Keeping your core and extremities warm in deep winter are essential, but don't ever ignore your legs! They are, after all, the pistons that will keep you moving forward through the short dark days of winter so keeping them protected from the elements, warm, cosy and comfortable, is vitally important.
A decent pair of winter tights will provide both comfort and protection, so it is therefore no huge surprise that the fabrics and the pad insert used by the manufacturer are going to have the biggest impact on the price you pay. This is why prices for winter bibs can range from £30 to £300 - the lower end of the price spectrum will use off the shelf fabrics and pad, whilst those heftier price tags will reflect a combination of far higher spec components - often developed and researched by the respective manufacturers themselves or in tandem with their suppliers.
Some winter bibs do away with pads altogether and are designed to be worn over a pair of padded shorts and in these cases, it is the fabrics and the comfort of the construction that come to the fore. Winter bibs, whether padded or not, will inevitably incorporate a protective wind proof and water resistant fabric and/or thermal protection via the likes of Super Roubaix or Thermoroubaix. If you anticipate riding in more extreme, colder conditions then consider a pair that have added protection on the frontal panels, in the areas of your legs vulnerable to wind chill - your knees and thighs especially.
Ensuring bib tights are comfortable during the rhythmic motion of pedalling on those cold winter training rides is one of the main concerns dictating how manufacturers approach the design of their respective garments. The majority of bib tights on the market are panel construction, which ensure that that the pad sits in the optimum position and the cut of the bibs as a whole are more ergonomic and reflect the differing shape of the male and female body. The area around the crotch and knees have to be particularly clear of any constriction or rubbing - factor in wet conditions and a good, comfortable fit is tantamount to a happier ride experience!
As with all bibs, the width and cut of the straps that run over your shoulder are important. Too thin or tight and they can cut into your body, especially in a more extended riding position, so a wide seamless shoulder strap is imperative. Some manufacturers, especially with the higher end products, will incorporate specific fabrics to provide ventilation both in the straps and where the bibs rise up against your torso - the right balance of ventilation, softness and elasticity is what you want to look out for.
The ankle area is one area where bib tights can differ. Some will incorporate stirrups or silicon hems (or sometimes both) to ensure the bibs do not ride up and others will come with zips to make getting them on and off that little bit less troublesome.
The devil can often be in the detail and as you are more likely to be wearing your winter bibs in poor light conditions, then ensure that good reflective details or logos are incorporated on the front, side and back of the tights. A moving reflective strip, like those on overshoes, are far more likely to catch the eye of approaching motorists.
Below are some of the current offerings on the market, to suit all wallets and tastes, but if you have a pair of winter tights that have been keeping you warm and comfortable through the winter, then let other members know!
Assos LL. Bonka s5 Bib Tights
Assos are often cited as the go-to brand for the best bibs and their popular and eccentrically named LL.Bonka S5 bib tights - as modelled here by Assos Man - are a further reminder why. OK, so the price tag may be a little on the heavy side - £270 for the padded version or £242 for the non-pad insert version - but those of you who have had the joy of wearing a pair of bibs from the Swiss manufacturer - their latest s7 range are getting close to perfection - will appreciate that Assos provide unrivalled rider comfort and the construction is second to none. These tights are designed for winter riding, but not extreme cold - for that you'll need to fork out considerably more for the LL.Fugu tights that are designed to be worn in temperatures between -6°C to 6°C, but in temperatures from when the mercury is dead on zero, up to about 8°C they provide excellent warmth and the quality and comfort are a given.
Assos garments, like the outfit systems offered by other manufacturers like Craft and Gore, are designed to work together, complementing one another and working in tandem. The distinctive branding of Assos, however, is not for all, so it's reassuring that the Bonka tights are reassuringly black with just a discreet Assos logo beneath the left knee and some understated reflective strips.
The Bonka tights features two relatively new Assos fabrics: firstly, strategically placed panels of the windproof, highly water repellent stratagonUltra fabric on the knees, thighs and groin area for windchill protection in your most vulnerable areas and also the (roubaix) RX_Plus for increased body heat retention, which Assos claims is even more hard wearing than its RX fabric.
For the price tag you would expect these bibs to pack a punch and they certainly do. The pad insert is the FI.Mille_S5 Chamois - a robust, ergonomically designed to provide optimum rider comfort for longer rides. It's the attention to details that is so apparent with the Bonka tights - the Roubaix fabric behind the knees is a thinner version of the material - same warmth but the reduction in bulk eliminates creasing when your knees are bent. The design of the straps errs from the norm, with a more central position on the torso, providing good weight displacement over the shoulders and eradicating the danger of some nasty chaffing on your nipples. The 18cm zip, which sits above the chest, is long enough to ensure you don't need to be a circus contortionist to negotiate a toilet break.
Venting on the back of the bibs provides good ventilation, especially when you are going to be layered up in particularly cold conditions and finally, the addition of foot stirrups ensure the Bonka bibs don't ride up during the pedal stroke. High end bib tights, with a price to match, but bear in mind that the quality Assos construction should ensure that these bibs see you through a fair few winters.
Gore Bike Wear Power 2.0 Thermo Lady bib tights
These stylish, high performance bibs are available for both sexes, but the women's version bears all the hallmarks of Gore's reputation of making garments that are designed by people who really appreciate the needs and requirements of road cyclists. And it's not only the (patented) two-zip system that allows for a far less complicated call of nature - believe me ladies, you no longer have to have the flexibility of a circus contortionist when cramped in the confines of a tearoom toilet cubicle! The panel female specific construction of the bibs is flattering and the 'Power Lady' insert pad provides excellent comfort on long rides. The ventilated front panel of the bibs goes over the chest area and there is a neat clip to connect the X-shape design that is easily unfastened, even whilst wearing thick winter gloves - a small, but important detail. And it is attention to detail that abounds in these bibs - the mesh ventilation on the back, the silicon gripper on the hems, the highly reflective strips on the thigh, lower leg and ankle. Even the stitching over the chest area is beautifully rendered in different colours - all the more impressive when you bear in mind that this detail will be hidden by your outer layers! The quality is apparent throughout and it's difficult to fault the design or the construction of these tights. On the road they perform admirably - the Medium size on my Size 10 frame was comfortable - the well crafted panel construction ensuring that there is no rubbing or gathering of material. Gore suggest wearing these over your favourite padded shorts or tights, but I found that these offered more than enough thermal protection in temperatures around the 4°-5°C mark. (You'd also lose the benefit of that lifesaving two zip system if you wore anything underneath too!). It is worth noting that the Power 2.0 Thermo tights do not incorporate Gore's ubiquitous Windstopper fabric, but the thermal protection provided was more than adequate. If the thermometer reading is nearer zero, then I would certainly advise taking their advice and perhaps wearing another garment beneath, but otherwise these are a beautifully constructed, well thought out product that performs brilliantly - a worthy edition to the road cyclist's winter wardrobe.
With a RRP of £1099.99, the Gore's Power 2.0 Thermo Lady bib tights come in only a black version in Sizes XS to XXL - you can buy these online from Wiggle.
The men's Power 2.0 Thermo+ bibs usually retail a little higher at £99.99 and you can buy these online from Wiggle . Also visit the Gore website for more information on their bib tights and their entire range of cycling apparel.
dhb Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tights
Thankfully Wiggles's own brand, dhb, manufacture their stylish and wonderfully warm Vaeon bib tights in both a male and female version to ensure that neither sex can claim the bragging rights when riding out in these competitively priced bibs on a cold winter morn. The warmth is down to the 235g Thermoroubaix lycra combined with the windproof 'Windslam' fabric on the front panels. Together they provide a solid barrier against wind chill and dhb claim the Vaeon Zero will perform in temperatures fluctuating between -2 °c to 8 °C. Having worn these just above freezing, in the wet too, it is hard to dispute that claim. And it's not just thermal protection these tights provide: the CyTech chamois pad is robust and provides that perfect balance of comfort and support and the panelling and construction ensure they feel comfortable on the bike and look sleek too! There are also small design additions that round off these bibs - foot straps, reflective logo and band on the rear and mesh panels on the wide straps and the back ensure good breathability. The front zip makes those all important 'comfort stops' a little easier and the women's version has a higher front panel that provides further support and protection around the chest. It's also worth noting that these bibs have a good water resistance, thanks to the addition of Teflon in the fabric, and even when riding in the wet (which has usually been the case of late!) the warmth and protection remained undiminished. And all of this for a tad over £70! You'll be hard pressed to find anything as good as these under £100 and even the higher end products will be casting a worried look over their shoulder at this mid price bracket upstart!
The dhb Vaeon Zero Bib Tights come in both Female (Size 8-16) and Male (XS-XXL) versions, both in black only.
Craft PB Storm Bib Tights
Swedish manufacturer Craft have formed an unlikely partnership with UCI Pro team, Orica GreenEdge, for the 2014 season, and the Australian squad unveiled their new kit in some of the early season openers on their home turf. No need, of course, for thermal protection in the sticky heat of the Tour Down Under, which leaves northern hemisphere road cyclists free to reap the benefits of some Scandinavian expertise on kitting yourself out correctly for the cold! These tights have a substantial feel to them, which suggests they are going to provide a good level of warmth and they certainly do - the very soft fleece lining combining brilliantly with the outer Vent-X-Airwind windproof fabric to provide solid protection, even in the wet. There is a cosiness to these tights which I warmed to immediately, but when riding at a higher tempo I found they provided good heat regulation, no doubt due to the slightly thinner rear panel and the good breathability and wicking properties of the Vent-X-Air fabric. The straps are a little thin and their seams are not ideal, but this minor flaw is made up for in the robust feel of these tights, good reflective strips on the thighs and calf and sturdy zips on the ankle to aid pulling them on and off. The expansive PB pad, incorporating three different density foams, is basic but provides a decent level of comfort. It is securely stitched into place, which does create a bit of gathering and whilst this is not uncomfortable, it doesn't provide the cleanest lines around the crotch area. But is the slightly bulky, more forgiving character a major concern when their overall performance is very sound and the fabric is effective and comfortable? Personally, I can live with a few creases here and there. Road biking or off road, these are a well constructed, versatile pair of bib tights that have the look and feel that suggests they will see you through a fair few winters.
Craft PB Storm Bibs form part of their Performance Bike range, which includes jackets, jerseys and gilets, and are available online with a RRP of £99.00. Visit craft.se and craftsportswear.co.uk for more information on their full range of cycling apparel.
Rapha Classic Winter Tights
Luxuriant. That's the single word to describe these winter bib tights from the upmarket label. Wearing these on a cold February ride is akin to wrapping yourself in an eiderdown quilt and nestling down in front of a crackling fire, a mug of cocoa cupped in your hands, whilst listening to the Best of Perry Como. OK, so Perry Como may not be the brand association that Rapha had intended, nor asked for, but rather apt seeing that the American crooner enjoyed singing about his 'Magic Moments' as these bibs deliver exactly that in the coldest of conditions. Designed to be worn over a pair of padded shorts, these are the latest manifestation of Rapha's Classic winter tights - a few tweaks have been made here and there for A/W 2013/14 to ensure they provide a wonderfully exquisite fit. They are pretty much faultless both inside and out - the softest of fleece linings juxtaposed with a silky Thermoroubaix exterior. OK, these are pricey - at £170 they are at the more expensive end of the scale but, as is usually the case with Rapha (and unlike a lot of the Rapha wannabes out there) these are designed unequivocally for the road cyclist who relishes the approach of darkening clouds. The detailing, the construction and the finishing are all top drawer: yes, they look and feel phenomenal, but they also perform brilliantly too - on milder winter days they really are too warm in fact. With these beauties in your winter wardrobe, you will actually be willing the mercury to fall.
Rapha's Classic Bib Tights are available exclusively online from rapha.cc, and come in two versions, both black, but with a choice of either white or chartreuse detailing. They retail at £170, but for £30 more Rapha also have their Deep Winter tights for those who prefer their cycling to be a little more extreme!
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