Winter Cycling Tights

07 Oct

Note: This is the fourth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, “A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

Winter Cycling

The hardest part of winter cycling is the first 500 feet

If you live in an area of the country that doesn’t experience extreme winter weather, well, you have my sympathy. As avid winter cyclists are fond of saying, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. To paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt, “Far better is it to cycle all winter, to freeze your body down to the bone, even though pelted by sleet and snow, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they ride their trainers in the basement all winter and know neither joy nor fresh air.” The hardest part of winter cycling is the first 500 feet once you leave your house.

The easiest thing to keep warm in the winter is your legs—once you get going your legs become little furnaces and all you have to do is keep them dry, and as the outside temperature drops you switch to slightly better insulated tights.

During cool weather some cyclists try to pretend that it is till warm outside and convince themselves that they can keep wearing their summer gear—even when common sense dictates otherwise. One special concern is keeping your knees warm. As Hughes and Kehlenbach explain in their book, Distance Cycling, “The knee has poor circulation. If your knees get cold, blood won’t reach them and they may become injured. You can avoid this by wearing knee or leg warmers until temperatures exceed 60° F.”

DZ Nuts InHeat Low Heat Embrocation Cream

DZ Nuts InHeat

When the temperature is between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 16 Celsius) I apply DZ Nuts InHeat Low Heat Embrocation Cream to my legs before I ride. Embrocation creams contain vasodilators that warm up the skin and muscles. They also create a weather-proof barrier that protects your skin from the elements. For many of us, embrocation creams are them main reason we shave our legs (just don’t shave your legs on the same day you use an embrocation cream). About 15 minutes before you go out for a ride on brisk day you massage this cream into the exposed areas of your legs. It will take several minutes for you to feel the cream working, but once it does you will feel the warmth and be able to ride for several hours in cool weather without having your legs cramp up from the cold. DZ Nuts InHeat Embrocation Cream comes in three strengths (low, medium and high). The low heat cream is good for rides down to around 50 degrees. A six-ounce tube retails for around $20 and you should be able to get 15 or 20 rides out of a tube.

If you don’t want to use and embrocation cream, then you ought to try knickers that extend down to your mid-calf. I like the Pearl Izumi Attack Knicker because it is extremely comfortable and the fabric quickly wicks moisture away from your skin. The chamois on this knicker is also very comfortable, even on very long rides. There are also several reflective elements for low-light visibility. The silicone leg grippers on these knickers keep the pant legs from sliding up as you ride. The Pearl Izumi Men’s Attack Knicker is available in five sizes (S, M, L, XL, XXL) and retails for $85.

Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Cycling Tights

Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Cycling Tights

For temperatures from 28 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 to 10 Celsius) I don’t think you will find a better pair of tights than the Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Cycling Tights. These tights are made with a very breathable wind-resistant fabric on the outside combined with a thin layer of thermal fleece on the inside. You can buy this tight either with or without a chamois. I would definitely buy one with Pearl Izumi’s Elite 3D Chamois. This chamois has 13mm of variable-density microfiber padding coupled with active carbon yarns to help reduce odors. At the bottom of these tights you will find an 8-inch ankle zipper so the tights are very easy to put on (and take off). The zipper has a lockable tab to keep it closed. The tights also have silicone ankle grippers to keep the tights in place. You will also find reflective piping and logos on the legs to help motorists see you better at night. These tights retail for $125.

If you enjoy riding when the temperature is anywhere from zero to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 to -1 Celsius), I would suggest the Pearl Izumi AmFIB Cycling Tights. These tights are designed for extreme weather conditions—I am talking about very cold, wet and windy days. The fabric is very breathable and wicks water away your skin incredibly well. Even after several hours in snow and ice storms these tights kept me dry. The tights also have the 3D Elite chamois (like the pair above). The lower leg of these tights has an 8″ zipper with an internal draft flap and zipper garage. Around the inside of the ankles there is a silicone strip to keep the tights in place. Reflective piping, strips and logos make you visible to motorists from just about any angle. The Pearl Izumi AmFIB Cycling Tights are also available without a chamois and/or in a bib. Most people will tell you that bibs keep you warmer than tights, but I haven’t had any trouble keeping warm even in temperatures down to zero. Besides, if you are out on a bike trail in ten degree weather and have to answer the call of nature while in bibs you will need to look at your driver’s license just to remember your gender (if you catch my drift). Theses tights seem to be true to size and have a suggested list price of $155.

Craft PXC Storm Pants For Winter Cycling and Nordic Skiing

Craft PXC Storm Tights

For temperatures below zero Fahrenheit (-18C) I wear Craft PXC Storm Tights. These tights are primarily designed for Nordic skiing, but any winter cyclist or runner would benefit from them as well. These windproof tights are very breathable, and the articulated knees make them very easy to cycle in. The seams on both the front and back of these tights have reflective piping to help motorists (or snowmobiles) see you at night. These tights have a looser fit than most cycling tights (they are really more like pants). However, this looser fit allows you to layer other clothing under the tights when needed. Since a chamois is not available on these tights you will need to wear at least a pair of your summer cycling shorts under them. The waist on these tights close with a draw cord and there is also a credit card pouch attached to the inside of the pants. I was very pleased with the generous (long) ankle zippers on these tights. Fellow blogger and avid winter cyclist Joboo wears these tights in temperatures down to -50F (-45C) without a base layer and says he stays “toasty warm.” It never gets that cold in the Chicago area, so I can’t vouch for that myself, but I can tell you that they are the warmest tights I’ve ever worn, and if you do get cold you can always add a layer under them. Craft PXC Storm Tights are available in five sizes (S, M, L, XL, XXL), and seem to be true to size. These tights retail for $130. If your local bike shop does not carry these tights you can find them on, the L.L. Bean website, and R.E.I.


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27 responses to “Winter Cycling Tights

  1. billgncs

    October 7, 2013 at 9:48 PM

    a great post, but Oh no – you mean it’s going to get cold?

  2. bgddyjim

    October 8, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    Great post as usual. I’ll keep coming back too – you almost have me convinced. 😉

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 8, 2013 at 8:32 PM

      As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it, you’ll like.”

  3. Gwen Stephens

    October 8, 2013 at 6:27 AM

    I’ve been cycling to work thinking I’ll keep at it until the snow flies (I also live in Chicagoland). You’re recommending some great products here that have me thinking otherwise.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 8, 2013 at 8:35 PM

      The only problem with commuting is that sometimes after the snowplows go through you have nowhere left to ride! After the blizzard few years ago there was barely enough room for a single car to go down my street — I actually had to take a couple days off (of course, since it took me two days to shovel out my driveway I couldn’t have gone riding anyway).

      • Gwen Stephens

        October 9, 2013 at 5:18 AM

        I’m able to cycle off road on the DuPage prairie path for most of my commute. Do you know if these paths are plowed? Didn’t find anything on the website.

        • All Seasons Cyclist

          October 9, 2013 at 11:44 AM

          I don’t know about the Prairie Path, but I would seriously doubt if they plow it. I know the Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County is not (my favorite trail). Snowmobile riders love to use these trails (even in the areas where it is prohibited), so if you hear a really loud motor behind you move over quick!

        • Gwen Stephens

          October 9, 2013 at 4:10 PM

          Haha! Thanks for the advice! When the white stuff flies, I’ll keep you posted on whether my branch is plowed. My hunch is no, but one never knows!

  4. Still a Runner

    October 8, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    Thanks for the reminder that a good cream is like a base layer of clothing. It makes a cold weather run so much more comfortable.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 8, 2013 at 8:36 PM

      I am not a runner, but I thought you folks would probably use the same sort of creams. Those creams also keep the rain from soaking in too bad.

  5. kfzuzulo

    October 9, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    This is great! I need a pair of these pants. Thanks for the info!!

  6. thehomeschoolingdoctor

    October 9, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    Great post.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 9, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      Thank you! I am hoping that you are going to write an article on ketones as they relate to Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disease!

      • thehomeschoolingdoctor

        October 9, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        I am chuckling because I literally have sent out two e-mails in the last two days to two friends with strong, familial (2-3 generations) dementia family histories. I read some of Dr. Newport’s writings and sent my friends the links. So thank you for the leads. I will add it to the list! I really feel like a kid in a candy shop with so much to read, and it all leads to nutrition which is SO opposite of our American diet. I can’t do enough, tell enough people, learn enough. BTW, I am going to get my husband and I some tights! We’re going to ride as long as there’s no ice and snow.

        • All Seasons Cyclist

          October 9, 2013 at 2:43 PM

          Thanks for adding me to the list! After watching my father fade away with Alzheimer’s I want to do everything I can to prevent it — I don’t want my wife to go through what my mother has! Since it appears that Alzheimer’s actually starts about 16 years before the first signs are manifest, I’ve switched to a Paleo diet (with liberal servings of coconut oil).

  7. A Sierra Fatty

    October 9, 2013 at 10:13 PM

    Looking forward to the PDF. going to also check out the Craft PXC Storm Tights
    Thank you!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 16, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      You will love the Craft Storm Tights when the temp gets below zero!

  8. DummyDiva

    October 11, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    Check out Mad Alchemy’s embrocations. There’s a few and I believe one just for the female persuasion (I use one of them). Also, knickers for winter, Ibex. Of course, my winters are usually no lower than 35-40º. (-:

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 16, 2013 at 10:29 AM

      I’ll look into the Mad Alchemy’s embrocation creams — I’ve never tried that brand before.

  9. Wileydog

    October 16, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    Me, I don’t feel any need for creams or special clothing in the 50 – 60 degree F temperature range. If wearing knee or leg warmers in that temp range I get too warm. Heck, even in the 40’s it’s not that cold. I get by in khakis or jeans if commuting, and knickers/shorts if trail riding.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 16, 2013 at 10:33 AM

      Most of my rides are 50 miles or longer — and if the temperature is in the low 50’s I do like something to keep my knees warm. Yes, I can tolerate the cold as well as anyone, but in a few years the long-term damage to the synovial fluid in your joints will make you regret going out without your knees covered.

      • Wileydog

        October 20, 2013 at 12:26 AM

        I think I’ll be fine. In the 50’s it’s not really about tolerating cold cuz it’s not really cold and you warm up from pedaling.

  10. kurtbredeson

    November 6, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    Just a quick thought: As it gets colder don’t go hard right off the bat to try to warm up or you might injure yourself. I always spin a bit faster in the winter, especially for the first 5 minutes. Spinning faster warms me up and I don’t worry about getting hurt by putting down too much power with cold muscles and joints.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      November 6, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      Good point! However, at -20F going too fast right out of the garage has never been a problem for me. 🙂


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