If you want to carry on cycling through the cold winter months, it pays to get properly wrapped up; keeping your legs insulated is essential if you want to ride in any sort of comfort. Whether you're commuting every day, heading out for a training ride after work, or joining the weekly club run, here's a selection of the best gear to keep your legs protected from the cold, rain and wind.
Cycling can be enjoyable through the winter, but the leg muscles don’t work as well when they’re cold, so it’s a sensible idea to keep them wrapped up. Fortunately there is a wide choice of leg wear available designed to cope with different temperatures ranges, as well as riding style from road training to commuting.
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.
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.
You can get tights with or without a padded insert that sits against your skin. You wear unpadded tights over your regular shorts, which can be a good option for really cold days, because you get two layers of fabric over the top of the legs and around the lower torso, to provide more warmth. If you’re cycling daily, you can sometimes get a couple of wears out of them before they need a wash. Some riders prefer the simplicity of padded tights, though. With fewer layers there's less to move and rub, too.
There's a vast range of fabrics available. Most tights are made from some sort of stretch fabric, with good old Elastane/Lycra bringing the stretchiness. That includes thicker, more insulating fabrics, like Roubaix and Super Roubaix and there are fleece-backed fabrics and windproof materials too. Double layer fabric over the knees can help add insulation where it’s needed most. I’ve known people to wear three-quarter bib tights under full-length tights on the very coldest winter days, but that is extreme. Most tights will provide enough warmth for a typical British winter.
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 straps on bib tights can vary a lot, but a wide seamless strap will provide the best comfort, and avoid any irritation across the top of the shoulders. Some bib tights can have a full back panel and come up very high on the chest, which almost acts like another base layer, making such designs good for the coldest days.
The fit of tights is important. Manufacturers generally take two approaches to ensure tights are comfortable around the legs and don’t impede pedalling. They can either go with a multi-panel design, with pre-bent legs, or they can simply use a very stretchy fabric that conforms to the leg through the entire range of pedalling. Either way, you want a good fit that is comfortable with no restriction around the knee. As I always recommend, trying cycle clothing on in a shop, if possible, is a really good idea. Sizing and length of tights can vary hugely from one manufacturer to the next.
At the ankles tights will either have a short zip, to make pulling them on and off easier, or just a high degree of stretch. Some tights will have a stirrup, a band of material that loops under the foot, to not only stop the tights riding up, but also form a very good seal around the ankle.
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.
Santini has come up with the goods with its Giove Bib Tights. They're superbly comfortable for all-day wear with excellent cold weather properties; if you're keen to ride whatever the weather then the price might not seem too eyewatering, though they're certainly not cheap. We also found the pad oddly small, but it didn't affect long-ride comfort.
The Giove tights quickly became a favourite, mainly down to one thing – those windproof panels at the front. The fleece-backed fabric used throughout the rest of the tights is warm but breathable and super-soft, but when the cold wind blows – and we have no shortage of that in the UK – they perform superbly. The windproofing starts from the top of the stomach and runs all the way down the legs to below the knee, just where it's needed. It does a fine job of keeping the chill off your thighs and nether regions, which suffer with normal tights.
The Rapha Pro Team Bib Tights II with Pad take the excellent DNA of the Pro Team II Bib Shorts and add warmth, water resistance and a performance-orientated fit to create an exceptional winter garment, though it comes at some cost.
With Rapha's second generation Pro Team bib shorts, Dave was impressed with the performance and quality, and these full-length versions repeat a winning formula for the performance cyclist, while keeping you comfortable and warm.
The features under the skin are a bit of a repetition: a size-specific Cytech chamois provides all-day comfort in the saddle, while the new seam structure is carried over too. That means if you're used to the feel of any of Rapha's Pro Team II bib garments, then you immediately feel the familiarity.
The Gore C3 Women Thermo Bib Tights+ really do perform well in cold, dry conditions and are exceptionally comfortable. The two-zip system at the rear is also great for speedy, hassle-free pee-stops.
With their double layer protection at the knee, exceptional comfort and brilliant bio-break zip system, the Gore C3 Thermos are an ideal piece of kit for anyone who is committed to getting outdoors throughout the winter and maximise their riding time in dry, cold conditions.
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.
Castelli's Sorpasso 2 Men's bib tights are said to be the Italian brand's best-sellers, and after my time with them it's not hard to see why. Aside from the price tag and one nuance in the fit, they're almost the perfect cold weather winter bib tights.
Castelli's Sorpasso 2 bib tights are outstanding performers, and worthy of place in any keen winter cyclist's wardrobe.
It starts with a performance-orientated cut that's been engineered to support your muscles, and the distinctive 'under-the-hood' red fabric that reveals itself through the black nylon outer at stretch points. If you didn't know, that quite-common sight at the local cycling club meet point is as a result of the red thermal layer (or, Thermoflex, if you ask Castelli) which provides insulation against cold winter air while allowing excess moisture to escape thanks to its hollow fibre construction.
Warm and comfortable tights are a winter essential and these Rapha Explore Cargo Winter Tights are great in both areas. They also include four pockets and boost night-time visibility, but you pay handsomely for them.
Many laughed when Rapha launched the Cargo Bib Shorts, but mountain bikers have been wearing similar shorts (hidden under baggy shorts) for years, and the cargo pockets proved invaluable for longer rides and riding over rough terrain when jersey/jacket pockets can easily eject their contents.
With pockets loaded, there's no discomfort or annoyance when pedalling. Their size, particularly the leg-mounted ones, limits the bulk and weight of items you can store anyway. The pockets can be used in addition to regular jersey and jacket pockets, or as an alternative – useful if you're wearing a backpack, say, commuting or bikepacking.
The tights are made from a fleece-backed fabric that feels luxuriously soft against the skin, and insulates well against very cold temperatures, coping with the recent cold snap down to a degree or two above zero. A water-repellent treatment keeps out rain for longer than regular tights and copes fine with short showers, but like most DWR treated garments, a sustained downpour will breach their limits.
The Attacus Thermal Bib Tights are a very warm and practical set of bib tights that perform well in the coldest conditions. Their price puts them up against some established high-quality competition, but they hold their own – although it would be good to have stronger stitching on the reflective strips on the leg.
They were tested in the beast of the east parts 1 and 2, so warmth was always going to be a key factor and we were not disappointed with how they performed. Attacus has used a windproof, showerproof thermal stretch fabric which managed to keep the elements at bay even when we were riding around on frozen roads. We may not have been able to feel our feet, but our legs were well insulated.
The Pearl Izumi Pro Pursuit Bib Tights represent excellent performance at a very good price (and, as usual, even better online – but make sure you're buying the right ones, they come with or without a pad). If you are after foul-weather, full-length bibs for going fast in, look no further.
UK brand Shutt VR has delivered a very well designed and thought pair of bib tights with this Team model. Everything from the fabric selection, panel positioning and the custom designed chamois pad is spot on and they are a joy to wear, whether out for a quick blast or one of those off-season base mile epics.
The Rapha Women's Core Winter Tights are excellent for cold days on the bike. Designed simply to 'keep you warm while you train or commute on cold winter roads', they don't do anything especially fancy, but they do their job extremely well. The men's ones are very good too.
The Kalf Club Thermal bib tights are supremely comfortable, nice and warm yet lightweight, and really well constructed. The reflectivity on the calves actually looks good, and the fit was near-perfection for tester Jack Sexty. They've been his go-to bib tights for winter, except for near-zero temperatures for which they're not quite warm enough.
If you want a pair of tights that'll protect you from pretty much everything the winter can throw at you, then the Lusso Termico Repel Bibtights are a very good option. Thermal, water repellent, with a comfortable pad and blocks of subtle reflectives, they're ideal for dark, dank rides throughout the off season.
Winter cycling is made much easier with high-quality clothing that provides excellent insulation and comfort, and the LL.habuTights_s7 from Swiss masters of cycle clothing Assos are a case in point. With a thermal fabric and double layer over the knees they'll keep your legs toasty warm meaning you're fresh out of excuses to cancel a ride because it's too cold.
The Lusso Full Monty Warm Up Tights are a great investment if you're competing in the winter. The thermal stretchy fabric does an excellent job of keeping the legs warm before the start. They're also easy to whip off in seconds and put on again after the racing is done.
Endura's Pro SL Biblongs 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.
Wiggle's house brand, dhb offers these top-of-the line winter tights in brushed Roubaix fabric with reflective patches for night-time visibility. There are ankle zips to make it easier to get in and out of them, and a Cytech Elastic Interface seat pad.
We've been impressed by all the dhb tights we've tested. If you want something a bit less snug than the ASVs, look at the £80 Aeron Roubaix tights which are also available in a women's version, and if you want something even warmer take a look at the Aeron Deep Winter tights. We reviewed those here. For just £55, the dhb Classic Roubaix Bib Tights are superb value.
From mild to downright foul weather the Antiventos are outstanding. Well fitting and with a comfortable pad they are able to stand up to most conditions. The material is fleece lined for a comfortable feeling against the skin, while the fabric features a windproof membrane to help keep the heat in. With rides in these down to as low as -6 °C we've been really impressed with how well they have kept the chill at bay.
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.
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 X-Lite Plus fabric on the chest panels, while a lighter weight Thermoflex Core Due fabric is used around the back and for the tights.
Trousers and over-trousers
If tights aren’t for you, if you’re commuting or even touring or mountain biking, then trousers might be a better option. 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.
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
We've not 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.
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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 pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.