There comes a point when the temperature drops but you still want to ride. ‘Tis the season then to don long tights or knickers to ward off the chill and extend the cycling season. Read on to learn how to choose the best cycling tights so you can ride all year.
Types: Full leg length tights are the optimal choice for true cold weather or wet riding. During shoulder seasons like spring or fall, knickers, which are cut just past the knee, are great as they provide more protection than shorts, but will not retain heat like full-length tights. Tights without a chamois are also great for rides where the temperature may rise or drop and having the ability to layer them over your other tights is essential.
Materials: Nylon spandex, often referred to as Lycra (which is actually a brand name), is the base material for cycling tights. While stretchy and form-fitting, the material doesn’t breathe well, so manufacturers add in other materials to make their own proprietary fabric blends to increase wicking, breathability and comfort. Higher end versions may have fabrics with features such as dimples for aerodynamics or more compression to improve circulation. For a beginner the most important fabric choice is based around the weight or thickness of the material. A lighter fabric will be cooler and breathe better, while a thicker version will be warmer and is likely to be more durable.
Fit: Like other cycling-specific apparel, the fit should be form fitting, but not constricting.
Chamois: Not all long tights will have a built-in chamois as some are designed to pull over cycling shorts you are already wearing. Most knickers will have one. Definitely do not double up on chamois. That will guarantee an uncomfortable ride.
Once made from leather and needing much care and oiling, new chamois are made from synthetic materials and do not need special care other than reading the washing and drying instructions correctly. The chamois is a vital part of the tights as it reduces friction, wicks away moisture, inhibits bacterial growth, and provides cushion.
While there are many shapes, thicknesses and densities to be found in both men’s and women’s chamois, there are three main types available today: multi-density, open cell foam, open cell gel, and closed cell. Many chamois will use a combination of materials to provide optimal comfort and performance.
Multi-density: offers the highest performance and comfort on extended rides.
Open cell gel: chamois offer more comfort and cushioning but reduced breathability.
Closed cell: provides comfort on a budget.
In general recreational riders may find a larger, thicker chamois more comfortable, while distance riders and racers may steer toward a more streamlined pad. In the end, regardless of riding style, personal preference is king when choosing a comfortable chamois.
Panels: Traditional thought holds that the more panels the better and this holds true for the most part. Bibs with 8, 10, or 12 panels will typically fit better than a 2 or 4‑panel pair. The caveat here is that some high-end versions are utilizing new, high-tech fabrics and will often have fewer panels. In some cases the whole short is a single unit.
Flat sewn seams will also enhance the comfort of your tights and can be found on both more and less expensive garments.
Zipper: Ankle zippers are more common on tights meant for layering (without a chamois) and make removing them over shoes easier.
Whether for layering or for standalone use, long tights can extend the riding season to year-round.