How To Choose the Right Cycling Tights

Pick the right type, materials and features to cover your legs and keep riding when the weather shifts.

When the winter weather arrives, bringing with it cold rain, wind, snow, and all that messy road slop, it’s important to protect and warm your knees and legs. Limiting leg exposure will not only make you more comfortable, it will keep you moving more efficiently and prevent any unnecessary injury. While jackets effectively cover your core, you’ll need some snug leg coverings to best serve your lower half—this is where tights, bibs, and form-fitting pants become a critical factor if you want to keep riding as temperatures drop. Here’s how to find the right pair for you.


While bib shorts end above your knee, winter riding tights offer a few options when it comes to finding the right cut.


Bib tights—long a favorite of road cyclists and some mountain bikers—have straps that come up and over your shoulders to keep them in place as you bend over your handlebars. They’re great for warmth by reducing gaps that expose your skin, but they’re more challenging to layer with warm-weather gear. (If you want to take your bibs off, you’ll have to get just about naked.) Whether you opt for bibs or not, cycling tights feature a higher cut to keep you warm: Bibs will reach above your belly button before the straps start, while bib-less tights still ride higher than they would for running tights


Knickers are cut longer than bib shorts and extend past the knee down to your shin. These are warmer than bib shorts, and provide protection for your knees, while still letting your legs cool off in their lower uncovered areas. This three-quarter length is ideal for shoulder-season rides, especially early spring and late fall, when it’s cold but not frigid.

Full-Length Tights

These extend all the way down your ankles, with some versions having under-foot loops to keep them in place within your shoes. Go full-length for the warmest option for cold-weather riding and the most protection. 

Winter Riding Pants

Often a favorite of commuters and mountain bikers who do not want the full “cyclist” look, these pants pull over your riding shorts and look like active pants or sweatpants. Look for insulating fabrics and materials that offer protection from the wind and rain. 


Spandex is the base for most cycling shorts, but winter riding tights offer a few more options, including thicker, warmer spandex to retain heat, as well as compression materials to keep your muscles working well in colder temps. Beyond that, tights cover thermal needs with brushed insulating linings like Roubaix or even fleece. Many even add windproofing and waterproofing fabric layers—an addition that’s much more common with winter cycling pants often lined with synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester fleece. 

Waterproofing and windproofing

Many tights incorporate waterproof and windproof fabrics like Gore-Tex and Gore WindStopper. Keeping the cold air off of your legs, especially the front of your legs, is crucial for riding comfort. While these fabrics, particularly waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex, limit some breathability, it’s a sacrifice well worth making in nasty riding conditions. If you love riding in the slop, make waterproofing a point—staying dry means staying warm and keeping the miles going. 

Not braving the worst conditions? Balance water- and windproof needs with breathability by looking for tights that have panels of windproof fabric, especially in areas likely to hit the wind like the front of the knee, ankle, and the top of your quad.

Water-Resistant Coatings

Tights and pants that offer a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating across the entire garment (or sections of it) repel water without restricting your movement. Technical fabrics treated with DWR alone may not be entirely waterproof (like the options above), and instead will simply offer protection from light rain and splashes from the road—still a great option, but the protection can wear out over time, requiring retreatment to extend their weather-shedding ability.


Many tights will add an insulating fabric layer, often a thick material with a fuzzy, fleece-like interior. For maximum warmth, look for tights made entirely out of this fabric. For days that aren’t so cold, opt for a balance of warmth, movement and breathability by getting tights with sections of insulating material, so that you don’t overheat. 

Other Key Features To Look For

You’ll have a few options to choose from with your cold-weather riding gear. 

Chamois Pads

Some cycling tights come with a built-in chamois pad to protect your undercarriage. Bibs with chamois are great for the rider who wants warmth and comfort in one piece (most popular with road riders). Commuters and mountain bikers often like unpadded tights as they work better with these disciplines’ layering systems and more casual aesthetics. 


Look for zippers at the ankles, which make it much easier to get into (and out of) tights and pants, especially when used as a layering piece. 


Staying seen is crucial for staying safe, especially when riding in dark, rainy or snowy conditions. Look for warm weather gear with reflectivity—often over the entirety of the tights, along piping, or in small sections, especially in high-movement areas like ankles.


Many brands incorporate pockets with zippered and elastic closures into their riding tights and pants. Don’t overlook this simple extra if you like keeping certain necessities (phone, snacks, etc.) within reach.


Like most cycling gear, the best fit is one that’s tight to your body without limiting your range of motion or being generally uncomfortable. You don’t want your tights so loose they move out of place, but you also need full flexion in your knee. Look for gender-specific tights; the structure of a built-in chamois will be cut differently as will sections of the body material designed to fit tightly in the hips and waist. 

Ask Yourself These Final Questions

And then get and ride. Don’t be afraid of the cold. When you have the right gear, it's riding weather year-round.

  • How cold of conditions am I willing to ride in?

Get pants for the weather in which you’ll be riding; overdoing it will mean overheating.

  • Do I need to stay dry? 

If you only ride in dry conditions, save money and skip out on the waterproofing.

  • How will I use this layer?

Decide whether you want your tights to function as a piece that you layer others over, or if it needs to be a standalone piece of gear. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.