The Cafe du Cycliste brand produces a range of clothing with subtly stylish identity, including these Martine winter tights. They certainly kept my legs warm in cold weather, but I found some design features uncomfortable.
The Martine tights are made from two types of stretchy fabric which are windproof on the outside and fleecy on the inside, a style best known as 'Roubaix'. On these tights, they're called Thermo-tech and Artic. Whatever the name, the idea works well; I tested the tights on some long rides in chilly conditions, with temperatures around 5°C, and my legs were nice and warm. When the temperature dropped to nearer 2°C (with a mean wind making it colder still), I could certainly feel the cold air against the fabric, but I remained fairly warm around the legs.
As is usual with winter tights, these Martines are made from fabric panels stitched together to give the garment its shape and fit, with windproof panels over the knees on the front of the tights. More unusually, though, these panels go around the whole leg at knee level, meaning two seams behind the knee, which I could feel chafing my skin slightly at every pedal stroke.
In addition, the knee panels are attached diagonally, so they go around the knee area in a kind of spiral, meaning it's impossible to adjust the position of seams to make the tights more comfortable in this area.
To make matters worse, although the seams are sewn flat against the fabric on the upper part of the tights (so you don't feel them against your skin), they stand proud on the leg areas (so you do), which seems an odd way round.
These slightly chafing seams may not be an issue for some cyclists, but if it's the type of thing that annoys you, it's well worth trying on these tights before you buy.
The Cafe du Cycliste website does not specify if the Martines are for male or female customers, although the Shop area is divided into 'Urban', 'Performance' and 'Women', and these Martine tights aren't listed under the latter category, so I assume they're for men, despite them having a nom feminin.
The tights do not have a pad, aka chamois, as they're designed to be worn over shorts. For some cyclists, this option allows for extra warmth (if it's cold enough for three or four layers on the upper half of your body, the thinking goes, you need two layers on the lower half), while for other cyclists this double layer of clothing around the backside and nether regions may be uncomfortable.
The bib section is made from the same fabric as the rest of the tights, rather than mesh or lighter fabric, as on tights for warmer conditions. Across the upper back, there's an extra strip of fabric to keep the straps in place over your shoulders.
The front of the bib is cut low compared to most other brands of bib-tight lurking in my wardrobe. On the plus side, this means there's less fabric to ruck up against the stomach when leaning forward on the bike, although it also means there's less windproofing across this area.
The low cut bib front is also handy for male pee stops; it's very easy to get the, er, necessary apparatus over the top and pointing in the right direction. Despite this handy access, there's also a zipped fly in the front of the bib, which is unnecessary for the pee stop and seems to have no other advantage. In fact it's disadvantageous: the zip rucks up against the stomach when leaning forward, countering any benefits provided by the low cut bib. And because there's no protective tab over the top of the zip, as on some other brands of cycling tight and jacket, the sharp metal top of the zipper itself has the potential to dig into the skin. What's more, having a green zip on black tights seems an odd decision, making the whole thing look even more unfinished. All in all, it's a design feature that doesn't seem to have been thought through.
As well as the zip in the bib-front, other features of the tights include elasticated loops or 'stirrups' under the insteps (there are no zips in the lower leg) and some reflective piping in the seam on each calf.
On sizing, I tested a Medium, which the Cafe Du Cycliste website says is suitable for inside leg of 80 to 83cm. I measure 80cm and found these tights slightly too long in the leg, with a touch of bagginess around the ankles, although they fitted very well around the thighs and across the hips. On this basis, if you're borderline on sizing it's probably worth going for the smaller option.
And finally, we come to cost. The full retail price of these tights on the Cafe Du Cycliste website is 179 Euros, which converts to about £150. Compared to similar products from other manufacturers, this is not especially good value, especially if you're likely to get discomfort from the bib-zip and stitching behind the knees. If you've got this kind of money, you're probably better spending it (or a bit less) on comparable kit from the likes of Castelli and Altura, or adding a bit more cash and trading up to a brand like Assos.
Winter tights from stylish French brand that keep legs warm in cold weather, but some quirky features mean they won't suit everyone, and make the price poor value.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Cafe du Cycliste Martine Winter Bib Tight
Size tested: Medium Black
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
This product is a pair of tights designed for cycling in cold conditions. The Cafe Du Cycliste website emphasises these main features:
"Themo-Tech & Artic fabric panels
57% Polyamide / 27% Polyester / 15% Elastan
The website then goes on to say: "Special polyester micro-fibres allow sweat to evaporate naturally ... Martine winter tights are so versatile you can use them in other sports as well; we love to run in them ... The panel construction allows freedom of movement and excellent muscle support, whilst flatlock seams avoid any discomfort or chaffing."
Hmm. The seams may technically be 'flat-lock' but in the leg area they are not sewn flat against the fabric, which means they chafe slightly, especially behind the knee. And while these tights might be great for running, where the knee may not be bent so much, in my experience they're not ideal for cycling.
Quality of construction is ok, but not brilliant. Turning the tights inside out revealed some loose stitching in the seams.
Looking at warmth-provision only, performance is very good, in that these tights kept my legs warm when cycling in cold conditions, but some other features (the zip and the stitching behind the knee) made them uncomfortable which overall means performance is only average.
Comfort is not good. The seams at the back of the knee chaffed my skin, and the zip in the front of the bib dug into my stomach when bent low on the bike.
Value would be fine if we were just taking into account fit and level of warmth provided. But the problems with the zip and the seams mean value is not good. For the same money you can get better stuff.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
These tights kept my legs warm when cycling in cold conditions, but some other features (the zip and the stitching behind the knee) make the tights uncomfortable, so overall they did not perform well.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fleecy inside fabric feels cosy against the skin (but this sensation is spoilt by the chaffing seams).
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The zip in the front of the shorts, the spiral panels round the knees, the non-flat seams.
Did you enjoy using the product? No.
Would you consider buying the product? No.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd recommend a friend tried them on first.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
These Martine tights were disappointing. I was looking for some straightforward windproof tights for winter riding, specifically without a pad, and on paper these tights seemed just the job. And indeed, the fabric itself was excellent. But in practice, the disadvantages of some of the design features outweighed the benefits of the fabric.
Based on their insulation properties only, the tights would score 8, but the price isn't a bargain, which knocks off a point. For some cyclists (including this reviewer) the chafing leg seams and peculiar bib zip will be further disadvantages, giving an overall score of just 5.
About the tester
Age: 51 Height: 5ft 10 / 178cm Weight: 11 stone / 70kg
I usually ride: an old Marin Alp, or an old steel classic My best bike is: an old Giant Cadex (can you see a theme here?)
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Trail riding and rough-stuff (off road on a road bike)