When the temperatures drop, you’ve got three main options for keeping your lower body warm: thermal tights over your regular bib shorts, thermal tights with a chamois, or thermal leg warmers with bib shorts.
While many riders prefer the fit, performance and versatility of bib shorts with leg warmers, the thin layer of Lycra in your normal shorts is a weak link in your winter armor. Enter the thermal bib short.
But simply being warm isn’t enough. Overly thick material may feel fine in the store or when standing outside, but cycling shorts need a good cut, compression and stretchy rebound to feel good when your legs are turning over thousands of rotations. Poor winter bibs — like poor tights — can sag away from your body, causing chafing and other discomfort. A well-cut performance material that wicks and conforms to your body and its movements is essential. Likewise, a quality chamois and proper chamois placement are vital.
We have tested a dozen or more thermal bib shorts over the past two winters, and here are our five favorites:
|Thermal bib shorts||Price||Weight||Warmth||Fit||Chamois||Value||Overall score|
|Endura Thermolite||$115 / £69||249g||4||3.5||3||4.5||4|
|Castelli Nano Flex||$129 / £TBC||199g||4||4||4||4||4|
|Alé Ponente Winter||$160 / £95||185g||4||5||4.5||5||5|
|Rapha Pro Team Thermal||$290 / £190||217g||4.5||4.5||4||3.5||4|
|Assos T.tiburu S7||$279 / £175||216g||5||4.5||5||4||4.5|
All bibs shown here are on a 6ft rider in size L, except Endura, which fits roughly the same in size M. Note that a heavier weight doesn't necessarily mean thicker or warmer bibs. The Endura bibs, for example, have heavy elastic and silicone leg grippers, while the Alé bibs have lighter grippers and bib straps
Alé Ponente Winter
- Price: £95 / $160 / AU$TBC
Never heard of Alé? You may know this product better than you think. Based in Verona, Italy, the company APG has been producing high-end stock and custom product for brands like Giordana, Vermarc, Craft and many more for three decades. Alé is APG’s house brand. Think Giant Bicycles, which produces bikes for other top-end brands and its own, but for clothing.
In the US, Alé is selling consumer direct, cutting out some cost. In the UK, it’s sold online and in stores. Bottom line: You’re getting top quality at a great price.
We love these bibs because they feel just like standard high-end bibs, but warmer. After 30 years of constructing pro-team and standard riding gear for so many brands, APG staffers are experts in their craft. The soft, anatomic chamois is perfectly cut and placed. The Super Roubaix body fabric wicks and conforms snugly to the body while riding. And the wide but thin compression leg bands are a high-end touch, where most brands just go with a heavy piece of elastic with silicone grippers.
Assos T.tiburu S7
- Price: £175 / $279 / AU$TBC
Yes, it’s expensive. But for very cold days, the S7 winter bib is in a class of its own, thanks to warm but high-performing waffled fabric, immaculate pad placement, a windblock crotch panel and well-thought-out cuts — and that's why it scores a full five marks. The waffle fabric offers great warmth thanks to the trapped little pockets of air (loft is a good thing for winter clothing — think puffy jackets).
We’ve tried a number of bib tights with wind- or thick waterproof material on the entire front portions and these can be warm on very cold days, but they don’t move well. Even when just pulling them on, bib tights with wind-treated leg panels are stiff and often seem to test the seams. The Tiburu bibs move like great summer shorts, but with a warm thermal fabric throughout, and just enough windblock in that critical area.
This new winter bib uses the same partially free-floating chamois construction as S7. Our only gripe here is the straps are more taut than others and the abrupt transition from shorts to straps is noticeable at the stomach.
Endura Thermolite Winter
- Price: £69 / $115 / AU$TBC
If anyone knows about riding in lousy weather, it’s the Scottish. And with the Thermolite Winter bib, Scottish clothing brand Endura offers tremendous value. The brushed thermal fabric is coated externally with a Repel Teflon for a little water repellency.
Although the chamois isn’t quite as sculpted as the others here (note how the chamois folds flat when hanging, compared to our other favorites in the last photo in the gallery), it is well executed for the price, with gel inserts, an antibacterial finish and, most importantly, a comfortable feel and appropriate placement.
Endura sizing runs big, about a full size larger than everything else in this test, so size down accordingly.
Castelli Nano Flex
- Price: £TBC / $129 / AU$TBC
Castelli Nano Flex arm and leg warmers have been a regular part of our wardrobe for years because they are warm, compressive and water repellent. Note: They are repellent, not resistant and certainly not waterproof. If you are in a downpour you’re still going to get wet, but if you’re getting sprayed by a passing car the water will just bead up and roll off. These bibs are made similarly.
As with all Castelli products, these bibs fit snugly. The KISS3 chamois is decent quality and perfectly adequate for longer winter rides, but it’s not the company’s top end. What you’re getting here is warmth, water repellency, wicking and a compressive fit.
Rapha Pro Team Thermal
- Price: £190 / $290 / AU$TBC
Many of Rapha’s early bib shorts didn’t impress us, as the material wasn’t nearly compressive enough. The Pro Team line has solved this with high performance fabrics and cuts. Rapha’s strong suit has always been aesthetics and now working with pro teams and experienced factories has contributed to a solid product for riders who put in big miles.
The Pro Team Thermal has far and away the thickest chamois pad of the bunch, sewn in two pieces down the center. But the half-moon inserts for sit-bone support are well placed, and the end result is all-day comfort. One tester, Robin Wilmott, selected these bibs for a 130-mile rainy trek from London to Bristol (our two UK headquarters). His legs were shattered at the end of the day, but his backside was still plenty comfortable.
Also worth considering…
Four other thermal shorts you should also consider, based on the positive feedback of our testers: