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The pros might not wear them, but so what – 3/4 shorts are ideal for three season riding in the UK + we pick some of our favourites

There are many ways to dress for cycling when it's cold, but keeping your knees warm and protected from the elements is a sensible idea as we transition from summer to winter. 

You have a few options here, but one that seems to be falling out of favour is the 3/4 length bib shorts, or bib knickers as they are often called in reference to knickerbockers which were worn by cyclists during the early part of the 20th Century, often paired with long socks. Why the decline and what are the pros and cons?

The 3/4 length bib shorts have a short history. They were first seen in pro cycling when Edwig Van Hooyadonck apparently had the idea after winning Tour of Flanders in 1989 in horrendous conditions. Keen to protect his bad knee from the cold weather, he cut down a pair of tights wore them when he won the race again in 1991, bringing the concept to everyone’s attention and in doing so creating the knee warmer. Here’s a photo of him winning that race.

During autumn and spring, it’s often too cold for shorts but too warm for full-length tights. This is where 3/4 length bib shorts come in handy. They cover this transition period well, providing protection for the knees without the weight and restriction of tights. In fact given the nature of the British weather which has a tendency to default to cool and wet whatever the season you can potentially get a lot of wear out of a pair of 3/4s over the course of a year. Whatever the season if you're riding in cool conditions your knees will thank you. 

Assos MILLE GT Spring-Fall Knickers - riding.jpg

Only they don’t seem to be as popular as they once were, and it didn't really occur to us until very recently. We had a discussion in the office and it seems opinion is split when it comes to clothing preference. We decided to do a very unscientific Twitter poll and the result is clear: most of you don’t go for 3/4s at this time of year.

I've recently reviewed the excellent Assos Mille GT Spring/Fall Knickers and looking through the road.cc reviews archive for similar products, it's clear we simply haven't reviewed many 3/4 shorts in recent years. A look around some popular clothing brand websites also reveals that this type of product isn't all that common. Does all this point to the 3/4 length bib short facing extinction?

The pros

For certain weather, 3/4 length shorts can provide a good halfway house between shorts and tights. This time of year is ideal, as we transition from summer to winter. 

When it’s cool but not cold enough for tights, and you want to keep the knees covered up whether training, racing or commuting, the 3/4 shorts are a useful bit of clothing. They keep your knees wrapped up and protected from the cold, wind and rain. But they provide more freedom of movement than tights. 

Rapha Womens 34 tights - riding

They are almost ideal for three-season riding when the weather is unpredictable and constantly changing. Their window of use can extend into early and late summer as well, even cooler/wetter summer days can see the 3/4 being ideal. Equally, for mild winter days when tights are overkill, the 3/4 delivers.

They’re often more comfortable than knee warmers, the alternative method for keeping knees wrapped up. The downside to knee warmers is often the introduction of two tight bands of elastic material which, unless the size is spot on, can feel uncomfortable above and below the knees.

Knee warmers can also move about when pedalling, which can be irritating.

Compared to full-length tights, 3/4 tights feel a lot lighter and less restrictive and will keep your knees insulated and protected from the elements. Your shins might be exposed, but that’s just cooling!

The cons

Is there ever a good time for 3/4 length bib shorts? That is perhaps the biggest challenge for 3/4 shorts and part of the reason they appear to have fallen out of favour in recent years. The UK weather is so changeable that it can be shorts weather one day, tights weather the next.

So while it could be argued that 3/4s are super-versatile, it could also be argued that they lack lack versatility. You make your choice before the ride and have to stick with it. Although the counter argument to that is how often in the UK does a change in the weather mean it's getting warmer? Hmm…

It has to be said, knee warmers can be added or removed as you need during the ride. They’re small enough to be stashed in a jersey pocket when not needed, ready to be called back into action. When it’s cold, you can even switch to leg warmers for more insulation. However, if at the end of your ride you've frequently still got your knee warmers on then maybe you'd have been better in a pair of 3/4s. 

The perception that knee warmers are more versatile than 3/4 shorts is perhaps the biggest reason 3/4 shorts have fallen out of fashion. You can pair knee warmers them with different types of bib shorts, lightweight summer shorts when it’s mild or thermal bibs when it’s colder.

Sportful Norain Knee Warmers 2.jpg

That’s certainly the case when we asked Sportful’s Paul Whitfield.

“Knee warmers and a thermal bib-short (Fiandre No Rain Bib-short) are the more versatile option, whilst providing the same coverage / protection as the 3/4. You can pair the knee warmer with a lighter, summer weight bib-short, wear the thermal bib-short on it’s own etc etc. These two pieces of kit ultimately offer more options, versatility and a value for money solution when selecting your cycling wardrobe,” he explains.

Even so, Sportful do have the 3/4 Neo Bib Knicker in their range and looking at its availability it's a pretty populare option. 

Perhaps the biggest case against 3/4s is simply a case of knee warmers, combined with your favourite bib shorts, is a cheaper option. If you've already got a couple of pairs of bib shorts, you can add knee warmers for very little cost and instantly turn any bib short into a 3/4 length bib short.

You can also get a couple of days wear out of knee warmers before they need washing, making them well suited to commuting or everyday cyclists.

One final reason that 3/4s might not be in fashion at the moment is oddly that they’re not used by the pros. Professional cyclists lean towards knee and leg warmers for racing and occasionally racing. You never seem them wearing 3/4 length bib shorts. With so many cyclists infatuated with the pro look, this is hard to ignore. Maybe it's time to be honest with yourself – you're not a pro, and you're never going to be (probably) so why be a slave to their clothing choices? Give those 3/4s a try your knees will think you in the long run. 

Check out these 3/4s bib tights and shorts

We have to put our hands up and say that we haven’t reviewed as many 3/4s as we perhaps should in the last few years - which is surprising because when we have they’ve always done well. So here’s a selection of our favourite review - featuring Assos and Primal, who seem to have been the best at getting them to us.

Review: Assos Mille GT Spring/Fall Knickers

Review: Primal Dawn Men’s Bib Knickers 

Review: Primal Onyx Thermal Bib Knicker

Review; Assos HK.laalalaiknickers_S7

Of course pretty much all of the big cycle clothing brands offer at least one pair of 3/4s in their ranges - often a lot more with a 3/4 version of either their big selling thermal bibs or performance shorts, or both. Here’s a selection from some of the main players based on either the shorts or longs we’ve tested and covering a broad range of prices. If you’re in the market for 3/4s now is a good time to buy with a number of the options listed below on sale - the Rapha and the B’Twin’s both stand out on that score - though you might need to be quick to bag a pair of the latter at £39.99.

Castelli have a number of bib 3/4s and tights in their range – the Tutto Nano; the Sorpasso 2, the Velocissimo and the Evolution 2 covering a wide range of weather and riding conditions. The latter two are available either in bib or tights versions.

dhb also offer a number of 3/4 options with in their Aeron performance range with both men’s and women’s versions; they also offer a couple of variations of the dhb Classic Thermal 3/4 Bib in both men’s and women’s versions too.

Some might think that all Rapha fans will be slaves to the pro look… well, that doesn’t stop Rapha having some well thought of Rapha 3/4 Bib Shorts in their range – currently on sale down from £180 to £126 too.

At the other end of the price scale Decathlon have the B’Twin Aerofit 3/4 Cycling Bib Shorts, but you’ll have to be quick the smart money has already moved in on these – they’re already an in-store only item, perhaps not surprising given their £39.99 price tag

What's your clothing preference at this time of year? We'd love to hear your opinions so get sharing in the comments section below.

 

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

31 comments

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peted76 [1609 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

Knee warmers can be a pain in the ass to size right..  I hate the feeling of a  saggy knee warmer falling down mid ride. 

 

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ktache [2214 posts] 1 month ago
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I like my 3/4 length baggy shorts for when it gets to winter, using rain resistant thermal knee warmers when it's proper cold/wet.

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Simon E [3863 posts] 1 month ago
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I like to keep my knees covered in these temperatures (below ~12C in the mornings) so I usually wear Polaris 3/4 waist tights for the commute. It has to be close to zero for me to resort to full length tights.

If it's going to be significantly warmer on the way home I might use standard shorts and kneewarmers but it's more faff in the morning and yet another thing to stuff in a pocket on the way home.

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Jackson [486 posts] 1 month ago
5 likes

They're not popular on me because I've never thought "I have cold legs but for a really warm 6cm stripe around my shin". 

 

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ktache [2214 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

It's the knees, just needs a little bit more when it's colder.

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srchar [1621 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I like a fresh pair of shorts every day for the commute. 5 pairs of shorts + knee warmers + leg warmers is far cheaper than 5 pairs of shorts, 5 pairs of 3/4 and 5 pairs of longs.

I picked up some Assos arm, knee and leg warmers from their outlet store. They are far better than any others I've used in that they don't sag and haven't lost any elasticity.

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Kendalred [398 posts] 1 month ago
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Commuting in at 6am and home at 3-4pm, temperatures can vary 10c or more, so I need the versitility of knee/leg warmers with thermal or standard bibshorts. I do have a pair of bib knicks, but I don't think I've worn them for over a year.

The only situation I have found that I have used them is when it's been well into the minus figures, and I've used them with leg warmers so that I have a double layer of roubaix fabric for most of my legs.

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Htc [154 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Bibs + knee/leg warmers is much more versatile.

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Awavey [666 posts] 1 month ago
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It could also be as alot of 3/4s cycle bibs are roubaix fleece lined, which narrows their effective temp range imo vs tights and or shorts +knee warmers combos, as yes you want warm knees,but not necessarily warm middle bits if the temp isnt quite chilly enough to warrant it & that puts people off as you might find you use them only a few times a season

dont get me wrong I'm a fan of 3/4s they have a place in my cycling wardrobe & i do use them, there was a ride last week where I almost switched over, but im still coping with shorts & knee warmering at the moment

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Miller [296 posts] 1 month ago
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Love 3/4 bibknicks and use them a lot in spring and autumn. Not a fan of armwarmers or legwarmers, fussy things that either don't stay up or have an uncomfortably tight hem, then get lost in the wash.

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EddyBerckx [722 posts] 1 month ago
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I already have a load of shorts with knee warmers I use for my commute/weekend rides...buying 3/4/5 pairs of 3/4's would be too expensive tbh, though they'd look better in my opinion (they wont have 2 shades of black...my big bugbear!!)

 

Never wear full length tights regardless of weather/temperature. They are an offense against God, Humanity and eyes.

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adamrice [18 posts] 1 month ago
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I'm not in the UK, but I ride in 3/4 tights throughout the winter. When it gets down around freezing, I add wool socks that cover my shins. In the summer, it's hot enough here that it doesn't make sense to have cold-weather shorts, and lightweight shorts  + legwarmers wouldn't be a great combination, IMO.

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ChasP [71 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

I suffer with my knees in cold weather  and love 3/4 this time of year when the temperature doesn't get too high as they're less faff than kneewarmers. I appreciate the versatility of kneewarmers for cold starts/finishes on warmer days though, they both have their place in the armoury.

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Must be Mad [652 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Like the idea of 3/4 shorts  - but  the temprature range when 3/4 is the perfect answer is just too small to justify the investment.

Have recently invested in a pair of knee length Castelli Omloop shorts instead, and they seen good so far. Should pair up well with knee warmers to bridge the gap to full lenght leggings.

 

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dooderooni [49 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Planet X are knocking out their 3/4 Knicks for £20 at the moment.

I use them early spring/autumn and they're brilliant for the price. They're not Roubaix but they are quite thick so they do keep your knees warm. The pad is decent, not up to the level of the Le Col shorts I have, but certainly comfy enough for long rides.

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Pilot Pete [248 posts] 1 month ago
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Miller wrote:

Love 3/4 bibknicks and use them a lot in spring and autumn. Not a fan of armwarmers or legwarmers, fussy things that either don't stay up or have an uncomfortably tight hem, then get lost in the wash.

Hmmn, you’re either an odd shape, buying cheap tat or the wrong size if your warmers either fall down or are too tight. I’ve got Assos arm warmers which are about 7 winters old - they have faded a bit and one has a scuff from a fall, but they stay up when put on without sagging, and without pinching uncomfortably. I also own a pair of Rapha arm warmer which are very similar.

Ive had Assos, Sportful, Rapha and now Le Col leg warmers. All work without falling down as I’ve bought the right size, the best were Rapha, but they changed design and the new ones aren’t as comfortable (they pinch behind the knee). The Le Col ones, which I’m currently wearing fit ok but the stretchy gripper at the top is so thin it curls over on itself before you can get your shorts over the top, so I would agree that they are a faff.

Its roubaix bib shorts for me and warmers over bib knicks or full tights. I don’t wear bib nicks because the shorts + warmers gives me more options and I don’t wear full tights because it is tricky to get EXACTLY the right length that also fits your seat and torso (which is not an issue with warmers) and good ones are pretty expensive - I’ve taken the knee out of a bib tight and ruined it - I’ve done the same with shorts and warmers and just ruined one warmer, which is much cheaper to replace.

PP

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alexb [209 posts] 1 month ago
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Personally, all my tights and 3/4 bibs are padless.

I wear them over regular bbishorts and change the shorts every day. I do use knee warmers and even Rainlegs on some rides, but generally if it's cold, but might turn warm later (spring and autumn mornings are a good example) then I usually find it more comfortable to be in full roubaix tights or 3/4s and to stop and take them off if it really warms up.

I find knee warmers are pretty annoying and I definitely don;t want a series of dedicated roubaix bibshorts just to wear with knee warmers so that I can end up with some sub-par 3/4 tight equivalents.

Craft knitted knee warmers are the best I've found by far.

Solo Merino knee warmers go saggy as hell after one ride; Castelli Nanoflex knee warmers are pretty impervious to wind and sort of rain resistant, but cut off the circulation (I fold the elastic seam back which helps) and have an irritating seam up the back of the knee that seems to be impossible to position in a comfortable place.

Regular bibshorts and kneed warmers on a long, cold ride are miserable as hell (a cold groin is no fun at all). Rainlegs make a huge difference to that comfort factor, even if they look awful!

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Morat [349 posts] 1 month ago
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Padless tights and padded bibs cover the options for me without introducing another option. It's just me, but.. I'm happy without 3/4 bibs. Plus, they look girly.

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dottigirl [865 posts] 1 month ago
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It's what I wear for 3/4s of the year - on their own, under tights or cargo shorts. A useful choice for wandering around the shops in too.

The problem comes from the design - waist shorts with too little waist/bum, or the silicon band not sitting right around the calves seem awfully common. I have two pairs of Pearl Izumi 3/4s - one pair are perfect, the other pair ride far too low & give you draughts where you don't want draughts.

 

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crazy-legs [1157 posts] 1 month ago
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Knee and leg warmers are far more versatile and cheaper to buy!
I had a pair of team issue 3/4 shorts once and I think I wore them about 8 times. The times when they're actually useful all day are just so few and far between.

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Redvee [470 posts] 1 month ago
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I wear 3/4 bibs or regular shorts and kneewarmers from November onwards, I always have exposed calves as I don't own any full length tights. given my age I make sure my knees are covered in the winter, not just with material but usually with Deep Heat or Ralgex.

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taberesc [17 posts] 1 month ago
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Have to say I am a long term fan. Wore them through the Melbourne winter this year (yes, it does get cold and misreable here too) and have found countless occasions where the weather calls for them (used to live in Edinburgh). I have always had Endura's version which is top notch for comfort and durability.

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antigee [565 posts] 1 month ago
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taberesc wrote:

Have to say I am a long term fan. Wore them through the Melbourne winter this year (yes, it does get cold and misreable here too).....

well sort of cold!  been in Melbourne a few years and doesn't really compare to Sheffield in winter but we have a warm summer to soften us up....another dull dull and max 12degree day today and was in 3/4 tights as usual for the cooler months...tights not bibs...the only bibs I have I wear to wear out too mean to throw away...no big fan of bibs but suspect puts me in a minority

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Bmblbzzz [359 posts] 1 month ago
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For certain weather, 3/4 length shorts can provide a good halfway house between shorts and tights.

Shouldn't that be "For uncertain weather"?

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Bmblbzzz [359 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I've never got on with knee warmers. I find they move around, fall down, wrinkle, slide up. And they're not, IME, as warm as 3/4. Plus, the thing about it being warm one day, cool the next; yes, but equally often it's cool then warm (or vice versa) in one ride. That's when 3/4 are a good choice. 

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LastBoyScout [647 posts] 1 month ago
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I've got a pair of Endura FS260 Pro bib knickers and absolutely love them - they are my go-to shorts in spring and autumn, in fact I wore them this morning.

They're not lined, but are a bit thicker than the lycra in my summer bibs and just keep the wind out a bit more - I also think they're more "presentable" than shorts for wandering into the office.

I'd buy another pair, and have tried to, but Endura have changed the knee design and the new versions are too loose. I prefer to wear them just below the knee, rather than 1/2 way down my shins.

I've got Castelli Nanoflex leg and knee warmers, but I need to get a proper pair of winter bib shorts to go with them.

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Simmo72 [720 posts] 1 month ago
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Using 3/4 bibs on a regular basis.  better than knee warmers but offer the same protection.  I don't have an issue with the cold on my calves and shins and only put tights on below 5 or 4 degrees.   I find tights restrictive so only for the really cold days.

castelli nanoflex are excellent with a very comfy pad.

 

 

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Sub5orange [115 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

It it ever cold enough in the U.K. to justify wearing full length bibs? 

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Awavey [666 posts] 1 month ago
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Sub5orange wrote:

It it ever cold enough in the U.K. to justify wearing full length bibs? 

Yes

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Kapelmuur [477 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
dooderooni wrote:

Planet X are knocking out their 3/4 Knicks for £20 at the moment.

I use them early spring/autumn and they're brilliant for the price. They're not Roubaix but they are quite thick so they do keep your knees warm. The pad is decent, not up to the level of the Le Col shorts I have, but certainly comfy enough for long rides.

Thanks for the heads up on this, I bought a pair last year and they’re excellent. Just the job until it gets chilly enough to wear Roubaix tights. I’ll be ordering again.

BTW, what’s this about ‘pros don’t wear them’? I thought they were invented by a Belgian pro.

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