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.
Winter tights range from lightweight waist tights that add a bit of insulation to full-on warm and waterproof weather armour
If you're going to ride in the rain look for fabrics with durable water repellent (DWR) coating
To pad or not to pad, that's the question — padless tights can be worn over shorts and worn more than once between washes, tights with pads can be less bulky and more comfortable
Yes, some winter tights are expensive, but for some folks not being wet and miserable is worth it
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. Commuting and utility riders in particular favour waterproof overtrousers that fend off the rain so you arrive at work with dry trousers. In between are cycling trousers that look like regular trousers, but are shaped and detailed so they're comfortable for riding.
In this guide we're looking at winter legwear that provides insulation and wind-resistance to keep you warm, which mostly means insulated winter tights. Some of these tights also provide a bit of water-resistance in the form of a Durable Water-Repellent (DWR) coating, but they don't claim to be highly water-resistant and we haven't found them to be so.
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.
Good warm legwear without a bib can be tricky to find; good warm legwear without a bib or a high price is even trickier, making the Madison Stellar Women's Tights the potential find of the year. They're warm and protective in all but the worst weather, have a comfortable pad, and are a steal at their RRP of £49.99.
The fabric is a fleecy-backed 85% polyamide/15% elastane mix, with a smooth outer surface. The panels join with flat seams, the elasticated waistband is high and broad, and the ankles have zips and silicone grippers. The female-specific Coolmax chamois pad is designed by Madison.
The fabric is warm enough for all but the most hideous weather, and the stretchiness means no issues with binding at the knees or thighs. The waistband sits towards the natural waist rather than lower on the belly as many do, and as a result it stays put well during riding – even in this loose fit they never slide down.
Gore's C3 Thermo Bib Tights+ offer excellent fit, warmth and comfort at a price that compares very favourably with their rivals.
The key to comfortable cycling through all seasons is protection from the elements without bulk or unnecessary weight, and the C3s hit the mark. Easy to pull on and remove, the leg fabric sits lightly on the skin while the mesh straps do their job excellently without applying undue pressure to your shoulders. The seamless design also ensures zero irritation. Gore suggests you will forget the straps are even there when riding, and for once a marketing claim rings true.
The thermal fabric used throughout works well in trapping warmth while allowing sweat to wick away, and the water resistant panel on the back should be a bonus for maintaining comfort should you get caught out on a bike without mudguards in the wet. It worked for me in a shower on an otherwise sunny autumn day, but in worse conditions my SKS mudguards did the work instead.
These MAAP Team Thermal Bib Tights work across a wide range of temperatures and are very comfortable for long days in the saddle. They're pretty expensive, but they are well made and look to be durable.
And it's nice to see a brand bring out a pair of bib tights that aren't black. The navy option (black is also available) here looks good and may just help you stand out a little bit more on a winter's day.
For the main construction of the Team Thermal tights, MAAP has used a midweight Roubaix style fabric which offers four-way stretch and a small amount of compression.
The fleece-backed fabric feels very soft against the skin and helps keep you warm. MAAP gives them an operating temperature range of around 5-15°C, but I found that they worked well down to around freezing and up to the low-teens; any higher than that and breathability starts to suffer.
Company founder and former pro Iris Slappendel has created the Iris Women's Signature Winter Bib Tight Light to answer your needs for all but the coldest conditions. Soft, stretchy, warm and pliable, with a great chamois and easy-to-use buckle system for toilet breaks, these are a well-designed and high-quality pair of tights at a decent price.
These tights are designed with early winter and spring in mind rather than the coldest days, but it's worth bearing in mind that Iris is based in the Netherlands and their idea of 'deep winter' can be a whole lot scarier than the UK version. That said, these are mid-weight rather than heavyweight tights, made from high-quality ThermoRoubaix fabric with plenty of stretch.
The Lusso Adventure Repel Bibtights are new to the range, but feature the usual great choice of fabrics, quality manufacturing, sensible pricing and high performance that the Manchester-based manufacturer has become renowned for. With large yet discreet reflectives and two deep cargo pockets, these are some of the most practical bib tights around.
The fleece-lined fabric used for the lower body is soft against the skin, and while it's not claimed to have any windproofing properties, it's surprisingly warm when the temperature drops. Lusso gives a range starting at -3°C and I'll go along with that. Tester STu Kerton says "Some of my rides have taken place with a frost on the car as I leave the house and I've been as snug as bug."
The Gore C3 Windstopper Bib Tights are heavy-duty, fleece-lined and keep you very warm and mostly dry in bad weather. Adjustable straps and an abundance of zips mean they're easy to get on and off, but the fit isn’t quite there for everyone, and they're noticeably thick.
Windstopper involves a thin membrane that’s laminated onto the outer layer, and it's extremely effective at blocking windchill while still allowing vapor from inside to escape. The material is also water repellent, if not waterproof, and there’s fleece lining in strategic places to keep you warm.
The Lusso Classic Thermal Bib Tights are a quality piece of kit. The fabric is super-soft against the skin, the overall quality is top notch, and the pad is decent too. We can't really fault them for the money.
The main part of the tights is made from MITI's Super Roubaix Italian Thermal fabric and boy is it comfortable. With four-way stretch the tights pull on easily and move well when you are in the saddle, and the material feels so soft against the skin.
It's warm, too, dealing with icy winds down around freezing level thanks to its fleece backing, while still being breathable enough to deal with the temperatures when they nudge double figures.
The Endura FS260-Pro Thermo bib tights are not only good value but also offer great protection against the elements, with a new seat pad that lives up to the Scottish company's claims of providing "consistent comfort".
As with many winter shorts and tights, the inside is a brushed fleece-backed fabric which is both warm and comfortable. The material kept me warm on rides down to 4°C. I was also impressed with Endura's PFC-free DWR treatment of the fabric; it resists rain and road spray, which beads on the surface. Heavy rain will find its way through, but a degree of water resistance is always welcome when, here in the UK, a winter ride is rarely entirely dry.
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 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'. After several washes there was no sign of wear, but Rapha sells a re-proofer (link is external) just in case.
Overall, the supreme fit of the Rapha Shadow Tights matches their genuine weather-performance. It's not often you get supple, waterproof and sweat-free without compromise, and I think it's this lack of compromise that sets the Shadow Tights apart – perhaps even justifying the cost, although that in itself is the trade-off.
The 7Mesh Seymour Tights are a pocketable, lightweight insulated layer to keep you warm in changeable weather. With well-thought-out features and a water-repellent coating, they are a handy option to remain comfy when temperatures drop.
Made from a ridiculously stretchy material, the Seymours have a fluffy 'Roubaix'-style insulation layer underneath, but it's surprisingly thin for the warmth it delivers.
The idea is that you carry them instead of leg warmers (or start a winter ride wearing them when you'd otherwise plump for warmers). The roll up to an easily-pocketable-size tube of about 15cm x 7cm diameter.
Santini has used Power Wool for its Adapt Polartec Thermal C3 bib tights, a blend of natural and synthetic fibres designed to keep you warm yet sweat-free. It works really well and is very comfortable against the skin, although you take a hit in the pocket for the benefits.
They are very comfortable to wear – the wool is warm and very soft against the skin. Heading out for some longer rides over the Christmas period I was wearing the Adapts for up to five hours at a time and I never really noticed them at all. There are no seams in irritating places and the cut is great, so I had no bunching of material.
These are the bib tights I've been grabbing out of the wardrobe time and time again whatever the weather, and not once have I been disappointed. If you can find a decent discount somewhere, these are highly recommended.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, and you can take 15% off that price in January with code JAN15 at the checkout.
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.
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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.