Essentially ‘long’ versions of the classic skintight cycling shorts, cycling tights provide additional warmth and protection to keep you riding through the colder months of the year, with features including a padded chamois for long hours in the saddle and a cut that takes into account the ergonomics specific to the bike-riding position.
Why do I need bib tights?
Bib Tights or cycling tights are an essential garment to keep legs warm and overall temperature up during the colder months of the year. From 3/4-length knickers worn as the autumn chill creeps in to thick and fleece-lined full-length tights donned in the depths of winter, there is a tight available for all occasions.
If you want to ride or train through the chilly mornings of spring and autumn or the winter months when the mercury drops, tights are an essential investment.
Modern technical fabrics will work hard to keep you dry and comfortable in all conditions, while a close, skin-tight fit improves aerodynamic performance and helps to prevent chafing caused by flapping fabric.
Best Base Layer Buying Guide
Meanwhile, if you are looking for some extra layers to stay warm during them chilly rides check out our buying guide for base layers.
What bib tights / cycling tights are best for me?
The type of tights you buy will depend largely on the conditions you intend to use them and, as with most things bike-related, your budget.
For autumn and winter riding, when you are looking for a little more coverage than that provided by your summer shorts, a 3/4-length tight or knicker (like made from a similar Lycra material to your summer shorts) will cover the knees for a little extra warmth and comfort, without being so thick as to cause overheating or affect flexibility.
However for riding in winter and training through the months of November-January, you will need a pair of full-length tights providing total leg coverage and made from a thicker, insulated material (also likely to be fleece-lined for extra warmth). Such tights are less flexible than thinner summer-issue garments and will cause you to overheat in anything but cold conditions, but are essential winter wear.
Waist tights are secured with an elasticated waistband as opposed to over-the-shoulder bib straps.
These extend up over the abdomen and have straps that go over the shoulders, rather than a waistband. These are regarded by many as being more comfortable as they are less prone to chafing and have no waistband to dig into the stomach. They are also useful as a semi-base layer to keep the kidneys warm, and don’t leave any skin on your back exposed should your jersey or jacket ride up.
Winter-specific thermal tights will have thicker, insulated fabrics for warmth, often with fleece linings. Most winter tights will be aimed at ‘normal’ winter conditions (6-15 degrees) but there are also versions available for more extreme cold. Many winter tights will also have protection against wind and rain.
3/4 length/knicker tights
Slightly less coverage than full-length tights and typically with thinner fabrics, these are suitable for cool/changeable conditions such as experienced in spring and autumn.
Women’s specific tights
Tights cut specifically to reflect the different anatomy of the female form. May have shorter abdomen and legs etc. plus a differently-shaped contoured chamois to provide appropriate support and comfort for the female form.
Bib tights: in-depth
As with cycling shorts – and indeed the vast majority of cycle clothing – cycling tights are made of modern materials which are ‘breathable’ (allow water vapour to escape through the fabric, rather than condensing on the skin) and which draw sweat away from the skin to where it can evaporate (a quality known as ‘wicking’).
Thicker, more insulating fabrics such as Roubaix and Super Roubaix are popular and can be used in certain areas only – for example, thick and wind-resistant fabric at the front of the legs and thighs with thinner, more flexible panels the back of the knees. These can also be be fleece-lined to add more warmth. Some tights also use a water- or wind-proof fabric in certain areas which can be good to help maintain warmth in inclement conditions.
Tights are made up of multiple individual panels to provide an optimum fit to your body contours and to reflect the specific ergonomics of the on-bike position (a long, stretched back). Again, better-quality tights will have more panels and a more considered design, using a combination of panel placement/design and stretchy fabrics to achieve optimum on-bike ergonomics. Normally, you would find 6 panels on tights ranging to 12 on more premium tights.
With thicker winter tights, where thermal insulation is a priority, the fabric is more likely to be of a universal thickness with a corresponding loss in flexibility, but this the price to be paid for staying warm on winter rides.
Padded or unpadded?
While most cycling tights will feature a chamois pad as standard, some riders (e.g. MTB riders wearing warm tights under baggy shorts) may prefer a tight with a removable pad, or with none at all. It’s a matter of personal preference as some riders may not like the feeling of a ‘shammy’.