of hands-down-your-pants dance to flatten out your shorts after you’ve rolled them up into a large rubber band around your upper thigh.

Leg warmers are much straightforward, being effectively long lycra socks with the feet cut off.

GripGrab leg warmers with reflectors

Look! They Just Look Better

Leg warmers look better. Or rather, they make you look better when wearing them (the leg warmers themselves are straightforward black tubes of lycra)

Waist tights tend to be a very functional piece of clothing. They are not generally seen as a canvas for Paul Smith’s cyclo-designery musings. Both of my pairs are black. Whatever the musculature of your leg, simple black cycling tights do not tend to be flattering.

On the other hand, black knees and lower legs can look quite smart when paired with cycling shorts that have a bit more colour detailing.

By way of example, consider… me. Whilst the photos in this post (you’ll have to scroll down…) don’t evidence the legs of a cycling demi-god, what they do show is that wearing leg warmers means that you can still see the wide red bars at the bottom of the cycling shorts (which I believe are intended to accentuate the quads…), plus the red seams.

(Conveniently) I can’t seem to find a photo of me wearing my old cycling tights. Safe to say, I would be a leading contender to win a sparrow legs of the year competition.

Convenience and Flexibility

Leg warmers are a flexible addition to your riding wardrobe, particularly in the spring or autumn (fall…).

As mentioned, they’re easy to put on and take off, making them perfect, say, for a longer ride that starts in the cool of the morning.

Once the sun comes up and temperatures rise, the leg warmers can be taken off and easily stored in a jersey pocket.

What Types Of Leg Warmers Can You Get?

And who knew there were different types? Answer: me.

In short, there are a few variants on the theme:

Thermal leg warmers

This is the type I bought initially.

They have a furry ‘brushed fleece’ fabric on the inside (often described as ‘Roubaix’ lycra/spandex) to give you that warm glow down your inner thigh.

Note: this warm glow can be achieved through “alternative” methods.

GripGrab leg warmers furry fabric

Light Leg Warmers

Made from a slightly lighter (there’s a surprise) and stretchier lycra/spandex fabric. These will obviously be less insulating than the thermal ones, so more suited to chilly spring early mornings, where you’re expecting temperatures to rise quite quickly.

‘Hi-vis’ Leg Warmers

For when you absolutely, posi-tively must have highly visible legs.

The GripGrab hi vis warmers use the same ‘Roubaix’ lycra as my black thermal ones. How do I know? Well, I bought a pair:

Leg warmers and tights

And, yes, I do look ludicrous. But I think we can all agree that you can see me:

hi viz leg wamers close up

“Aqua Repel” Leg Warmers

Or water repellant to you or I.

This feels like a bit of an anti-climax after the psycho-visual treat I’ve just given you.

Water-repellant leg warmers tend to made out of either normal or thermal Roubaix lycra, but have a treatment applied that makes water bobble up on the surface of the fabric, rather than soak in. The theory then goes that the water runs off and you get less wet.

Worth thinking about if you have water 

You’ve Had Options. Now Have Features…

… in your eyeholes.

As it turns out, leg warmers do not have many ‘features’. Essentially they’re just leg-shaped tubes, chiselled out of lycra (although the manufacturers will claim considerable designscience went into the construction of the various panels that form those tubes).

Feature 1 occurs at the top end of the tube. Here we tend to find a band of grippy type stuff (silicon elastic in the case of my GripGrabs) around the hem that goes around your thighs. This (likely combined with a similar band on the inside of your cycling shorts) will hold the leg warmers in position.

GripGrab leg warmers silicon gripper hem

Feature 2 is… there is no feature 2 on my leg warmers.

Some leg warmers do, like many bib tights, have zips at the bottom hem (like aforementioned ones from Castelli, presumably to help you get them on before tightening them around your lower calf.

The GripGrabs make do with a simple stretchy cuff, which I have had absolutely no problem with (but then I don’t have a muscular calf – nor a fatted cow).

Leg Warmers Versus Padded Bib Tights

The case for leg warmers ’gainst bib tights (the ones with Chamois/pads) is less clear, to me at least.

This might be because my only pair of bib tights are thermal ones, made with the aforementioned furry-lined Roubaix lycra.

The bib tights are for proper winter wear, when the temperature drops to a point where it’s only just sensible going out on the bike at all. I might not consider leg warmers in such conditions (whilst the warmers may be insulated, the bib tights around my nethercrackers are not). The two items therefore fulfil slightly different roles in my winter wardrobe.

The bib tights (mine at least) don’t suffer from the whole black pipe cleaner/legs confusion that my waist tights do. The bibbers comprise panels of black, grey and reddish-orange material. The brighter colour is once more strategically located towards the bottom of your correspondent’s thighs to (I surmise) emphasise (maybe sympathise… with?) quadriceps that (in fact) barely exist.

One (Naked) Advantage Of Leg Warmers Over Bib Tights

I have, however, identified one advantage of the leg warmers versus the bib tights (and I appreciate that this might not be universal).

I find putting on the bib tights somewhat… er… undignified. Being thermal lycra, they are slightly less stretchy than their thinner-materialed brethren. And they fit like a (man’s-bottom-half-shaped) glove. Which is great and all but…

Essentially bib tights are item number one to be put on, after your birthday suit. And even if you’re wearing some sort of base layer on your torso, your ‘antipodean birthday suit’ is very much on show. On show for the multiple minutes it takes to work the tight-fitting lycra all the way up your legs until, finally, once more, your (my) dignity is reinstated.

I don’t know. It’s a faff. A faff with your ‘rear derailleur’ on show.

And a faff that you avoid with the leg warmers. Here, phase 1 clothing application simply involves a pair of quick-to-apply bib shorts. Once your junk is in the padded trunk, the leg warmers can be occupied at your leisure.

Do You Want To See Some More Photos Of Me In My Leg Warmers?

Of course you do.

wearing leg warmers under cycling shorts

Perhaps sir would like to see a photo demonstrating how the leg warmer blends in seamlessly (they do have seams) into my winter wardrobe?

You will note how the red cuffs at the bottom of my cycling shorts emphasise my lower spud guns. That’s psychological innit.

leg warmers for winter cycling

And now in more of a jaunty pose. A little European. Relaxed and ready for the riviera.

You will note, of course, that I have gone ‘man down’ on my right leg. I would never do this when riding. Oh no, this risks both ridicule and injury, being perilously close to the front cogger (and you don’t want to get your warmer tangled in your cogger).

I am, however, comfortable courting mere ridicule, and am therefore happy to ride with a warmer round the ankle of my left peg.

Leg Warmer Buying Options:

Let’s not overcomplicate this. I recommend the GripGrabs that I own and use every winter:

If I didn’t have these, again I’d be looking at the Castelli equivalents:

I’m not sure I’d be doing much more shopping around than that.

Do you use leg warmers or tights? Let me know in the comments below.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

6 thoughts on “Leg Warmers vs Tights: Mont’s Guide For Road Cyclists With Chilly Knees”

  1. Hi Monty
    Here’s to a Happy New Year in all your endeavors especially the ones involving two wheels,

    I too have tried leg warmers and maybe yours were better than mine or mine are too big but they just would not stay up. And as luck would have it the first time I used them was in a Century.
    They came down almost immediately and I decided I would not stop (out of principle and hard headedness). So I rode most of the time trying to pull them up enough were they covered my knees and did not bind.
    So to add to your fine post I would suggest getting leg warmers that are snug.

    Steve in New England

  2. Happy New Year!

    Thank you for all the information on leg warmers.

    I should, however, warn you to keep looking over your shoulder – the men in white coats will surely come for you after your “jaunty pose”!

    Anyway, I took your advice and bought a pair of leg warmers and went for a ride, only to find my legs melted away, leaving only tibia and fibula intact.

    I then remembered that I no longer live in Bath but moved to Australia 30 years ago. (Temperature in shade, 32 deg C. Temperature in leg warmers 132 deg C).

    So how about an article specially for your antipodean cousins? Might I suggest “How to ride in Speedos (aka Budgie Smugglers)”.

    But don’t try modelling them – that would definitely get you arrested!

    PS: Love your work as always.

    Chris Mills
    Bribie Island

  3. Tights have one huge advantage over leg warmers–they say up because they tighten at the waist. For people like myself–tall and skinny (slim would be more flattering but, lets face it, I am skinny)–neither leg warmers nor arm warmers will say up. Believe me, I have tried. So, for me it is tights and full jackets. A little harder to fold and stow as the weather warms up perhaps but I gladly trade that for crumpled Lycra around my ankles and elbow.

  4. Excellent piece of writing as usual Monty. Interestingly, I set out with a credit card (dangeous) to a cycle store a few months backwith the aim of buying leg and arm warmers, but the sizing was simply too confusing. Why, if you were a large, multi-branch cycle store, would you only stock S-M and L-XL leg warmers? Why omit the M-L, the ones you will probably sell most of? Evans, I shall not darken your door again…

    I’m bound to add to your piece that a decent pair of winter bib tights (with padding) such as the Endura Windchill Biblong (around £80) have zips at the bottom of the legs that makes it so much easier to put them on and the water / wind resistance make a huge difference over slightly cheaper products. Needless to say, I did not buy these from the aforementioned store, in protest at their nonsense.

    Keep up the blog Monty, always appreciated!


  5. In the winter in California, it gets cold. Down into the high 20’sF in the mornings. So yes, I wear leg warmers. Have thought about tights but I’m about 5’8″ and often the ones that fit my waist and thighs are too long, and the ones that fit in length are too tight up top. So I stick to leg warmers. I’ll just pull them higher under my bike shorts, which works fine. As for socks, don’t get me started. I’m the author of Fixing Your Feet, a 6th edition book for athletes and love socks. There’s nothing like a good well-made pair of Merino wool socks to keep one’s feet warm. I compare socks and there are really good socks and cheap socks. It’s worth spending a free dollars more for a good pair.


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