If you want to carry on cycling through the cold winter months, you're going to have to deal with rain, but the right legwear can help stop your rides turning into soaking-wet miseryfests. We've racked up the cold and wet winter miles to find out which are the best waterproof trousers, tights and even jeans.
Choose waterproof trousers for total rain protection; water-resistant tights for rides where you don't mind getting a bit damp. To really keep the rain out requires waterproof fabrics and sealed seams, which is incompatible with the stretch needed for tights, but the best water-repellent stretch fabrics do a pretty good job of keeping the rain out for a while.
Whichever route you go down, look for plenty of reflective patches to increase your visibility in the winter gloom.
Trousers and jeans made from water-repellent cotton are an unexpectedly effective alternative that look normal off the bike.
Endura's Urban Luminite Pants may be a little lacking in practical extras – for example, there are no pockets, no fly or popper/button closure, and no adjustable sizing – but they more than make up for that with simply superb waterproofing, breathability and reflectivity. As an effective pair of overtrousers for when the going gets wet, they're hard to beat.
With the lack of some details, you might be tempted to see them as overtrousers or something, and only put them on when it's raining.
Which, of course, is what they're designed for. They are 'only' overtrousers – but actually very well-thought-through ones. For example, the waist and crotch's lack of zips and poppers is the legs' gain. At the bottom of each leg, extra material is poppered up inside, ready to be let down if you need a little more length. Then there are zips that run up each calf, allowing you to get your Luminites on in a hurry without taking off your shoes.
These are fantastic overtrousers. If we deal with probably the most important aspect – weatherproofing – performance is faultless. Even in heavy rain, water stays away and I was particularly impressed by that poppered closure round the ankle, which stopped the bottom of my jeans getting damp.
A classic that's been unavailable for a while, but is now back, Vulpine's Men's Cotton Rain Trousers are a well made, superbly thought through pair of trousers that will keep you dry on the bike and looking stylish off it.
The rain trousers are made from Epic Cotton. If you're unfamiliar with this technology it's a silicone treatment applied to the individual fibres that make up a piece of clothing. It means that the water resistance of the garment is ingrained in it rather than being applied as a final process, and therefore is less likely to wear down over time. Vulpine claim that it will last for over 200 washes.
The Cotton Rain Trousers have Vulpine's characteristic tailored fit, not skinny and not too baggy. Loose enough to pedal in comfortably, without looking like a pair of clown's trousers off the bike.
The back is cut high to avoid any winter draughts, or unsightly views for the people in your wake. Waist sizes range from 26in up to 38in, with a leg length of either 32in or 34in, although it's worth considering sizing up on leg length to keep your ankles hidden when pedalling.
For cycling short distances and not having to carry a spare change of clothes, the DU/ER All-Weather Denim Slim Jeans are ideal, being comfortable on and off the bike and keeping you dry and warm in the wind and rain thanks to a waterproof membrane. They also pack some useful reflective details when you roll the cuff up.
The best thing is they look like regular jeans. No more odd looks as you billow into the office/cafe with oversized waterproof overtrousers when you've cycled in the rain. Normal jeans aren't much cop for cycling any sort of distance, but these are stretchy and provide no restriction to pedalling, nor are there any nasty seams in the saddle area to cause discomfort.
The jeans are made from a cotton fabric infused with Lycra, for added stretch, and Coolmax technology, which ramps up the breathability and helps transport sweat away. But the real magic lies in the use of a waterproof membrane.
Ride in the rain and, put simply, the jeans don't get saturated like regular jeans. Arrive at the office and they quickly dry off so you don't need to get changed. I found the waterproofing adequate for most rain I encountered, from drizzle to heavy downpours.
We've not formally reviewed them, but our Liam swears by these overtrousers for wet-weather commuting. As well as being waterproof and breathable, they feature reflective trim and logos for visibility, a cycling-specific cut and ankle zips.
They're also length-adjustable, with poppers at the ankle providing a range of cuff positions so you can get the fit spot on.
Waterproof overtrousers may not be the sexiest garment ever but there is no doubting the job the Showers Pass Transit Pants do. Made from a waterproof and breathable Artex hardshell 3L ripstop fabric, they do a great job of keeping the water out.
They achieve this by having the seams taped which allows them to be wind and waterproof. To keep the trousers away from the chain and cranks you have some velcro cinch straps that allow you to keep the material tight on your leg rather than flapping around. They have a long zip on the ankle to ease taking them on and off over shoes or boots.
There is no doubting they're very good at keeping the water out but it would have to be a seriously wet day in the first place to warrant their use. They get a lot of those in Showers Pass' Portland Oregon home though: over 125mm of rain a month from November to January on average. You might get less use from them in London (average 70mm in December, the capital's rainiest month) but you'll appreciate the weather protection; they are great for commuting but may prove too bulky for much more.
To go with the commuting theme there is a full leg length reflective trim to aid visibility in low light. If you want to transport them they have a mesh stuff sack for easy packing. To sum up, if you wanted to wear your every day clothes but still travel by bike in wet conditions then the Transit Pants would be a decent choice.
The Madison DTE Waterproof Trousers are made for riding in the most terrible conditions, the sort of weather where one glance out of the window is enough to make you put your slippers back on and reach for the kettle. Don these trousers though and you’ll soon find, actually it’s not that bad to be out splashing down the road, gravel or trails, in fact it’s pretty fun!
Constructed from a 2.5 layer fabric with 3 layers on the rear panel, knees and ankles for more protection, which along with taped seams make the DTE’s fully waterproof. They are pretty breathable too, outings in these have been in both conditions of ‘raining cats and dogs’ and ‘dry skies but swamp like’. For the former the trousers have kept me dry while the rain batters down and for the latter they have defended us from the wet and crud whilst preventing us from overheating, thanks in no small part to the two zippered leg vents. Which do, in case you were wondering have waterproof zips for when they are closed.
You can tweak the popular Endura Hummvee Zip-off Cycling Trousers for a range of types of riding, from commuting to hitting the trails and dirt roads. They're compatible with Endura's Clickfast system so you can add liner shorts for longer rides too.
A DWR coating fends off the wet, and a seamless seat panel keeps you comfy. There are zipped hand pockets, cargo pockets and large rear map pockets, an elasticated waistband with adjustable belt and ankle length zips with Velcro ankle cinches to step them flapping into your chain
Castelli's Sorpasso RoS Wind bib tights provide windproof protection for your working muscles, they're water repellent, and they come with an excellent seat pad. For keeping comfortable on cold and filthy winter rides, they're hard to beat.
One of the key factors of these tights is the Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper X-Fast fabric which covers your quads, knees, and what Castelli euphemistically calls 'your most sensitive parts'. Infinium Windstopper X-Fast is a softshell fabric that's water resistant – highly water resistant, in my experience – with a deep fleece inner face, so you get plenty of insulation here.
The Sorpasso RoS Wind bib tights put in an exceptional performance. The Windstopper panels really work to keep you comfortable in cold conditions and don't inhibit movement, and the Nano Flex treatment helps keep you dry on wet roads. Add in an excellent seat pad and you have a remarkably good pair of winter tights.
With the Women's Shadow Tights, Rapha has combined its finest technologies to create "unparalleled" weather defence and performance – and added a price tag to match. Leaving no stone unturned from cosiness to safety, it has created a reliable and stylish pair of bib tights to keep you on the road, even when the mercury plummets.
The Shadow tech was developed for the Spring Classics. From Team Sky to Canyon//SRAM, Rapha's material has been ridden to World Tour level. The Shadow fabric is a blend of nylon and elastane finished with a hydrophobic DWR (durable water repellent) treatment made for staying dry whatever winter throws at you. The technology, Rapha claims, is 'an unbeatable force in weather protection'.
'Unbeatable force' is a strong statement, but hours from home with torrential rain setting in, I agreed. Water collects into satisfying little beads which brush away to reveal barely-wet fabric. Out on chilly, wet training rides I was able to stay dry, with no rain sinking through the fabric.
The latest version of Pearl Izumi's Pursuit Hybrid winter bib tights have had some subtle alterations, and with Mike raving about the previous versions, we were pleasantly surprised to find that, if anything, they've got even better. The added PI Dry technology on the back of the legs prevents you getting soaked from spray, they're super-stretchy and flexible so you can use them on hard training sessions too, and the padding is really comfortable – they're firmly among our very favourite bib tights.
Special mention must go to the Thermosuit from Castelli. The Thermosuit is essentially a pair of tights and a long sleeve jersey stitched together at the waist around the back, with a full-length zip on the front. There's Gore Windstopper Infinium 205 Plus fabric on the chest panels, while a lighter weight Thermoflex Windstopper 203 fabric is used around the back and Nano Flex 3G for the tights with Nano Flex Xtra Dry on the upper front and thigh.
The Albion Three Season Tights offer everything you could possibly want from a pair of bib tights to fend off the worst of the UK's winter weather. The pad is very comfortable, the fleecy fabric is warm and cosseting, and a combination of windproof knee panels and durable water-repellent treatment keeps your legs well protected. They are also priced quite competitively against similar premium tights.
The brilliant Elastic Interface pad keeps you comfortable for longer rides. The padding is pretty minimal, so you don't really feel it there, but the comfort is next level, and it doesn't get in the way when you're moving around on the saddle. The fabric is similarly minimal in feel; it almost feels like you're naked, such is the lack of bulk to the material. The material stretches in all the right places, at one with your every movement. It's so comfortable, and like the pad, you hardly notice you're wearing it.
These tights are very comfortable, the pad will keep your backside happy for many miles, and they look great. They also fend off cold and wet weather, and work across a wide range of temperatures – you don't have to worry too much about what to wear on your legs, just stick these on and you're pretty much good to go from almost zero degrees up to the late teens.
The Nopinz Endurance Bib Tights Woman's are a great-fitting option for winter endurance riding with a very well-specced chamois for the price. A hydrophobic coating protects against road spray, and the soft, fleecy lining will keep you snugly warm.
Tester Anna Marie writes: "The tights use a Roubaix-lined fabric that's wonderfully soft and fleecy inside and feels great right up against the skin. The fabric also has a generous amount of stretch and it's fairly low bulk too. In and out of the saddle, I found I was able to move freely and comfortably, and the fabric hasn't bunched up or caused any hotspots in my experience.
"Teosport provides the Armadillo endurance pad which is a very well-specced option for the £115 price tag of the bib tights. It provides excellent support, with no pressure points or chafing on long base mile rides in my experience.
"Overall, the performance of these bib tights really impresses for the price point. Nopinz has delivered a comfy, low-bulk option with a pad that'll cover you on long winter base miles."
Pactimo's Men's Storm+ Thermal Bib Tights make riding in cold, wet weather less grim than it can be, with a water-repellent finish on the bottoms and a more waterproof fabric for the saddle area to keep road spray at bay. The chamois is superbly comfortable even on long rides, too.
Tester Iwein writes: “I like these a lot. They’re supremely comfortable, and have the added bonus of a water-repellent finish, making them more suitable for days out that feature 'weather'.
“They've been a trusty companion in the interesting weather we've been having recently. On dry, windy days they've been my go-to when the temperature is around 5°C and lower. In wet weather, they've come out as soon as the temperature goes below double digits.”
“The Storm+ Thermal Bib Tights are great on rides that feature lots of weather. The water-repellent finish works well enough to keep drizzle at bay, and the waterproof seat area is particularly good for wet, mudguardless rides. The chamois, fit and stretch combination results in superbly comfortable bib tights – they get the thumbs-up from me.”
The Specialized Men's RBX Comp Thermal Bib Tights offer great comfort thanks mostly to the Body Geometry pad, but also the softness and warmth of the fleece fabric used for the main sections. I'd like them to be a little more visible in the dark, though.
Tester Stu writes: "These RBX Comp tights are made from a fleece-backed Lombardia fabric which feels great against the skin. I was comfortable in them from about 13°C down towards just below freezing, all depending on how hard I'm working. On rides into a chilly northerly wind, I found them to block the chill effectively and you also get the bonus of some water resistance. This is enough to stop light rain or drizzle getting through for half an hour to an hour depending on how heavy it is. It's certainly better than nothing.
"Overall, the RBX Comp Thermals offer a great fit and a very comfortable pad, plus their durability means they are well worth what could be seen as a fairly modest investment."
Tester Stu writes: "The Orro Pyro Line Aquazero Bibtights have seen me through the last few weeks of winter in all sorts of conditions. These are good – really good – offering protection, warmth and great levels of comfort whether on the road or away from it.
"The fabric used is called Blizzard; it's fleece backed and I found it to be very warm. Some of the rides saw temperatures below freezing with a harsh windchill, probably around the -5°C mark, and it still managed to keep the muscles warm.
"If it's raining you also get a decent level of protection from the water repellency treatment. I've been riding in the rain a fair bit and they've been through the washing machine quite a few times, and the water is still beading off."
The Rapha Women's Pro Team Winter Tights provide good levels of warmth and weather protection, together with a comfortable chamois pad. The bib strap and buckle design for easy loo stops is straightforward and effective too. Fantastic quality, but pricey with it.
Designed for the worst of winter, these full length bib tights have plenty of features that show great attention to detail for the needs of women riding in cold conditions. As well as being made with a tough but lightweight three-layer fabric, including windproof and water-repellent panels at the front and Thermoroubaix fabric at the back, the broad stretch straps are designed to sit around the outside of the bust, and a heavy duty magnetic clasp at the back allows for pee stops without having to strip off.
The levels of warmth were perfect on days hovering around zero, and they saw off freezing winds. The water repellency is enough to deal with road water and reasonably heavy rain, and my legs have stayed warm and dry throughout testing, with no sweatiness or discomfort even when working hard. These are aimed at demanding riders and it shows. No matter what I threw at them, they delivered on comfort and just the right amount of protection for UK winters.
The 7Mesh TK1 bib tights are very warm, technically loaded and can carry as much kit as a three-pocket jersey. As always, the pad fit may not be to everyone's liking, but if it does suit you these are excellent winter tights for on- or off-road riding.
Canadian firm 7Mesh's "warmest, most protective thermal legwear" has a pretty good pedigree to draw upon. Earlier this year Pat raved about the warmer-weather Mk3 Bib Shorts, praising their 'unique design' and 'incredible levels of comfort'. A key factor here was the 'hammock' design whereby the chamois can move independently from the outer skin of the shorts. Pat found this prevented the need to do the 'cyclist shuffle', whereby the pad needs rearranging, either on or off the bike, to afford comfort.
I can vouch for the comfort of the design, but it may not be for everyone, all the time. Over a few months' riding I did encounter one occasion where the pad seemed to bunch on one side, leading to a small amount of chafing. As this only happened the once, and otherwise I was a happy chap, I'll put this down to perhaps more need to pay attention to – ahem – strategic alignment at the start of a ride, shall we say.
As water-resistant foul-weather bib tights, Santini's Vega 2.0s are right on the money. They're reassuringly water resistant without losing a smooth fit against the skin. They're not quite warm enough for super-cold temperatures, but they're not as expensive as you might expect either.
Santini says that you can use the bib tights in temperatures ranging from 5-18°C. Now, I don't know about you, but 18°C is summer shorts weather for me on a bike, but the breathability in colder weather leads me to think that you could conceivably wear them to something approaching that upper temperature if you really did feel the cold.
The downside is that these aren't really bib tights for deep winter – when you're looking at frosts that hang around all day, for example. They're just not windblocking enough for that (although the fleece lining is very comfortable), and that positions them as tights that you'd be likely to use as your first pair through autumn, and your last pair through spring, with a 'hardier' pair for the really grim, freezing stuff in the middle.
Endura's Pro SL Bib Tights are excellent: they're windproof, fit superbly, and the pad comes in three widths, offering a little customisation.
At the core of the longs is the four-way stretch windproof, breathable fabric with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish front and seat panels. This panelling of fabrics gives the longs a very comfortable fit. On the bike, they fitted me perfectly with no bunching of material at the back of the knee.
The windproofing is very effective and kept me nice and toasty down below zero. The density of the fabric is brilliant and results in no cold spots where the material is stretched. With others, my knees can get quite stiff in the cold; no such problems here.
The Castelli Nanoflex Pro Bibtights are a warm (but not windproof) and water resistant choice for the cold weather, offering great breathability and freedom of movement.
You might well have heard of Nanoflex before because Castelli uses it extensively across its range. It's the brand's fleecy, stretchy Thermoflex fabric, a warm polyamide/elastane mix that's given a coating of silicone 'nanofilaments'. This makes water roll off the surface rather than soaking in. It doesn't make the fabric waterproof – heavy rain will get through – but you'll stay dry in drizzle, and road spray won't soak in.
Leg muscles don’t work as well when they’re cold, and there are few better ways of making them cold than running water over them. Tights, trousers and overtrousers that fend off the wet are therefore a winter essential for many riders.
You have three main choices. Performance-orientated riders tend to go for tights, which take the basic idea of cycling shorts — they're close-fitting garments that move with you — and extend it down to your ankles; waterproof overtrousers fend off the rain so you arrive at the office with dry trousers; and cycling trousers look like regular trousers, but are shaped and detailed so they're comfortable for riding.
A note on water-resistance. It's just about impossible for a fabric to be totally water-resistant and remotely pleasant to cycle in, so there's always a degree of compromise here. We've found the garments in this guide fend off water well enough that we'll happily use them in the rain.
If you’re commuting or even touring or mountain biking, then waterproof cycling trousers might be a better option than tights. Their looser fit makes them useful for commuting and urban cycling, they can be more comfortable and they can be worn over casual clothing.
There are two types: overtrousers that are waterproof and roomy enough to be worn over normal clothing; or tailored cycling trousers that look like regular trousers, but with cycling-specific features like a gusset free crutch and stretchy fabric.
Overtrousers are handy if you want to pull something over your normal clothing for riding to the office. They can be waterproof and windproof so will keep you nice and dry. Velcro or zip adjustments at the waist and ankle will tailor in some of the fabric so they don’t flap about or risk getting caught in the chain. The level of bagginess can vary from brand to brand, so it’s always worth checking before you buy. Look for lots of reflectivity if you’re commuting.
A smarter option — sartorially — is cycling trousers, designed to look like regular trousers and more fitted than overtrousers. These are ideal if you don’t like the idea of skintight Lycra tights or baggy overtrousers, and for shorter commutes or dashing across the city, they’re a stylish choice. And, providing you stay dry, you can wear them all day in the office too.
Some are made from technical fabrics, like a soft shell or Epic Cotton, so they’re not only comfortable and warm, but also weatherproof.
You get normal pockets, an adjustable waist band and some have adjustable ankles that can be rolled up for that fixed chic look. The part of the trouser you sit on will be made from a hard-wearing fabric and the seams will be placed so that they don’t cause any discomfort. They won’t have any padding, but you can supply your own padded shorts if you want some extra comfort or are planning a longer ride. You’ll get a few reflective details on some trousers too, for increased about-town visibility.
One thing to check is the leg length. Cycle clothing is usually made in fairly short production runs by the standards of normal high street fashion or utility wear. That means there is often only one choice of leg length. Not a problem for those of reasonably average height, or leg length, but potentially a problem for anyone at either end of the spectrum.
Those with shorter legs in particular can find that overtrousers bunch at the ankles so that even when cynched in they can bulge out enough to snag in chainrings.
One other thing to bear in mind with any waterproof trousers is that while they may keep your legs dry all that water has to go somewhere and a large proportion of it is going to be heading for your shoes. So if you want to stay dry either combine with waterproof socks or with waterproof overshoes. Make sure that you put the trousers over the top of the over-shoes otherwise the water simply runs in to the tops of your overshoes and from there makes its way in to your shoes.
Tights are essentially long versions of regular shorts, and are often made from similar Lycra fabrics, though they're usually thicker for warmth. You have a choice of bib tights, with straps looping over the shoulders, or bibs with a waist band. Which you wear is down to personal preference, but bib tights are generally considered more comfortable as you don’t have a waist band to dig in, which can be annoying on longer rides.
Some tights have a water resistant or waterproof fabric, such as Castelli’s Nanoflex. These are good if you’re brave enough to venture out in the rain as they can stop the rain seeping through to your skin which will, given time, sap away at your warmth. Likewise, some manufacturers add windproof panels in key places to keep the wind chill out.
The tights we've listed here all have a high degree of water-resistance. It's almost impossible to make truly waterproof tights, but these will help keep you dry better than your typical fleecey winter tights.
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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.