How to Buy Cycling Tights: Sizing, Fit, and Style Guide

Posted On November 15, 2022 / Gear Tips

By: Drew Hincapie

How to Buy Cycling Tights

Cycling tights or bibs are an essential piece in your winter cycling kit. Winter riding puts a lot of demands on your wardrobe–you have to layer up but not overheat, wear thermal but still breathable clothes, and stay insulated without restricting your flexibility. Cold-weather comfort requires a pair of cycling tights that do all of the above and fit you well. Shopping for tights or bibs is similar to shopping for bike shorts, so you may already know more about finding a pair of tights than you realize. But add winter weather to the mix, and you have a few extra elements to consider. We’ve gathered all the information you need to shop for cycling tights and a list of 10 of the best options to choose from so you can power through those chilly winter rides..

What are cycling tights?

Cycling tights are not all that different from bike shorts except that they provide coverage for the full length of your leg. They usually include a chamois and come as waist tights or bib tights. However, cycling shorts and tights are designed for two different environments. Shorts are designed to keep you cool in warm weather, while tights will keep you warm in cold weather. Often, cycling tights are made from Thermo Roubaix, a material that’s soft, stretchy, warm, and breathable. Because of the wet, dreary weather and possible snowfall you cycle through in winter, tights should be wind and water-resistant. These protective materials can limit flexibility, so many quality cycling tights incorporate panels that only block wind and water in the most susceptible places and leave the rest of the tights super stretchy and breathable. 

What are bib tights?

Bib tights are a type of cycling tights with comfortable shoulder straps that keep the tights from slipping down at the waist. Many cyclists agree that bib tights are more comfortable than cycling tights held up at the waistband. Rather than having a waistband that cuts into your stomach as you ride in an aerodynamic position, the straps on bib tights are comfortable and supportive. The bib also holds your chamois in place, so it doesn’t slip into an uncomfortable position and cause chafing. Bib tights can be better than waistband tights at keeping you warm in winter since the bib provides an extra layer of warmth around your lower back and midriff. But waistband tights make restroom breaks on long rides far easier, especially for females. Though, some cyclists would rather opt for a more comfortable ride than a quick bathroom break. 

Why do you need cycling tights?

Cycling tights are a good choice for warmth in early fall or spring mornings, but they’re essential in the dead of winter. When the weather reaches 50℉ or below, it’s time to pull out the cycling tights. Cycling tights are winter kit essentials because they’re the best option for protection from water, wind, and sweat–all at the same time. When you’re cold, your muscles stiffen and cycling becomes more difficult. Cycling tights regulate your body temperature and prevent your muscles from stiffening. Most tights will either be made from water-resistant fabric or coated in DWR (Durable Water Repellent) so water rolls off you rather than soaking in and chilling you to the core. 

Why do you need bib tights? 

If you live somewhere with mild winters, you may prefer cycling waistband tights rather than bib tights to keep your core cool. But, if you’re cold-natured or live where winter temperatures get below freezing, bib tights are your best bet. Bib tights have a lower risk of chafing and offer more warmth around the midsection. What you know to be true of bike shorts versus bib shorts, remains true with cycling tights. Whatever your preference is between shorts with or without a bib, will likely be your preference for tights. But bibs are an even better choice in winter than they are in summer. 

When to wear cycling tights

When choosing when to wear your cycling tights, you’ll want to consider your personal preferences and the climate in your area because some cycling tights are warmer than others. A cyclist in South Carolina may choose a different pair than a cyclist in New York. And a Florida cyclist may not need tights at all in winter. The choice also depends on how sensitive you are to cold weather. You may also be more hot-natured or cool-natured than another cyclist. Someone may need thermal tights at 50℉, while someone else may not wear tights until temperatures drop below 40℉. Generally, 50℉ is a good indicator that it’s time or will soon be time to start wearing tights. 

How to find the best pair of cycling tights

One simple way to choose a pair of cycling tights you’ll love wearing is to find the brand of your favorite cycling shorts and see if they offer a similar design in tights. That way, you’ll know before you’ve even tried them on that you love the chamois and the fit. Of course, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll love the tights as much as your favorite shorts because you have to consider other factors like warmth and weather protection, but it’s a good place to start.

At first glance, most cycling tights look similar–they’re usually black (to hide dirt) and fit snuggly. The differences to carefully consider when shopping for any type of cycling tights are the quality and effectiveness of the chamois and fabrics and the comfort or construction. Make sure the chamois is dense but not bulky, moisture-wicking, and gender-specific for a great fit. Make sure the fabric is effective at blocking wind, repelling water, and keeping sweat from lingering on your skin. Also, look for panels placed strategically in tights to keep you dry over most exposed areas like your thighs and knees, while remaining breathable and flexible behind the legs. It’s not easy designing a garment that shields against rough weather and remains breathable, but panels are one way to achieve this. The more technically advanced the tights are, the higher the price, but quality cycling tights can last you for many winters. 

How to wear cycling tights

If you choose to wear bib tights, you wear a baselayer underneath them to keep the straps from rubbing and to provide an extra layer of moisture-wicking warmth. Your long sleeve cycling jersey goes over your bib, and you can wear a cycling jacket over that if it’s really cold. Cycling socks are most often worn under cycling tights, especially if the tights have a zipper at the ankle, so the zipper doesn’t scrape against your skin. However, there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to socks with cycling tights, so you’re welcome to wear your socks over your tights if they’re worth showing off. 

Some cyclists like to wear shorts with cycling tights, so the tights don’t wear out as fast or need washing as often. This also allows cyclists to slip off the cycling tights and tuck them away if they get too warm. If you choose to wear shorts and tights together, the tights don’t need a chamois because the shorts with the chamois should go underneath them. Your shorts can get bunched under your tights and cause chafing, so this is not always the most comfortable choice, but it can be practical in the spring or fall as the sun comes up.

Learn how to find the best cold-weather cycling gear or shop for other great gear for your winter-weather cycling kit. 

Cycling tights with chamois

If you are wearing cycling tights for anything that requires greater exertion or mileage than an easy ride through the park, your tights should include a chamois. And the chamois should sit against your skin, with no underwear in between. The chamois protects you from discomfort and saddle sores and keeps you dry. It allows you to make the most of your ride by going greater distances at faster speeds and enjoying every minute of it. 

Cycling tights and bib tights size & fit

Cycling tights and bib tights should fit snuggly like bike shorts so they don’t bunch and chafe and so they hold the chamois in place well. The straps on bib tights should be snug enough not to slip from your shoulders but not be so tight that they dig into you or strain your arms. When you try on cycling tights standing up, they should be slightly loose in the bum or on the shoulders so when you crouch forward in a cycling position they fit perfectly. The fabric of cycling tights should also be stretchy enough to allow for fluid pedal strokes and not restrict your movement. 

10 best cycling tights & bib tights

1. Hincapie Arenberg Bib Tights 

George Hincapie wearing Arenberg bib tight
George Hincapie wearing Arenberg bib tight

Cost: $160 

When we designed the Hincapie Arenberg tights, we were careful not to sacrifice flexibility for warmth. These cycling tights are designed with wind-resistant, fleece-backed Super Roubaix that provide great insulation and are still super stretchy. The tights incorporate wind and water-resistant panels and our Pro 2.0 Chamois that provides 4–6 hours of comfort. Reflective ankle zippers make changing in and out of snug tights super easy. You can choose from ¾-inch or full-length Arenberg tights. 

Shop the Women’s Arenburg Bib Tights

2. Assos Mille GT Ultraz

Cost: $299

The Assos Mille GT Ultraz are excellent tights for the best performance in harsh weather. The warm and stretchy RX heavy fabric works with water and wind-resistant panels to protect in rough climates while maintaining efficiency while pedaling. The bib is cut low in the front to accommodate an aerodynamic position. Spaces in stitching between the chamois and tights allow slight independent movement in the chamois so it doesn’t rub against your skin if the tights move. 

3. Endura Pro SL Bib Tights II

Cost: $194.99

Endura says these tights are “designed for the hardcore roadie.” These tights offer a lot for a reasonable cost. The Coldblack technology reflects infrared and UV rays to keep the sun from making you too toasty in your tights. The updated design offers a slimmer profile for improved comfort and fit. The chamois is super slim also, with dense cushioning only where it’s most effective. These tights have a front zipper to make bathroom breaks much simpler. 

4. Lusso Classic Bib Tights

Cost: $94 ($84 without chamois) 

The Lusso Classic tights are the cheapest on our list, but the low cost does not reflect the quality. The tights are made entirely from recycled fabrics. The super soft Roubaix material isn’t wind or water-resistant, but it is breathable and dries quickly. The Lusso Classic’s updated design includes a higher percentage of nylon to cut the bulk but retain warmth, and it’s replaced the fleece bib with mesh for greater breathability. These are one of the best options for cycling tights for less than $100. 

5. Castelli Sorpasso RoS

Cost: $239.99

The Castelli Sorpasso tights enable you to cycle for hours in cold weather comfortably and at peak performance. These are tights for those who don’t want cold weather to stop them from achieving new goals. They are a tight race fit and light but well-insulated. The Castelli Nanoflex 3G material has a water-repellent finish, and the tights have panels that shield them against wind and water. These tights are engineered to support your every move with a seamless chamois and anatomical patterns where the hip and knee bend when cycling. The moisture-wicking thermal layer is perfect for rain or shine (RoS). 

6. Rapha Pro Team II

Cost: $325

The Rapha Pro Team II tights are cold-weather race-ready with a deep U-shaped bib for aerodynamic riding, a quick-drying chamois, and a skin-tight but stretchy fit. Like many other quality bib tights, these have excellent wind and water-resistant panels and reflective calves. These tights come with a high price tag, but with Rapha’s free repairs, they’re sure to last a long time. 

7. Gore C3 Thermo

Cost: $120

The Gore C3 Thermo tights aren’t superior in technical features compared to other tights on our list, but they’re great at the fundamentals. They have super comfy bib straps and a seam-free bib with a barely-there feel. They provide double the protection over the knee and a wind-resistant cup in the groin area. These tights don’t have a very dense pad, so they’re better for recreational winter riding over racing or training hard. 

8. Rapha Cargo Winter Tights

Cost: $355

Rapha Cargo Winter tights are made for adventures–not just for one day of fun, but multiple. The quick-drying chamois is designed to last for days rather than hours. The purpose behind these cargo tights is “take more, ride more.” They have 4 roomy pockets–two on the sides of the legs and two on the lower back. The left pockets are water-resistant, and the right pockets are mesh. These are the perfect tights for long rides off the beaten path. 

9. Pearl Izumi Elite AmFIB 

Cost: $200

The Pearl Izumi Elite AmFIB is another great pair of tights for long-distance winter rides. They have little pockets to stash extra fuel, and they’re lined with thermal fleece on the inside and have a softshell that provides wind and water resistance. These tights are super warm but a little restrictive, and the company recommends sizing up. You can purchase them with or without the Elite 3D chamois insert. 

10. Santini Adapt Polartec Thermal Tights

Cost: $232

The Santini Adapt Polartec tights are made in Italy and are truly one-of-a-kind. They’re constructed from a combination of natural merino wool and synthetic fibers. The merino wool makes them incredibly breathable and super soft. This natural fiber makes these tights great at wicking moisture and preventing odor. Because merino wool is good at insulation and keeping the body cool, these thighs are a good choice in multiple seasons. 

Cycling tights aren’t the only essential item in your winter cycling kit. Choose from 9 of the best winter cycling jackets to keep your upper half warm and winterproof. And when spring brings warmer temperatures, it will be time to find the best size, fit, and style for bike shorts and think about how to wear your bike shorts

If you have quality cycling tights and bike shorts with a great chamois and continue to feel uncomfortable when cycling, the saddle, not your padding, might be the problem. Learn how to measure your sit bone width for bike saddle size and choose from 10 of the best road bike saddles.

 

You might also like:

More Gear Tips

cyclist putting on base layer

How to Buy a Cycling Base Layer: Size, Fit, & Style Guide

Gear Tips

A cycling base layer is the inconspicuous hero of an enjoyable ride. We'll dive into hot and cold weather base layers, what to look for, how to wear them, and our top picks for whatever the weather throws at you.

Read More

What is Mips & How Does It Work? (The Ultimate Cyclist Guide)

Gear Tips

Mips and its round yellow logo have become an icon of cycling helmet safety. In this guide, we'll explore what Mips is, how it works, and if you really need a bike helmet with Mips.

Read More

cyclist putting on bike socks

Do You Really Need Bike Socks? (A Cyclist Guide)

Gear Tips, Lifestyle

It may seem silly for cyclists to make a big deal out of a good pair of bike socks, but we’ve learned from experience. Slipping, sweaty, or lumpy socks can keep you from cycling your best and enjoying the ride. So, here are all the details about cycling socks you never knew you needed.

Read More