Time to get tight down below with a trio of winter ride tights from Gore, 45NRTH, and Rapha. I’ve spent the last eight years testing the burst strength of various cycling-specific shorts and knickers. I’ve managed to lose a bit of weight (thanks diabetes) so my trusty Gore winter cycling bib knickers are too big and quite understandably, showing the effects of two years of wear. Who knows how many trips through the laundry cycle those Gore bibs have endured? They’ve earned a good rest. I set forth with the goal of finding their replacements and found that the windproof winter bib knicker choices were far and few between. However, the winter bib tight selection was rather more plentiful.
These are the type of garments that I wear as a base layer under softshell pants like the Bontrager OMW Pants (photo below). I’m going to spare you from photos of me in tights, but for the sake of size comparison, I’m 5’11” and weigh a brick under two bills…like a buck ninety-seven or something.
So first let’s talk about knicker (3/4) length bibs vs these bib tights that I’m testing. I resisted changing to full-length tights because I’d worn 3/4 length bibs for years. After wearing this trio of tights, I have to say that they’re more comfortable and it all centers around the knee joint. I think that it’s due to the interface between the knickers and the tops of my socks. I’d wear over the calf socks with knickers and sometimes there’s a tight spot, where those two or three layers overlap. With full-length tights, I can wear any height socks and that eliminates that overlapping space at the back of the calf/knee area. All of these tights have smooth seams at the ankles with no zippers. That’s a key factor so they fit inside of a winter boot. They provide windproof warmth that insulates your blood all the way down to your boot. The bottom line for me, is that the full-length tights with crew-socks are more comfortable than 3/4 Length knickers with over the calf socks.
I’ve done a handful of rides in each of the 3 sets of bibs and I’m going to give them a 1-10 rating in two categories. 1) Fit – How they fit and feel during rides. 2) Finish – How well they’re made when new. This is the beginning of these garment’s life-cycle. I can’t predict how they’ll hold up after hundreds of trips through the laundry, but time will tell. So let’s take a look at each of these three pairs of stretchy pants.
The 45NRTH Naughtvind Bibs might look a bit awkward hanging there on the fence compared to the other two contestants, but let me assure you that these things fit as close to a superhero suit as you’ll ever want. They’re made with a Poly/Merino blend that sets them apart for the other two pairs of bibs as well as they’re the only pair of the trio that doesn’t have a padded chamois.
These bibs are taller and cover more of your core that the others. They have a zipper that runs from the sternum to the waist. Wind/water/abrasion-resistant panels festoon the forward-facing surfaces and they really feel good through the full range of pedaling motion. They have 3 elastic rear pockets to keep stuff nice and warm in your slipstream.
They may call these knickers, but our size large goes almost all the way down to my ankles. (where I come from they call that ‘tights’) The length of the lags is designed to work perfectly with 45NRTH Wolvhammer Boots. All three of these tights would work great with just about any style boot.
I like to wear a chamois when I ride and I’m still working out what pair of padded cycling shorts might work best for me underneath. My field research continues but I like the fact that they’ve got some merino wool in them. They fit perfectly with just the right amount of compression that allows full range of motion on the bike. The fact that they don’t have a chamois allows a person to choose their favorite padded ride short or nothing at all. The Naughtvind’s feel the warmest out of the three tights and probably could be worn as your outer layer down to 30 F.
Fit – 9 Finish – 7.5
Our friends at Gore sent us this pair of C3 Bib Tights after they heard my tale of two years with two trusty pairs of their bib knickers and entertaining a bunch of questions about why knickers seem to be getting phased out. These are the first pair that arrived for testing and might have something to do with my acceptance of bibs tights as a viable replacement for knickers.
The best thing that I like about these bibs is the seamless tubular straps. They’re the most comfortable bib shoulder straps that I’ve ever worn. I mentioned these straps in my review of the Gore C7 shorts that I tested last summer. They’re strong enough to hold up the tights and soft enough to seemingly disappear during long (or short) rides.
These tights feature the Gore Windstopper Cup and their proven C3 chamois. The C3’s are the lightest of the tights we’re testing here. The material is windproof, water repellent and highly breathable. The thermo lining increases warmth with a soft brushed surface that feels comfortable next to your skin. This is a great set of tights that you can run with pants or shorts. If you wear them alone, I’d say 40F is the low temp that they’d function best.
Fit – 10 Finish – 7.5
Our final set of tights came to me from our Apparel Editor, Greg. I think that he’s testing something else from the house Rapha but I landed this particular set of bibs because Rapha only had them in XL. European companies usually fit a bit smaller than US sizing so it pays to look at the sizing guide to see how they measure up. Both of the other tights, I wear a size L but in the Rapha’s I fit in the XL (on paper anyway).
On the rear single radio pocket, there’s a place where you can put your name and number (so pro dude!). There’s some real heft to the material used in this set compared to the other two. Looking at the material you might think that they’re designed for scuba rather than cycling. That does translate to warmth and doesn’t really hamper the feel of the garment’s next to the skin comfort thanks to a warm fleece inner surface. The bra straps on the Rapha Bibs are kinda rough feeling. (I’m spoiled by Gore’s comfortable straps). The pad on these bibs seems to be the thickest one of the bunch. It’s Rapha’s Pad II and it seems comfortable enough.
I’ve had some pretty good luck in the past with a set of Rapha bib knickers that I lost when I left them in a greasy hotel room at Frostbike. I still miss those knickers. They survived countless laundry cycles so I have high expectations for this set with regard to their longevity.
When race day comes or there’s a big group ride, the pair of winter bib tights that I make sure is clean and ready to rock under my lucky leisure suit is the Rapha Pro Team Winter Tights with Pad II. I’m not really sure why, but I have to admit it might be because they’re the most shi-shi brand in my arsenal of winter clothing. They’re also nearly as warm as the Naughtvind’s so there’s also some good practical reasons to race in them.
Fit – 8 Finish – 10