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The Sportiveur’s Guide To Winter Cycling Tights

The Sportiveur’s Guide To Winter Cycling Tights post image

For a long time, when I saw pro riders (or those who wanted to look like pro riders) training in cold weather, I assumed they were wearing tights underneath their cycling shorts.

It took me an awfully long time (too long) to realise that this wasn’t the case (I hope it wasn’t the case) and they were most likely wearing knee or leg warmers.

The aim of this post is shed a little light on the subject of winter cycling tights. I doubt that too much light is required, for it is hardly a challenging subject.

Still, despite October’s best efforts to remain mild, colder temperatures are upon us. A vital aspect of enjoying your cycling during the winter months is to ensure you’re adequately attired. Cycling tights should be an important part of the your adequate attire.

Why You Shouldn’t Wear Tights Underneath Your Shorts

Click here to scroll down to my newly-updated 2016 winter tights recommendations table

Just in case this is something of a revelation for you, a brief explanation.

Cycling shorts are designed to be worn sans pantage. The pad (or chamois) is meant to placed directly against your, er… skin [Monty successfully avoids being overly explicit].

If you put your tights on beneath your cycling shorts, you’re negating the effect of your (potentially expensive?) chamois and increasing the chance of material bunching up, causing saddle sores.

If the tights have a pad as well, then you’ll be double padded, and have to waddle around like a sumo wrestler.

So tights are worn over your cycling shorts.

Got that? Good. Moving on.

Cycling Tight Options

So here we go.

You have the following options to select from when identifying the perfect tights:

How They Stay Up

Cycling tights stay up either by having an elasticated waist (and have the appearance of tight trousers or, er, … tights) or by having shoulder straps like bib shorts (and therefore look much like bib shorts but with longer legs).

Both of my pairs of tights are elasticated at the waist. I’ve never had a problem with them either digging in or falling down (to be honest, I hadn’t realised this was even a consideration until I started researching* this post).

(* Yes, I do research these things, in a fashion).

Material (Girl)

Cycling shorts are generally made from lycra (what else would you expect?).

That said, there are different types of lycra depending on how warm the manufacturer intends to make the shorts.

Most popular tights tend to have some degree of fleecy lining, generally identifiable by their fancy, trademarked fabric names, such as Roubaix, Super Roubaix, Thermoflex, Nanoflex.

You’ll sometimes see ‘Roubaix lycra’ used as a more general term to refer to any lycra that has a fleecy inner surface. Hence the dhb (Wiggle own-brand) Aeron Roubaix thermal bib tights in the table are described as having a Roubaix finish, despite being made from another type of lycra (Lombardia, in case you’re interested – oh, you’re not…?).

Pad – With Or Without

Apparently, cycling tights are available with or without integrated ass pads (alright, chamois). Who knew?*

(*Not me – neither of my pairs of tights has one).

Clearly, if you buy tights with a pad, you wouldn’t wear another pair of cycling shorts underneath them.

Perhaps this is an obvious point, but I’m going to make it anyway. If you buy shorts with a pad, you only have one layer of material between you and the elements. If you buy overtights, there are two layers of lycra where your shorts are, providing additional insulation at the top of your legs and around your boll…. your lower vital organs.

Superhero Suit

This is a category of ‘cycling tights’ in and of itself. And to be honest, I feel they’re stretching the meaning of the term ‘tights’.

Essentially, Castelli, purveyor of expensive cycling clothes (as worn by pros, even when they have a different clothing sponsor), make a winter cycling suit comprising a pair of thermal tights sewn into a thermal cycling jersey. A bit like the pants and vest combo that poor East End evacuees were sewn into during the 1940s (a bit like that).

Anything Else?

Beyond the obvious, there are few ‘features’ of cycling tights. Many will have reflective elements, either in the form of stickers or piping near some of the seams. I wonder how effective these are, given 99% of tights are otherwise almost entirely black. Better to have a decent set of lights on your bike.

The bit around the foot is…. interesting (alright, I’m grasping at straws here!), specifically how the cuffs at the end of each leg get over the foot before forming a tight seal around the ankle.

Many tights have small zips just below the calf to facilitate this. Others go for a stretchy cuff (which sounds like a medical condition). I prefer the zipped ones.

Leg (And Knee) Warmers

Disclaimer: I don’t own either leg warmers or knee warmers.

But.

If you want to look like the pros mentioned at the top of this post, with black-clad legs beneath brightly-coloured pro team shorts, then wearing knee/leg warmers are the way to achieve it.

Essentially, these are lycra tubes, shaped to a greater or lesser degree (often based on how much you paid) to fit closely around your legs. Whether said tube is a knee warmer or a leg warmer is a question of scale – if it goes to just below your knee, it’s a knee warmer; to the tops of your socks (and below) it’s a leg warmer.

If it’s made of pink wool and just warms your shin, you might have gone to a 1980s dance shop rather than your LBS.

The accepted wisdom appears to be that your cycling short legs should overlap the tops of the leg warmers in order to provide continuous clothing coverage.

The advantage of leg (and knee) warmers, versus the common-or-garden tight, is that they are easier to remove mid ride and occupy less space in your jersey pockets, in the event that the temperature of your mid- to lower-leg becomes unbearably high.

Buying Options

Thermal Bib Shorts With Pads
dhb Aeron Roubaix Bib TightsPerformance on a budget:
dhb Aeron Roubaix Pro Bib Tights


Disclaimer: I am biased because Wiggle sent me a pair of dhb roubaix tights very similar to these to test (yes, for FREE, dear reader).

I can honestly say that they have been excellent. Toasty warm. Good build quality.

Reviews on the Wiggle site (presumably impartial) seem to say similar.

Click here for more info
Sportful Fiandre No Rain Bib TightsMid-range choice:
Sportful Fiandre No Rain Bib Tights


I am somewhat at a loss as to how Sportful can ensure there is no rain on your winter ride. Still, they're an Italian company - let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

What these tights do have is a water repellant treatment, that causes moisture to bead up on the surface of the tights, rather than soaking them through.

Double layer of fabric on the thighs and knees. Lovely.

Click here for more info
Castelli Sorpasso Windstopper Bib TightsHigh end choice:
Castelli Sorpasso Windstopper Bib Tights


Everyone needs a little Castelli their life (and a little money on their credit card to afford a little Castelli in their life).

These tights purport to be windproof, insulating and highly breathable. With an almost 5* rating from nearly 70 reviews on the Wiggle site, it's likely these tights do what they purport.

They even have a viscous pad. Which sounds either filthy or exciting, depending on your P.O.V.

Click here for more info
Castelli Sanremo 2 thermosuitCrazy Superman Option:
Castelli Sanremo 2 Thermosuit


This suit essentially combines Castelli's Gabba jersey (the one that pro's use with the logo blacked out) and the Sorpasso tights shown above.

If you care about staying uber-warm, and you have the funds, this might be the choice for you.

28 Wiggle 5* reviewers can't be wrong...

Click here for more info
Waist Tights (For Want Of A Better Term) and Leg / Knee Warmers
dhb Flashlight Thermal Waist TightsReflective overload: dhb Flashlight Cycling Waist Tight

I am most disappointed. The previous version of these involved a load of reflective hexagons, allowing me to roll out all my Blockbuster jokes (it's a UK thing...).

The new version instead uses what look like reflective gun targets. So other road users will be able to see you. And shoot you.

I'll take a P please bob.

Click here for more info
dhb Classic Roubaix Waist Tights Solid waist tight choice: dhb Classic Roubaix Padded Waist Tight

That's just classic Roubaix. Classic.

Good quality, good value winter tights for wearing 'pon your favourite set of bib shorts.

Click here for more info
Endura thermolite waist tightsFor a bit of water repellency: Endura Thermolite Tights

These Endura tights are coated with a TEFLON fabric protector, preventing the tights from 'wetting out' when riding in the rain.

Anything you can do to avoid wetting out is fine by me...

Click here for more info
Endura thermolite leg warmersReasonably-price leg warmers: Endura Thermolite Leg Warmers

The leg warmer version of the thermolite waist tights above

Click here for more info
Endura thermolite knee warmersReasonably price knee warmers: Endura Thermolite Knee Warmers

The knee warmer version of the leg warmer version of the thermolite waist tights above... for when you (k)need to keep your knee warm, but your shin cool...

Click here for more info

That’s Enough Tempting Tightwear

There’s only so many lycra clad legs you want to gaze at in a single sitting (where ‘so many’ generally equals zero).

Hopefully this summary of the ‘issues’ has been useful. If I help just one person prevent saddle sores through incorrect tight wearage then I’ve done my job.

Just to say, the links above are affiliate links. If you like this article, and you’re in the mood to buy some cycling tights, then doing so after clicking one of the product links in the table means I get paid a small commission. Which helps keeps the lights on here at the Sportive Cyclist Service Course. Well, one light. For an hour maybe.

Until next time, happy (warm, winter) cycling!

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Paul O' Brien says:

    Hi Monty,

    Cheers for the article. It’s well timed indeed; I have found the last week to be the proper transition time in terms of clothing. As it happens, I purchased a pair of Santini Poseidon bib tights at the weekend. I had my first cycle with them this morning and think that they are absolutely excellent. I also splashed out on a Santini Rebel winter jacket. With the tights and jacket combined I was extremely comfortable in the cold this morning.

    What I like about Santini is the fact that all of there products are made in Italy and are competitively priced. I have a few Castelli bits and pieces; they come from Romania, Bangladesh and China, which I find to be slightly weird. I have nothing against buying these things I just like to try and reduce the travel distance of these things, one of my favourite items ever is a Castelli cycling cap, its super absorbent and higher quality than soem of the other brands I have seen around. Other brands that are worth looking into are Lusso and Endura which are UK based. All my rain gear and my cycling club apparel is from Endura, I have a short and long sleeved base layer from Lusso, both of which I really like.

    Ok, i’m finished now, sorry…

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      No need to apologise Paul! All good tips. Will look at Santani’s range. I’m a big fan of Endura (despite not owning much of their gear…).

  • Glen says:

    I have been having pretty good rides in the cold with my underarmour coldgear tights. Not cycling specific but they do the job for sure. Showers pass rain jacket and pants for when the wet stuff starts coming down.

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Thanks Glen. I’ve a feeling that at least one of my pairs of tights is not cycling specific, but they too do the job.

  • Are you ok? Gone very quite around here…

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Hello! Yes, I’m good. I’ve been working our house renovation and it’s dominated my life these past few months. We moved in a couple of weeks ago so hopefully things will calm down soon and I’ll resume blogging (and resume cycling….)….

  • I’m jealous right now! Thanks for this, I like tights, and this has been helpful. Well done!

  • Jeffrey K. says:

    Thanks for the article. I recently bought some tights and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized there was no padding. I had assumed the tights would be like my shorts (with padding) but longer. I wasn’t sure what to do until reading this. I will try wearing my padless tights over my shorts tomorrow.

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Excellent.

      The thing that always confused me was pro riders seemingly wearing their tights under their shorts during winter racing/training. It took me far too long to realise that they were wearing knee warmers rather than full on tights….

  • Stefan says:

    So thrilling were those black frog legs I have ordered myself a pair so I will have no excuse when my thin Oz blood whimpers on those cold mornings… I can now confess that working at an australian ski resort in the 70’s we used to sneak, heavily disguised, into a dance supply store to buy leggings to wear under our ski gear- at great risk to our manly public image…
    Keep up the good work, always interesting and a good laugh,

    Stefan

  • Helmut says:

    Hi Monty,

    Any thoughts on the Rapha gear? They seem to have beatiful and functional rear but prising is steep. But the various Merino wool blends give it a less syntetic touch.

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      I’m afraid I can’t comment on Rapha, Helmut. I don’t think I’ve even touched their clothing, never mind worn it. I imagine it’s good quality, and it looks smart, but can you get over the pricing…?

      Anyone else here a Rapha wearer or fan? (Or prejudiced, without having tried it…?)

  • Stefan says:

    Hi Monty, great article! I have just bought two long bib tights with pads but not thermal. I am still finding it a bit nippy round the boll….. I am a noob and it’s my first year any tips for my situation as this gear lark is getting expensive.

  • Just a short question.why don’t cyclists wear footed tights. I’ve worn some a few times. Find them comfy and do the job.

  • Adam hepke says:

    Hiya
    So I’ve got a pair of Bib shorts that are dead comfy from giordana and they sell the matching pair of bib tights with no pad
    I think they go over the top of the shorts not to sure ,is this recommended and has anyone done this

  • Sanford says:

    what about assos?

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      The issue is assos is that they seem very expensive and, more importantly, all the photos I could ‘borrow’ to show in my table feature a topless musclebound bloke….

  • James says:

    If you ride hills in winter, windstopper can be a godsend for long descents. I have a pair of Castelli Meno Windstopper tights that I absolutely love. I wear leg-warmers until I notice that I’m leaving them on for the whole ride, and then I move to bib tights (with integrated pad, which is my preference). People’s cold tolerance varies, depending on various factors (age, body type, riding style, etc.) so part of the fun is finding out what works for you, preferably without going bankrupt in the process…

  • Helmut says:

    Hi Monty,

    Nice review, but I think I missed your views on the UK based Rapha products. Usually on a really tight fit, but nice build quality and they know how to sell their stuff.

  • Richard says:

    Hi Andrew

    Only ever used padded tights.The thought of having to put tights over shorts seems a bit cumbersome to me.

  • Hirohito says:

    Really enjoy the blog Monty!

    If the tights are thin spandex I wear them inside of my chamois shorts. Been doing this for a long time ( not the same tights). If heavier material especially merino wool then tights are outside of course. Never had a problem.

  • Paul O' Brien November 10, 2014, 9:50 am

    Hi Monty,

    Cheers for the article. It’s well timed indeed; I have found the last week to be the proper transition time in terms of clothing. As it happens, I purchased a pair of Santini Poseidon bib tights at the weekend. I had my first cycle with them this morning and think that they are absolutely excellent. I also splashed out on a Santini Rebel winter jacket. With the tights and jacket combined I was extremely comfortable in the cold this morning.

    What I like about Santini is the fact that all of there products are made in Italy and are competitively priced. I have a few Castelli bits and pieces; they come from Romania, Bangladesh and China, which I find to be slightly weird. I have nothing against buying these things I just like to try and reduce the travel distance of these things, one of my favourite items ever is a Castelli cycling cap, its super absorbent and higher quality than soem of the other brands I have seen around. Other brands that are worth looking into are Lusso and Endura which are UK based. All my rain gear and my cycling club apparel is from Endura, I have a short and long sleeved base layer from Lusso, both of which I really like.

    Ok, i’m finished now, sorry…

    • Andrew Montgomery November 15, 2014, 8:55 pm

      No need to apologise Paul! All good tips. Will look at Santani’s range. I’m a big fan of Endura (despite not owning much of their gear…).

  • Glen November 18, 2014, 4:46 am

    I have been having pretty good rides in the cold with my underarmour coldgear tights. Not cycling specific but they do the job for sure. Showers pass rain jacket and pants for when the wet stuff starts coming down.

    • Andrew Montgomery November 27, 2014, 9:01 pm

      Thanks Glen. I’ve a feeling that at least one of my pairs of tights is not cycling specific, but they too do the job.

  • adventuresinarabic January 27, 2015, 7:18 pm

    Are you ok? Gone very quite around here…

    • Andrew Montgomery February 15, 2015, 9:09 pm

      Hello! Yes, I’m good. I’ve been working our house renovation and it’s dominated my life these past few months. We moved in a couple of weeks ago so hopefully things will calm down soon and I’ll resume blogging (and resume cycling….)….

  • Stacey Wright January 29, 2015, 1:10 pm

    I’m jealous right now! Thanks for this, I like tights, and this has been helpful. Well done!

  • Jeffrey K. May 1, 2015, 3:51 am

    Thanks for the article. I recently bought some tights and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized there was no padding. I had assumed the tights would be like my shorts (with padding) but longer. I wasn’t sure what to do until reading this. I will try wearing my padless tights over my shorts tomorrow.

    • Andrew Montgomery May 11, 2015, 7:41 am

      Excellent.

      The thing that always confused me was pro riders seemingly wearing their tights under their shorts during winter racing/training. It took me far too long to realise that they were wearing knee warmers rather than full on tights….

  • Stefan October 4, 2015, 5:26 pm

    So thrilling were those black frog legs I have ordered myself a pair so I will have no excuse when my thin Oz blood whimpers on those cold mornings… I can now confess that working at an australian ski resort in the 70’s we used to sneak, heavily disguised, into a dance supply store to buy leggings to wear under our ski gear- at great risk to our manly public image…
    Keep up the good work, always interesting and a good laugh,

    Stefan

  • Helmut October 5, 2015, 6:48 am

    Hi Monty,

    Any thoughts on the Rapha gear? They seem to have beatiful and functional rear but prising is steep. But the various Merino wool blends give it a less syntetic touch.

    • Andrew Montgomery October 5, 2015, 6:52 am

      I’m afraid I can’t comment on Rapha, Helmut. I don’t think I’ve even touched their clothing, never mind worn it. I imagine it’s good quality, and it looks smart, but can you get over the pricing…?

      Anyone else here a Rapha wearer or fan? (Or prejudiced, without having tried it…?)

  • Stefan October 26, 2015, 9:20 pm

    Hi Monty, great article! I have just bought two long bib tights with pads but not thermal. I am still finding it a bit nippy round the boll….. I am a noob and it’s my first year any tips for my situation as this gear lark is getting expensive.

  • Daniel Langrish-Beard May 23, 2016, 1:01 pm

    Just a short question.why don’t cyclists wear footed tights. I’ve worn some a few times. Find them comfy and do the job.

  • Adam hepke May 24, 2016, 11:16 pm

    Hiya
    So I’ve got a pair of Bib shorts that are dead comfy from giordana and they sell the matching pair of bib tights with no pad
    I think they go over the top of the shorts not to sure ,is this recommended and has anyone done this

  • Sanford November 27, 2016, 3:21 pm

    what about assos?

    • Andrew Montgomery November 28, 2016, 12:48 pm

      The issue is assos is that they seem very expensive and, more importantly, all the photos I could ‘borrow’ to show in my table feature a topless musclebound bloke….

  • James November 28, 2016, 4:25 pm

    If you ride hills in winter, windstopper can be a godsend for long descents. I have a pair of Castelli Meno Windstopper tights that I absolutely love. I wear leg-warmers until I notice that I’m leaving them on for the whole ride, and then I move to bib tights (with integrated pad, which is my preference). People’s cold tolerance varies, depending on various factors (age, body type, riding style, etc.) so part of the fun is finding out what works for you, preferably without going bankrupt in the process…

  • Helmut November 29, 2016, 2:58 pm

    Hi Monty,

    Nice review, but I think I missed your views on the UK based Rapha products. Usually on a really tight fit, but nice build quality and they know how to sell their stuff.

  • Richard November 30, 2016, 10:32 am

    Hi Andrew

    Only ever used padded tights.The thought of having to put tights over shorts seems a bit cumbersome to me.

  • Hirohito December 1, 2016, 2:38 am

    Really enjoy the blog Monty!

    If the tights are thin spandex I wear them inside of my chamois shorts. Been doing this for a long time ( not the same tights). If heavier material especially merino wool then tights are outside of course. Never had a problem.

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