Winter Leg Wear

Just before my last post on the subject of winter gloves revisited, I had a period of enforced no-cycling because of Christmas and as a result ended up on eBay, as one does. A midnight frenzy ensued and I became the proud owner of a vintage Raleigh Wisp, which I’ve spent the last few days fixing up. It’s a mixte, which means that the top-tube is composed of twin lateral stays which continue round the seat tube and join the seat stays at the bottom of the diamond frame, like this.

As you can see, it has drop bars and road bike proportions. If you want you can read about it on my personal cycling blog.

My first ride of 2011 was in Brighton, on my Wisp. I was wearing jeans, a Rapha Winter Hat and Soft-shell. I was meeting friends for lunch and trying not to look as though I’d just ridden 30km. But I was extremely uncomfortable, especially on my new Brooks saddle. Unlike on an upright, the forward riding position and jeans do not mix together. So, considering my winter leg wear options, it seems to me that I have three winter cycling situations to deal with.

Rides for sport, for recreation and for my commute.

Recreationally, I try to wear my normal clothes. For sport, when I ride the Wiler, my other road bike, I wear Rapha 3/4 bib tights or a pair of Castelli Tenoro tights. For my commute, on an upright bike, I wear a mixture of skinny black jeans, tights and wool leggings and a skirt or a dress, depending on the weather, the time of year and not all at once, obviously.

Winter Leg Wear for Warmth

Recreation: I try to wear my normal clothes, like the picture above. In winter this is almost always a combination of jeans or leggings, a skirt and boots, just not the same ones that I wear for work.

Sport: The Rapha bib tights are really comfortable for long rides with a great pad and good length, finishing just below the knee, but one disadvantage is the removal at cafe stops, especially in the rain or the cold. The last time I wore them was on a 40 mile training ride when it rained the whole way and I had to go to an outdoor loo. Struggling to get them off, I had to remove my soft-shell, top and base layer in the freezing cold. It was almost more than I could bear, so they’ve been relegated to the back of the drawer until the spring.

They’ve been replaced by the Castelli tights which, I admit, I bought last year because I saw someone else wearing them and they made her behind look reasonably good, which is quite something for a pair of padded tights. Clearly, they don’t make me look like Kate Moss from the back but equally, they don’t make me look like I’m wearing a nappy! Or maybe they do? It cannot go without notice that both of these options are hugely expensive, but they’re not as expensive as some, ASSOS, for example, and they wash and wear after every ride. So, if I go out at least once at the weekend all through three or four winters, then I think I’ve got my wear out of them.

Commute: When it’s cold I wear the jeans and change into my skirt at work, or I wear an a-line skirt and tights. In the autumn and winter, I wear a skirt or a dress, tights with black Icebreaker or Smartwool leggings over the tights and my winter boots. (Fashion boots just don’t keep me warm enough, but that’s another topic entirely). I tend to buy these leggings from ski shops because the big cycling retailers tend to stick to lycra.

I find that I’m warmer with this combination of tights and leggings than I am in anything else. I just remove the leggings and boots when I get to work and put my normal shoes on. I’m lucky enough to have an office of my own, so I keep all sorts of things there, mostly a spare skirt, tights and shoes so that I can always look smart for meetings when I have to.

These are the winter leg wear options that work for me at the moment.   I’ve tried and tested dozens of winter leg wear variations and found these to be the most comfortable and, more importantly, warm.   But they are only my current choices. 

I’d be interested to know what winter leg wear works for other London Cyclists. Leave a comment below..

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33 Responses to Winter Leg Wear

  1. Jennifer 03/01/2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Congratulations on your new Raleigh. Love ’em! A couple of years ago I found a Raleigh Hercules, which I tried to restore and loved riding. But it was freakishly heavy to get onto the bus racks, so I sadly gave it away to someone, who didn’t intend to haul it onto a bus.

    I struggle dressing for warmth in winter. I either create my own micro-sauna beneath all my clothing or I don’t wear enough cry and promise myself to wear everything next time I am out creating quite the vicious loop!

    Like you, I think wool works best and have been very happy with my Icebreaker tops. Good idea going to ski shop for wool leg warmers! Thanks for the tips!

    • Nicole 04/01/2011 at 8:55 am #

      Hi Jennifer

      I’m afriad that it’s an arduous process of trial and error, checking the weather forecast and attempting to dress accordingly, trying to remember what I wore when the temperature was similar. That micro-sauna can be very annoying! I have about a million merino/cashmere options in tops and bottoms, from doing all different sports and I much prefer them to any other fabric. Some of my tights are merino also. I try to aim for thin, removeable layers.

  2. Angi 03/01/2011 at 11:30 pm #

    Eee! (she squeals like a teenage school girl…which I’m not). I was so excited to click the link and see this here…my bike twin! Yes, yes I know the Raleigh Wisp was a very popular model so I shouldn’t be so excited…but I am.


    On to winter and cycling leg wear. I rarely wear trousers or jeans when cycling. It’s just uncomfortable and cold…and yes, a Brooks saddle and jeans just do NOT mix!
    I usually wear a short dress or skirt (preferably one that stretches or is a bit looser) and then I layer up the tights and leggings accordingly. Usually it’s a pair of thinner nylon/Lycra tights (say 30 to 60 denier) as the base then a nice pair of colourful tights or leggings (whatever takes my fancy) on top.
    If it’s really cold, I’ll add another layer of tights (possibly cotton…like the ones you get in M&S) as a ‘middle’ layer.
    And if I’m really feeling the chill…well then I’ll slip on a pair of leg warmers and pull them up!

    But generally, the two pairs in winter is enough to keep me warm. And if I’m caught out by the rain, unprepared, tights dry up rather quickly.

    If I’m doing slightly longer rides or my bottom is feeling particularly sore, I have a pair of small, low rise padded shorts which I can pop on under my skirt…no overt Lycra on show and all happy!

    It’s so great to see a female perspective on this site. Thank you. 🙂

    • Nicole 04/01/2011 at 8:59 am #

      Hi Bike-twin

      Where can I get leg warmers that aren’t intended for teenagers and made without the addition of glittery stuff! I’ve been looking. If I was crafty, I could knit my own I guess. Maybe I should get my Mum to knit me a pair.

      Loving your Wisp too.

      • Angi 04/01/2011 at 10:39 pm #

        I’m too lazy to knit my own. You can get really plain (albeit very synthetic and cheapish) leg warmers from most high street shops (Topshop, Hennies, New Look, etc). I’m not a fan of the teenage glittery or bow decorated stuff either.

      • Sue 24/01/2011 at 4:06 pm #

        I’ve got some plain black legwarmers from American Apparel – not that cheap, but none of their stuff is, and they are really warm!

        I wear these with thick black opaques and make sure my skirt or dress is A-line these days.

        I’m waiting for a pair of boots to be delivered from Duo as everything on the high street is too big in the calf – but they are reasonably flat with a rubber sole so no nicks out of my heels any more.

  3. Dave Escandell 04/01/2011 at 9:25 am #

    I’m a big advocate of ski and jogging wear for cycling. Not only can you often pick things up much much cheaper, but they often offer that little something extra too. Pockets, better size options and comfort.

    For my day to day commute I usually find that a pair of running tights offer me the combination of warmth in the winter and breathability through to spring. Ok, so they don’t come with padding, but i’ve been cycling long enough now to not need any padding for all but the longest of weekend rides.

    • jonny 04/01/2011 at 1:26 pm #

      Same here – been using Karimoor hiking tights in the cold – £9 a pair from sports direct. I also have a waterproof pair of nike tights for grey skies and some 3/4 length alturas if its tipping it down.

      I tend to use padded thermals, so the lack of padding on the top layers isnt a problem.

  4. Ben 04/01/2011 at 9:43 am #

    interesting to see you bought a mixte. My wife predicts they are going to be the bike shape for women this year. They’re a very comofrtable ride.

    Why would jeans be a no no for a brooks saddle? There are many types of brooks saddles designed for each type of riding position, maybe it’s just a matter of getting the right one for your riding position. My wife is opting for a brooks b67s

    • Phil Russell 07/01/2011 at 3:37 am #

      Jeans—-IMHO—-are crap whichever saddle you’re on. They inhibit leg rotation, and what’s worse, they have a lumpy gathering of seams (four of ’em) right at the crotch, innit. One’s wife rode in jeans, until she met a seasoned ex-club rider, (moi), and since then it’s proper cycling bottoms—“Ascender”— with cotton longjohns underneath when it’s really parky. The jeans travel in the bonk-bag, or backpack, ‘natch. And to get warm at the start, gear down & pedal fast for a mile. Toodle-oo.

      • d 07/01/2011 at 4:00 am #

        Yeah but Phil, if you also use cyling as a method of transport rather than purely for fitness, walking about in cycling bottoms isn’t great for most women. (Toodle-oo.)

  5. James Holden 04/01/2011 at 10:20 am #

    To be honest, I find that cycling keeps my legs warm enough in any weather. It might be a bit chilly when you first set off but I soon warm up. It’s been -12°C in the mornings recently up here in Leeds and I was still in shorts (albeit getting occasional what-a-nutter looks).

  6. Mike Smith 04/01/2011 at 11:43 am #

    @James Holden – I agree with you about legs being warm. I find fingers and face are the main pain-points in winter.
    And here in Cornwall, you get those looks just for being on a bike in winter!

  7. Kevin Campbell's Blog 04/01/2011 at 12:52 pm #

    i find jeans work well, a decent pair that you can move about in though and not a crispy pair of jeans, or light cargo pants

  8. Matty 04/01/2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks for the interesting post!

    Without being too imprudent, Mrs Matty (a keen & quick drop-bar cyclist) uses a ‘She-Wee’ ( to get round much of the problem of the enforced call of nature. She started using it on marathons so she could avoid the queues by using the men’s loos and has carried it over into her more recent (and knee-friendly) cycling life.

    At this time of year it really is a major advantage and while the idea of it may seem a little, well, unnerving the freedom to choose more options like the (super lovely) Rapha bibs is apparently well worth overcoming any initial trepidation.

    Bonne chance!

    • Andreas 04/01/2011 at 5:12 pm #

      I’ll never forget Conny from Bluepeter demonstrating one of these on News Wipe. TV comedy at its finest but joking apart useful for women I’m sure.

  9. Kevin Campbell's Blog 04/01/2011 at 1:46 pm #

    If you click my name I have just recently made a review of some cargo pants which I recently got, ones which I have been finding very comfortable and suitable for this type of weather too, no need to search for it too, its the most recent post, and Andreas you can use that review on here if you want to, just credit me for it, and you can do whatever you want with it dude

    take care all

    • Andreas 04/01/2011 at 5:11 pm #

      A kind offer Kevin but not how Google works. Content has to appear on one site only otherwise they think you are copy and pasting!

  10. Iain 04/01/2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi Nicole, enjoying your posts and blog, Have to say as a bloke fashion is not my strong point, so looking good, or even presentable on my bike is never a concern (I think I once described my cycling image as Boris Johnson the lollipop man!) I generally wear leggings all year (largely to spare the world the sight of my pale legs – drivers are even less predictable when they’re laughing!) and when it’s really cold I add an extra pair of winter ones, although they don’t fit well (you’d think long legs and slimmish waist would be quite common for cycling gear…) Of course, you tend to have a onssantly variable clothing need while cycling as you warm up, which oesn’y half complicate things! I quite often cycle into the countryside with my camera and end up taking things off letting them dry a bit putting something else on and don’t even mention what happens if it starts raining…

    One thing I will add is how often you see a female cycling and notice how elegant they look while still appearing to be wearing practical outfits, I guess that’s more of a result of women’s fashion being more suited to cycling (tights and boots) Do girls look at us fellas and think the same? I suspect in my case it’s more likely to be “put it away” lol (actually I have had the odd [ok one] compliment on my lycra-clad legs!) I’m always a bit fearful of complimenting a lady cyclist on her outfit – should I be? I always think I’ll sound like the bicycling Gok Wan, only worse!


  11. Nicole 04/01/2011 at 5:55 pm #


    a forward-leaning position on a suspended leather saddle that hasn’t yet been broken in is quite uncomfortable in jeans. Without scaring the horses, a woman’s vulva is directly over the cross seam of the jeans. I was asking my partner, while writing this post, where he put his bits and it seems that there is a great deal of padding between your bones and perineum, which is your contact point, so it won’t feel as harsh to you. Any saddle would be the same on a road bike. It’s the cross seam of the jeans and the contact point that’s a no-no.


    I used to use the she wee while running. It’s great. But I still have to get the bibs off, the top part anyway, unless Rapha have made an opening of which I wasn’t aware? Women’s padded tights/shorts all have to be removed (or at the very least, pulled down) to facilitate
    loo stops, even with a she wee. The she wee allows women to avoid the necessity of sitting down to pee, but we still have to take the kit down!


    do compliment us. I complement any men I see looking good. Admitedly, that’s not very often (most of the guys who cycle in my orbit look like crap most of the time. But then they aren’t as silly as most of us women, worrying about our mascara and matching our hats and gloves!). All women like a complement. Just don’t deliver it while slobbering! The guys at work who commute don’t seem to care what they look like, but then there aren’t as many options for guys as there are for women. We’re just different aren’t we? But I rather like
    seeing men in tights! It’s not often we get to see a good leg.

  12. girlandsteed 04/01/2011 at 6:25 pm #

    Um- are they they some special kind of anti-chafe make? Serious discomfort factor there I’ve found.

    • d 05/01/2011 at 8:14 pm #

      I found cycling with jeans when I first started very uncomfortable and couldn’t understand how people wore them but especially after my fitness levels got higher, I now cycle in them a lot and find them comfortable. However, I usually don’t cycle more than 9 miles at a time and find that they do start to chafe at about that point.

  13. BikeSalmon 04/01/2011 at 6:30 pm #

    I double up on things. Two pairs of socks (& overshoes), two pairs of tights, twice as many tops (four), two pairs of gloves (one thin, one large), doubled over face mask…. but only one hat.

  14. Diana 04/01/2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Hi Nicole
    Loving your posts! Re jeans – have you tried the Swrve skinny jeans? They’re made for cycling so they’re super comfy and don’t rub anywhere they shouldn’t! ( although they are quite high waisted which is a little Simon-Cowell-esque) I lived in them this summer, but find them a bit cold for the winter. I got mine from Cycle Chic, love that shop!

    In this cold weather I’m riding in Swrve softshell 3/4 shorts, they have fleece on the inside and they’re water proof, so I get the best of both worlds, and I couple them with some American Apparel knee high socks – the hot pink colouris a questionable look but anyway! When it was snowing I wore North Face thermal leggings underneath them too, I was actually overheating by the time I got to work – kept me warm though!

  15. Gill 04/01/2011 at 9:49 pm #

    For longer winter rides try Ground Effect Witches Britches, very comfortable and warm.

    For city riding I tend to wear ordinary A-line skirts, either knee length or longer, and tights with ordinary fashionable boots with merino socks underneath, mostly it works well and the skirt is covered by a large rain cape in the rain or snow.

    I often wear a double layer of gloves as I get very cold hands

  16. Peridot 04/01/2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Oooh, can we have a whole post on female cycle fashion please? My biggest problem is finding stuff that isn’t black. Or pink.

    I tend to wear hideous cycle knickers (the price of a glamorous pair of silky ones but very, very ugly. Although you certainly get a lot of material for your money…), with leggings (3/4 length in spring/summer and full length in winter/autumn) and a short, skater style skirt. And a top, obviously. But I find short jersey skirts hard to find and any sort of sports leggings which aren’t black. And what boots do you wear? I’d love to get to the stage where I don’t have to change when I get to my destination, but I still look distinctly odd in my get-up.

    LOVING the female perspective – thanks!

  17. d 05/01/2011 at 8:12 pm #

    Nicole, out of interest, how tall are you? Just wondering about the proportions of the jacket you’re wearing.

    • Nicole 05/01/2011 at 10:00 pm #


      I’m 5′ 8″. It’s a size medium Rapha Softshell. It fits me really well.

      • d 07/01/2011 at 1:03 am #

        Cool, thanks. That is a little useful since I am the same, or maybe up to an inch taller. I have had issues with finding clothing that is long enough in the past.

      • Fran 07/01/2011 at 5:47 pm #

        Like your bike Nicole.

        I got a Claud Butler mixte, very similar to yours, during the summer. I haven’t ridden it very much yet, not being used to drops or gears on the down tube! Am wondering whether to change the bars – but I do love the idea of keeping it original. It’s beautiful!

        For winter wear I found some brilliant thin, light top & bottom thermals made by Terramar, which adjust to your body temperature, and I wear them under skinny jersey jeans I got in a Next sale in the summer. On top I wear a Vaude soft shell and my fluorescent waterproof on top if its damp or dark. Altura waterproof gloves as well and I’m really toasty!

  18. Lindsay 07/01/2011 at 10:26 am #

    As others have said, it’s so nice to get a female perspective, from someone who wears normal clothes to cycle from A to B rather than JUST bib shorts to do a sportive. Keep it up.

    I find my legs get very cold over my 8 mile 7am winter commute. I usually wear a pair of wooly tights (m&s ones are good) underneath jogging bottoms with cuffed ankles (mine are from next and have quite a low crotch so are v comfy). This seems to trap air better than leggings or tight jeans so keeps me a bit warmer. I either wear it under a jersey dress and whip the joggers off on arrival, or take a skirt or tailored trousers in my panniers. I’m going to look into those skiing wooly leggings though, they sound great! Don’t bother with uniqlo heat tech leggings, they sound good but do nothing.

    I do cycle in skinny jeans sometimes, on a brooks saddle, and don’t find it a problem at all. Although it’s an upright bike. And the other main problem is cold hands! After trying several pairs of gloves I got some brilliant quilted mittens with fur cuffs from accessorize (I have twisty gears) that can cope with minus temperatures happily. Sometimes my hands even get a bit sweaty by the time I get to work.

    Oh and finally, the bern winter helmet liners are amazing! My ears have never been so warm. I got mine from cycle chic.

  19. Lisa 10/01/2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Nice bike!

    On the issue of length, can you recommend any brands that do extra long women’s tights etc? I have a 34″ inseam and a pathological fear of the ankle gap, and its evil twin the low-hanging gusset.

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