Now that winter is starting to bite here in the northern hemisphere, adequate insulation is a must if riders are to avoid both the obvious and immediate discomfort of feeling cold and the longer term prospect of joint problems - particularly in the legs.
For our lower limbs there are tights, longs, bibs, 3/4s, knickers - numerous options, various nomenclatures and a bewildering choice of brands. So here to help you sort the wheat from the chaff - or simply the chafing - is a guide to what features to look for and some specific recommendations for kit that has impressed our testers.
There's plenty of detail below but amongst the men's kit, Altura's Reflex bibs scored particularly well thanks to a combination of superb fit, intelligent seam positioning and a highly breathable bib section. Australian firm 2XU's 3/4 Thermal bibs are better suited to milder winter conditions, but they also got the double thumbs-up on account of their moisture management properties and excellent detailing.
Women's kit continues to grow in terms of choice and quality and our tester, Farah, got on best with the Assos Lady Knicker T RX and the more affordable Etxeondo lady's Sonel Knicker.
What to look for
|Fabric:||Most longs are either Lycra (or similar), which is suitable for mild spring/autumn days and cooler summer evenings, or roubaix, which is thicker and warmer with a fleecy inner face.
|Women's Fit:||Women's tights and shorts should have a woman-specific chamois don't settle for a man's one. A front waist panel is more comfortable than a normal drawcord or elasticated top.
|Bib:||A mesh is the most breathable option but some manufacturers use a denser fabric to provide extra insulation over your kidneys or even for your entire back.
|Straps:||Wide straps distribute the load and help minimise pressure on your shoulders.
|Seat Pad:||This needs to be protective, comfortable and breathable, ideally without taking up much space. Pay more and you'll get contoured pads with multiple-densities, increased elasticity and lower bulk.Seams:Flat-lock seams cause the minimum irritation and are especially valuable in the legs. Any ridge behind your knee can start to chafe during a long stint in the saddle, especially if it goes over one of the two prominent tendons.
|Leg Grippers:||Effective grippers stop the leg hems from riding up as you pedal, so they need to be tight enough and must stay-put when you sweat. We find silicone rubber the most comfortable option, and it's durable too.
WOMEN'S WINTER LEGWEAR
Sugoi Lady's Lucky Knicker | £40
If you're after some low-key cycling tights, these do the trick nicely. With their bell-bottoms and slim chamois they could pass as gym tights, so you're not obliged to carry the 'I'm a cyclist' banner while wearing them. The downside is the open bottoms let cold air in while at speed, making them function more like normal cycling shorts, so they're not designed for high speeds or long distances. They feature a discreet key/money mesh pocket on the right hip, and the reflective logos are great for commuting.
Etxeondo Lady's Sonel Knicker | £59.99
Etxeondo is a Basque company which has done nothing other than design top-level cycling clothes since 1977, and it shows. These knickers combine style and innovation with high-tech performance. A windproof material protects your thighs while the fleece interior will keep you warm without causing overheating on those milder days. The thin chamois gives a surprising level of cushioning, and discreetly keeps you comfortable even on longer rides.
Assos Lady Knicker T RX | £135.99
Designed for temperatures from 10-18°C, the fleece Assos RX fabric gives these bibs a really soft feeling against your skin. The padding is nothing short of perfect - not too bulky and not too thin, keeping you comfortable on more epic rides as well as allowing you to potter comfortably around the local supermarket without looking like you've got a nappy on. The adjustable monobib construction initially feels quite tight around the neck, but you quickly get used to it, and otherwise it's an excellent fit. The coarse mesh back does its job well, and the chunky construction is robust.
Revolution Glide 3/4 Women's Padded Longs | £34.95
These tights feature Ergomax fabric which is warm and soft to the touch yet quick to wick moisture away from your skin when working hard. The cut is well thought out, resulting in no bunching around the back of the knee.
Adidas Response Women's 3/4 | £49.99
Anatomically cut, these three-quarter tights seem to lack any wow-factor. Although well placed when on the bike, the chamois sticks out at the front in daily use. The waist panel is comfortable, and the nylon-elastane material combination is better suited to milder winter days.
MEN'S WINTER LEGWEAR
Gore Bike Wear Xenon Raw bibs 3/4 | £109.99
The Xenons are made from a Lycra-weight material with an abrasion-resistant inside leg/seat area.
The bib uses only a small mesh panel so in use it's not as breathable as some but the straps are wide enough to spread the load comfortably. The multi-panel construction makes for a superb anatomic shape and all the seams are flat and well positioned. Gel foam sections in the excellent multi-thickness, highly elastic pad prevent long-ride numbness while reflective trim adds to your visibility. Order with care though: our size large was by far the smallest on test.
DHB Earnley 3/4 bib tights | £27.99
The Earnleys are similar to the Merstons in cut and features, but they're made from Lineltex which is a stretchy Lycra-weight material so they're suitable for milder conditions.
The crucial seams are flat-stitched for minimal nuisance as you move while the mesh back panels are highly breathable to prevent the atmosphere getting clammy. We got on really well with the seat pad - it's plenty comfy enough and does a fantastic job of drawing sweat away from your body. Pay much more and you could get marginally better performance, but in terms of value for money, nothing comes close.
Altura Reflex bibs 3/4 | £54.99
The Reflex's super roubaix panels are cut to give an outstanding anatomic fit, and the seams are cunningly positioned well away from the back of the knee so there's no chance of any irritation as you pedal.
Double-stitching adds to the durability while silicone rubber leg grippers do an excellent job. The mesh bib section is highly breathable, as is the contoured seat pad that adds plenty of comfort, if a little excess bulk. Although there's lots of reflective trim, it's all on the side panels - we'd prefer more front and rear. That aside, brilliant.
2XU 3/4 Thermal bibs | £85
Australian brand 2XU gets everything pretty much spot on with these three-quarters.
They're made from a polyamide/ elastane fabric (similar to Lycra) so they're autumn/spring-weight, with the panels flat-stitched together for maximum comfort. The mesh bib section and silicone leg grippers are bang on and you get both plush cushioning and excellent moisture management from the multiple-density seat pad. The white logos aren't reflective but they're large enough to show up well at night. You're supposed to hand wash these, but life's too short... we used the machine without any worries.
DHB Merston 3/4 bibs | £32.99
The Merstons' fleece-backed Thermo-Stretch fabric is double-thickness over your knees and that extra warmth is really welcome on frosty mornings.
The bib section uses the same material and is generously cut so it functions almost as an insulating base layer top. A Coolmax-lined antibacterial seat pad provides effective sweat-control while the zipped fly, silicone leg grippers and reflective logos are real quality touches. Seams behind the knees can irk on long rides but, hey, you can get four pairs for the price of the equivalent Raphas! DHB's lightweight Earnley three-quarters are just as good and even cheaper at £27.99.