The mild autumn we enjoyed in the UK this year allowed us to wear our summer kit well into September and October. Now that we are heading towards winter a little more protection is required, both from the cold and wet.
There was a time when cyclists would automatically reach for a pair of bib tights at the first sign of winter, but advances in fabrics in recent years have resulted in many manufacturers producing bib shorts that offer protection from inclement weather.
Water resistant fabrics, which allow for a decent degree of breathability, first came to the fore with rain jerseys, like the Castelli Gabba. Likewise, thermal fabrics like Roubaix provide excellent warmth and there is an increasing number of fabric options for reducing wind chill.
Protective, lightweight fabrics that do not restrict movement are particularly beneficial when used in the leg area. There might be more substantial, more robust fabrics available, but you don’t necessarily want them on your legs, where unrestricted movement is essential. You want to keep those pistons running smoothly and efficiently, irrespective of the weather conditions!
The benefit of shorts over tights is that they are a more versatile garment. You can wear them on their own on milder days, but pair them with water or wind resistant leg or knee warmers on colder days. A pair of thermal shorts, worn with a pair of complimentary leg warmers can provide comfort and protection in temperatures just above freezing. You may not want to dispense with your bib tights just yet, but the buzzword in recent years has been versatility and the bib short/leg warmer combo provides just that!
Below are a selection of bib shorts for the colder months. These all incorporate highly technical fabrics, which have been produced after extensive R&D, so it’s no great surprise to learn that thermal or water resistant bib shorts do come with a slightly heftier price tag. That shouldn’t be a barrier to considering purchasing a pair, as the versatility they offer means that you will be wearing them again and again, over several months of the year.
Sportful Fiandre No-Rain Bib Short
The problem with reviewing rainproof bib shorts is that you need rain, but the last few weeks have been unseasonably dry and mild – my faithful bib knickers, which usually herald the onset of autumn, have enjoyed only one outing in the last couple of months!
So when the weatherman forecast ambient temperature at around 6 °C, with a fresh breeze and showers, I seized the opportunity to finally put Sportful’s new Fiandre NoRain Bib Shorts through their paces.
Sportful are based in the Veneto region of Italy, but their Fiandre range - Fiandre is Italian for Flanders – is a clue to the kind of challenging riding (and weather) these shorts have been designed for!
The short itself has a long, fleece lined leg, with a wide and supple elasticated band, which provides an effective but soft grip on the lower thigh. The straps are wide and extend up from a high mesh back panel, making for a secure but comfortable fit. The Bodyfit Pro pad insert is excellent – especially if you like them thick. At first it gave me the impression that I had raised my saddle by about 5mm. It’s a personal thing, but I found it to also be very comfortable and added to the growing feeling that I was wearing a well-constructed garment.
Out on the road, the rain and long rivulets caused by the erratic showers did little to dampen the satisfaction that comes with riding in what was essentially crap weather. It did little to dampen the upper legs either, even though the exposed shins were sodden and screaming after a little more than an hour. Looking down at my thighs, I only saw small beads of water most of the time.
Once off the bike, there was a small squelch when sitting down to take off all the wet kit but none of the moisture had soaked through to the pad and my upper thighs were completely dry. The only part of my legs that felt a bit clammy was near the hem.
These shorts are not supposed to totally water repellent and nor would they be if the ride was long and wet enough. Furthermore, we all know that the cold will get to you sooner or later. What these shorts do, however, is punch way above their weight in terms of keeping you dry and warm. I’ve been wearing these bibs in some awful conditions recently and, from my experiences, Sportful have pulled one out of the bag with these shorts.
Pros - Comfortable, good fit, warm, keep you dry, value for money
Cons - Eventually you’ll succumb to the elements
Specialized SL Elite Water Resistant Bib Shorts
Specialized make some phenomenal bikes, but surprisingly their clothing range is not as common as some brands, which is even more surprising given that their garments are highly technical and also very competitive on price.
Their SL Elite Water Resistant (WR) Bib Short are no exception. The slinky feel of these shorts is an immediate indicator that these are going to offer a certain level of water repellence.
Whilst these are not the warmest of bib shorts, they do offer a decent level of protection from the wind, but definitely a bib short to consider for those cooler autumn days when there is likelihood of rain showers or water spray. Worn on a dry ride where the temperature was just shy of 10°C they provided a perfect level of warmth and protection. On a damp ride in slightly colder conditions they were great when riding at a decent tempo, but the chill wind on some of the descents penetrated.
These shorts, however, are made for those squally wintery conditions, when the sky is brooding and dark and you know that the likelihood of escaping the showers is about as likely as Froomy winning BBC SPOTY! And boy, do they work! In light showers the water just beads off and on one particular ride – 40 miles in the wet with substantial surface water throughout, they kept me dry in the groin area, though there was some damp blothching in place, but the pad remained remarkably dry, which was even more impressive as I was riding without a rear mudguard.
The secret of their success lies in the Platnio 230 WR fabric, which is a three-layer system, combing a water repellent outer fabric, a water resistant and breathable middle layer and a polyester based inner fabric which, Specialized claim, ‘facilitates the transfer of sweat to the outer surface’. It’s difficult to quantify how well a garment is ‘breathing’ in inclement conditions, though the fact that I never felt overheated or too cold when wearing these shorts suggests that the combination of fabrics do a fine job in regulating your temperature.
The pad insert is from Specialized Body Geometry SL Elite Padding range, which is their higher end inserts. It’s doesn’t feel particularly robust or substantial compared to some on the market, but it does afford a good level of comfort. All rides wearing these shorts have been in the three hour range, though Specialized claim the pad provide comfort and protection for more endurance based riding.
These are a comfortable pair of shorts – the straps are flat, soft and sit quite wide over the torso, which is similar to Assos bibs and, in my experience, add to the comfort. The straps are elasticated and stretchy and don’t pull on the shoulder, even when stretched out on the drops. The mesh backing also helps to ensure that your body does not overheat or feel constricted.
The overall construction is also high quality, including flatlock stitching to minimise the danger of chaffing and a sliver of stretchy lycra running down the side of each leg and around the buttocks (see image below), which enhances the anatomical fit. There is a discreet tab of reflective material on the leg, which ticks another box, though some would argue that it could be more substantial. The front of the shorts sit quite high, protecting the kidneys, but are easily pulled down if nature calls.
The grippers on the hem are a whopping 7cm, but I could have done with them being that little bit tighter around my lower thigh – they lack that compressive feel, which is very much the trend nowadays.
That rather subjective final comment shouldn’t detract from the fact that these are a superlative pair of bib shorts for wet, cooler conditions. I anticipate wearing these on cooler, wet summer days, through the autumn and spring and on milder winter days, paired with leg warmers. For the price, that’s potentially a great deal of wear for your money!
I tested the black version and though the Specialized logo runs around the right leg hem, it is discreet, so those who prefer to nail their colours to the mast may prefer the hi-viz green version, which will announce to all around you that you are wearing Spesh!
The SL Elite Water Resistant (WR) Bib Short retail at £100 and come in black or the eye-catching hi-viz green version. They are widely available to buy online or via Specialized stockists, though best to check in advance if they have them in stock. (MA)
Endura Thermolite Winter Bibshort
It's either a brave or a foolish cyclist who heads out on a lumpy 60 mile autumn ride in a brand new pair of bib shorts. However, as soon as I pulled on these Endura shorts they felt like a firm favourite in my ever expanding cycling wardrobe. The fit is snug, and absolutely true to the size guide. As 5' 6 ish cyclist, I found their leg length bang on, just above the knee with the padding feeling both supportive and comfortable without being too tight.
The straps on both the front and rear are higher than my summer bibs, which adds to the sense of warmth and cosiness (more on the straps later). Riding out, they feel like a quality short, and right on the money.
I've since ridden in these shorts in a variety of autumnal conditions, from light rain in 10°C - 12°C, to a chilly 4°C ride, when I paired them with a pair of leg warmers. The lightweight Thermolite fabric certainly does the job, with any light rain forming beads and running off the fabric. This keeps the worst of the weather out and helps you keep warm and snug once again. As the thermometer drops, the insulating fabric really helps keep out the cold, yet without restricting movement, making these shorts a real winner for unpredictable autumn rides.
If I have one gripe, then it's the height of that front panel. Suffice to say, you're best not taking on board too much liquid during a longer ride! Those emergency pit-stops turn you in to a temporary roadside contortionist!
I have to say I was a bit sceptical about the concept of autumn bib shorts and whether they are an innovation we don't really need? However these Endura winter bib shorts offer much more than just another excuse to buy more kit. They’ve prompted me to invest in a decent pair of leg warmers for those deep winter rides and on my Christmas list you'll find some knee warmers for those long awaited spring rides!
So how would I sum up these 3 season bibs? Versatile, Snuggly, Quality
dhb Aeron Rain Defence Bib Shorts
The important component of these bibs is a fabric called WindTex. dbh claim that WindTex is not only windproof, but also water resistant, allows breathability and maintains warmth. That is one big statement for any garment to live up to and had me wondering if a pair of bib shorts could really cover all those bases?
The feel of Windtex is very similar to the high-end water resistant garments I own. It is just that little bit thicker and more tightly woven, with a slippery feel to the fabric.
I do ride in the cold and bad weather and own one pair of full length bibs, but I rarely wear them. In the winter months I usually wear just a summer weight bib shorts and knee warmers, and even chose this combo when riding the Tour of Flanders in freezing April conditions. I keep meaning to get some ¾ length bibs but haven’t yet, but if the claimes of dhb stand up to scrutiny, maybe these shorts will fill that gap?
These bibs are a plain black short with white straps and the dhb logo on the legs and the back. They have a fairly standard length leg with comfortably wide grip tape sewn onto the ends. The white straps are a fairly standard 4cms wide and the perforated material tapers up from the small of your back in one strap splitting into two at shoulder height. They are sewn using a minimum of panels of the same material making fewer seams, with high quality stitching throughout.
The front material is cut reasonably high up your body, providing ample protection for your vulnerable area around the midriff. When standing the straps pull a bit in the middle of my back but the fit feels good once in a riding position. I am about as medium size as a medium size can be, 174cm / 73kg, and the medium size is spot on. The fit and feel in the legs and body of the bibs is slightly tighter than standard lycra bibs, but is not restrictive at all.
So all good, but the acid test is whether the it performs in the saddle. If I forget I am wearing an article of clothing then, for me at least, it has passed the test!
Ride comfort depends on the pad insert and these shorts incorporate a pad from Italian insert specialist, Cytech, who also supply higher end manufacturers like Assos and Rapha. This Comp HP insert is flatlock stitched, very soft against the skin and sits quite high in the front, which will help keep your groin that little bit warmer!
I’ve road tested these shorts in a variety of conditions. On dry rides, with the temperatures fluctuating around the 10°C-16°C mark, the shorts felt warmer than standard lycra but were not too warm or sweaty at any point. They excel on those damp, foggy autumnal days.
Finally a day arrived for which these shorts were born for. 5°C and rain! Did the shorts keep me dry? Yes, even in the pouring rain and importantly the pad insert also stayed dry. The shorts also kept me warm, though I was riding at a decent tempo, but the evidence suggests that they offer excellent thermal regulation to.
Overall a big thumbs up from me for the Aeron Rain Defence shorts. These will be my go to shorts over this winter and into the spring in any uncertain or cooler weather. And let’s face it, that’s most of the time!
Rapha Classic Thermal Bib Shorts
My first ever Rapha purchase was a pair of their Classic Bib Shorts. Six years on and they are still going strong - a perennial favourite that still fit and perform perfectly. God knows how many miles I have cycled in them, but we have shared many memorable days together and even now, despite the fact they are beginning to show their age, I still enjoy pulling them out of hibernation in early Spring and I know that we are heading into the cold of winter when I once again pack them away.
Fortunately, Rapha’s Classic Thermal Bib Shorts have allowed me to extend that love affair as we encountered the first significant chills of autumn. Paired with a pair of Windstopper leg warmers, the Super Roubaix Endurance fabric provides a level of warmth that will see off some of the chilliest weather you are likely to ride in. I’ve worn thee on morning rides in temperatures in the 3°C to 5°C range and they are perfect and a plus point is that they don’t feel quite as bulky as winter bib tights, though the fleecy inner lining makes them more substantial to the touch than the original Classic Bib Shorts.
The front of the bibs come up quite high around the midriff, providing some protection for the lower torso region that can be vulnerable to wind and water ingress if wearing a more aero cut jacket or jersey. The soft hem sits just above the knee, covering the whole of the thigh.
What I love about these shorts though is that the same Cytech pad has been used as in the original. It feels quite spongy in the hand and not overly complex to some you see on the market, but it delivers a high level of comfort. Ideal for those longer winter base rides, when you have to slowly grind out the miles.
A couple of usual Rapha flourishes in the reflective detailing and rear key pocket (the latter not something I have ever used in all honesty), but it is the overall quality of the construction that shines through. This is born out in the fit and cut of the shorts – the medium on my 30” waist/31” inside leg is perfect – no unsightly sagging or bunching.
These are not a budget option, but given the quality and comfort and the fact that I foresee wearing these on both cooler autumn winter days and all but the very coldest winter days, then you are going to get a lot of wear out of these shorts. Only time will tell, but if they have the longevity of their older sibling then these will see you through a few winters.
Rapha’s Classic Thermal Bib Shorts come with a price tag of £170. Available only in black, they are available to purchase exclusively via rapha.cc
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