All of Gaul was divided into three parts, and so are winter tights. There are base layer tights, then lycra tights without a chamois, then lycra tights with a chamois. All three types serve their own purpose; all have pluses and minuses. I don't much like riding indoors during winter so I have a lot of cold weather gear. Bear with me on this rambling review of a number of products. I haven't bought tights since last year, and lookie, lookie, everybody has a new name for all of their tights. I've stuck to reviewing those products that still appear to be made, even if they are under a new name, and where possible point you to identical or very similar items.
Base Layer Tights
Base layer tights work with a pair of bib shorts. You can wear them over your shorts if you must, but they really work better under them. They are a great option because they are generally inexpensive and allow you to use your normal bib shorts through the winter, and if it gets really hot out, or you blend your training into your commute, you can strip them off for a ride home. Yes, we do get plenty of days in the mid-atlantic where it's 30 in the morning, 60 in the afternoon. Additionally, many are available in matching pairs with base layer shirts; some of the active weight base layers are essetially thermal underwear and can do double duty if you hike, go to football games, or find yourself homeless and sleeping on steam grates - you'll appreciate how a good baselayer wicks excess moisture.
Base layer tights suitable for cycling will be light, flexible to the point of unobtrusiveness, fairly thin, and reasonably warm. They should also have flatlock seams, or a seamless crotchal/taint area. This keeps you from wearing an extra hole in your ass, unless you find you need one. If your baselayer tights do not have flatlock seams, or are in any way abrasive, you'd better wear them over your shorts if you're doing any sort of long ride. Base layer tights of any kind are generally perfect for winter mountain biking and shorter mountain bike rides, though marginal for super long basebuilding rides.
1) Columbia Active Weight Tights. Cost: $24. Availability: Bass Pro Shops and elsewhere. I got mine on clearance for $12/piece. Pluses: inexpensive, comfortably fleecy basic tight. Durable. Minuses: The seams aren't flatlocked, so they are limited to shorter road rides and to mountain bike riding - or cross training. They are slightly heavy feeling on the legs; good for training, maybe not so hot for Tradezone races. They have a fly so if you wear them on the outside - the logical place for tights that lack a flatlock seam - your friends will mock you and stare at your package. They aren't sold under that name any longer; they are now sold as Steens Mountain Lightweight Bottoms. Bottom line: Good cheap basic training tight for shorter rides; don't get 'em if you can't handle the mockery of wearing actual underwear on rides. (If you wear 'em under your shorts, nobody will know but you and I).
2) Terramar Tech Skins. Cost: ~$24. Availability: various web and outdoor sporting goods retailers. The Tech Skins are no longer made but they are pretty much the same as the current Thermasilk line. Matching tops and bottoms are available. Pluses: Nice lightweight tight that is unobtrusive on the legs. Basic flatlock seams decently placed - but make sure you use plenty of chamois cream if you're wearing them under the bib shorts on a >90 minute ride. Minuses: a little fragile for mountain biking; they seem to tear pretty easily in crashes that merely scuff lycra bib shorts. They wick okay but get really heavy and saggy (and obtrusive) when they get soggy. No use at all when they are wet. Bottom line: good all around training tights. Get a few pairs for daily use.
3) I/O Biocompatibles merino wool Contact Tights. Oh my word... these things are sex with stitches. They are paper-thin wool tights with truly flatlock stitching, thoughtful stitching patterns that seem to preserve my taint and sit bones, and all the benefits of wool. Pluses: they are long wearing, the smartwool-like fabric wicks decently and seems to regulate my temperature a bit; they insulate nicely even when wet; they feel as nice as silk on the legs, are very light and form fitting. Minuses: you have to wash them with care, they aren't cheap - around $60. They are in the same basic upscale top-tier market as Smartwool, just a little less expensive. Bottom line: if you are committed to doing long base rides on the road in winter, but the sheer discomfort of the cold wears you down, get a pair or two of these tights. If the Terramar tights are a 7 on a 1-10 scale, these are a 9. It's a lot more money to get marginally better performance, but oh how nice marginal goods are. They are a little bit of work to clean, but if you're committed to those 3-5 hour cold weather basebuilding slogs, these tights will make it a bit easier to stay committed.
Lycra Tights with Chamois
Just as baselayer tights come in several different styles, these tights come in a couple different styles - tight style, bib style, and wind front bib style.
1) Performance Century Tight - non-bib. Availability: Do you really need to ask? Cost: ~$40. Chamois: a basic, thin, durable cloth-type chamois. Pluses: the fairly thick lycra on these insulates decently. The chamois, despite being simple and inexpensive, is reasonably comfortable assuming you ride regularly, and it wicks really well. The tights are inexpensive and you won't cry if you wreck them. Minuses: they are pant-style tights, not bibs. Unless you're a plumber, you won't like how they show 3 inches of your butt crack. Yes, they are cut really low for a pair of bike tights; you'd think they were running tights that somebody sewed a chamois in as an afterthought. Hey, wait a minute... Bottom line: These are okay basic tights. Get 'em if you're really tight on money as a stop gap, but understand the lack of a bib makes them less comfortable and less practical for serious riding.
2) Performance Century Bib Tight - Availability: not any longer. Comparable product: Performance Century Tight. Pluses: all the good features, except in a bib style, which is mandatory if you're going to do any serious winter riding. Minuses: it's still a minimalist tight; will keep you warm enough, comfortable enough. Bottom line: you can get the comparable Performance Radiator Bib tight which is probably pretty similar. Bottom line: like a lot of Performance's stuff, it's good utility wear and plenty good for day-to-day riding. Perfect for 90 minute road rides in cold weather. I wouldn't try a winter epic on that chamois though, not without a whole heap of lube.
3) Voler Bib Knickers, with chamois. Availability: Um, you'll probably need to do a team order, though maybe you could get some through Velowear. Price: ~$90 at retail. Pluses: Nicer lycra than the standard Voler team bib shorts, which frankly wear out a bit too soon and which are cut funny, with very long legs. The chamoises seem to hold up pretty well in the knickers, and they are nicely warm. These are really great on super long rides, nice for 'cross, just good all around winter tights. They are a bit long for knickers, BTW. Minuses: Voler doesn't seem to retail these very hard. Bottom line: good value for the money. Like Stuart Smalley, maybe Voler kit isn't the best stuff in the world, but gosh darnit, it's just good enough. Their knickers in particular are a standout in their product line. Get them if your team orders kit from Voler, or if you can talk the good folks at Velowear to scare you up a pair.
4) Castelli Leggerezza bib tight, with chamois: Availability: fine cycling shops everywhere, or Amazon. Cost - normally ~$159, but sometimes on sale for less. See below link right away for that... It's 23 degrees out. You've put off your spring base rides long enough and you're supposed to go for 3 hours today. But dammit, it's 23 degrees out. And a bit windy. What are you going to do? You're going to strap up in a pair of bib tights like the Castelli Leggerezzas. They're outfitted with the reasonably comfortable KISS chamois, the basic chamois of the bottom half of Castelli's excellent product line. The back and upper of the tight are made with that extremely silky, supremely comfortable lycra that Castelli is known for. The front panels of the tight are some type of slightly heavier windproof lycra. The inners are also lined with a fine layer of fleecy stuff. How do they work? Well. Quite well. They aren't for everybody and you probably don't need these unless you are a damned determined outdoor cyclist, a roadie who hates the trainer. Mountain bikers don't normally ride fast enough for long enough to need these; they're really made for roadies on long cold rides. Pluses: Yep, they really do keep you warm. You don't need base layer tights on these until you're into serious, serious cold (sub-20). They are reasonably priced considering the high quality (premium) and the specialized, technical features of the tights. Minuses: anything this stout is going to be somewhat heavy. They are a bit of a drag on the legs. Your base pace will drop from 18 to 16.5 with these. Bottom line: A great product. If you're serious about riding through the winter, get some of these. Buy them slightly large though; the wind blocking surface on the front is less flexible and a little more binding than normal lycra.
Try this link first - discount! $103 but limited sizes.
Or this one - regular price: