If you're looking for bib tights that can keep you insulated against the cold and protected against chill winds, the innovative new R&D Strato bib tights from Italian company Sportful could be for you. They are top-end money but the clever approach to providing wind protection works really well, and comfort is of the highest order.
Over the last handful of years, Sportful has been knocking out hit after hit, making use of the latest fabrics and putting them together in really clever ways, producing clothing that is perfectly suited to the unpredictable British winter weather.
The R&D range is where the company demonstrates its latest thinking in clothing design. It already makes some very good bib tights – the Fiandre NoRain tights keep the rain at bay while the R&D bib tights are a solid choice for winter insulation.
As good as those tights are, Sportful must have felt there was an opportunity to produce a pair using the regular R&D as a starting point, but add extra wind protection for those days when it's really cold and dry and the wind is cutting through normal fabrics.
They're made from Thernodrytex Plus, which has a brushed inner face and feels lovely next to the skin. It also provides good insulation in a wide range of temperatures. It's suitably breathable for milder days as well, good for long rides that might start in the chill of the predawn and warm up in the early afternoon.
So far so normal, but then things get interesting... My experience with windproof bib tights over the years is that while the fabrics employed do indeed add wind protection, it comes at the expense of fit and comfort. Generally, the windproof materials lack sufficient stretch to ensure adequate freedom of movement around the knees, leading to an unpleasant restriction.
That's where the people at Sportful have come up with a clever idea. Added to the front of the legs above the knee is a layer of windproof Wind Wick LT material that is attached at the sides and top, but not at the lower seam. The idea is to provide extra wind protection around the top of the legs without restricting freedom of movement.
It's sort of like having a pair of overshorts on top of the tights, but because the material is only partially attached the outer layer can move independently of the main bib tight material. It ensures pedalling is unrestricted and there's no tightness or constriction at all, yet you benefit from added wind protection. It sounds odd I know (and you really need to see them in the flesh to fully understand) but it does work, very well.
There's no overheating either: the material allows a small amount of air to flow through in order to keep the underlying material dry.
There's also been some tinkering with the bib design. Sportful has created an all-in-one solution to dressing for winter rides, with the 'baselayer' bib section integrated with the shorts. It's not the first time we've seen this – other brands such as Gore have produced shorts with integrated baselayers.
The fabric used has a ribbed design to trap warm air, and it's thin and soft next to the skin. Double zip pullers ease getting in and out, while the lower one makes pee stops a little easier. The baselayer fits well once on, but getting it over the shoulders involves a bit of a tussle. It's not dissimilar to pulling on a skinsuit. I popped a few stitches pulling it over my shoulders. But once you've wriggled into it and sat on the bike, all is pleasantly comfortable.
One advantage is that your body is completely sealed from head to toe – there is nowhere for a cold draught to sneak in. The downside is that I found the thin fabric not as insulating as a regular baselayer, especially the merino ones that I prefer at this time of year. The simple solution is to wear your own baselayer over the top – fortunately, the integrated base is breathable enough to prevent overheating.
Another benefit is improved comfort. There are no bib straps to irritate the skin around the shoulders or dig in anywhere, and they are more comfortable around the waist area as well. You could also argue there's the added bonus of not having to buy a baselayer as well, because you're getting one with the tights... but as I said, I found it not quite insulating enough on its own for colder rides.
The rest of the bib tights are standard Sportful fare. There's the excellent TC Pro padded insert, which I find extremely comfortable. It fits nicely without too much bulk, provides superb comfort for the longest rides, and just goes about its job brilliantly.
The ankles have large elastic bands and zips to make getting dressed easier, and ensure a nice comfortable seal.
There are also some reflective details and logos dotted around the tights, although if you're looking for maximum visibility there are tights with more generous helpings.
Worn with the matching R&D Strato top, the bib tights are extremely good at providing excellent warmth and wind protection on chilly rides. The freedom of movement is same as the regular R&D bib tights but with noticeably reduced chill on colder rides around the top of the legs. They keep you pedalling happier for longer.
I'm torn on the integrated baselayer, though. It works as intended but I prefer the flexibility of a regular bib section so I can choose my own baselayer to suit the conditions. Don't let that criticism put you off, though: as a concept it works very well.
Extremely good bib tights that insulate you from cold winds, with an integrated baselayer
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Sportful R&D Strato Bib Tights
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Sportful says: "Designed to offer the fit and feel close to a traditional winter tight but with additional wind and cold weather protection in critical areas."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Thernodrytex Plus under layer with brushed inner construction.
Over layer with Wind Wick LT on upper legs for breathable wind protection
Double layer thermal fabric on knees for extra protection
Full coverage zipped upper for support with clean finished edges
TC pro pad
Ankle zips with lie flat elastic
Really nicely made, though I did pop a few stitches getting the integrated baselayer on for the first time (they are quite a snug fit).
Very good on cold and windy rides; toasty warm.
I've been testing them for a good few weeks and so far they are not showing any sign of wear and tear. (I wouldn't call the popped stitches a durability issue; probably more a lack of flexibility on my part issue, and nothing untoward has happened since.)
The legs fit very well, the baselayer is a little snug just getting it into place, but once on it's comfortable.
Very comfortable bib tights for tackling winter conditions, the padded insert is one of the best I've used.
They are quite a bit more expensive than the regular (very good) R&D bib tights, but you do get added wind protection and an integrated baselayer.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No problems at all.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provides good warmth and protection against the wind, just what you need for those long winter base rides.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Great fit and smart integration of windproof fabric.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
I'm not really won over by the integrated baselayer.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
A really nicely designed bib tight with smartly integrated windproof material that enhances winter performance without restricting pedalling movement.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
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.