When the weather turns a chilly — or starts to emerge from the frigid depths of winter — arm and leg warmers are a useful weapon in your bad-weather armoury.
If it's not quite cold enough for a full jacket, or looks set to warm up later, arm warmers keep your arms, er, warm and can be pocketed when conditions improve
Leg warmers can replace tights in many conditions, keeping you warm from the thighs down while your riding effort and shorts take care of the rest
Some arm and leg warmers are made form water-resistant fabrics that really help fend off those April showers with almost no downside in breathability or comfort
If it's really only your knees that suffer, knee warmers extend your shorts to just below the knees to keep these vital joints toasty
It's a good time to buy — lots of our favourites are on special offer at the moment, so you can pick up arm warmers from justten quid
The Lusso Max Repel Leg Warmers use fibre treatment to resist water while keeping you warm, and they stay put too. Made in the UK, they're a great option for cool rides.
Manchester-based Lusso has once again come up with a product that's hard to fault – simple in both design and execution, with performance fabrics that work out on the road and look good doing it.
The Aeron Rain Defence arm warmers from dhb are a great layer of protection against the elements, complementing both the Aeron Rain Defence range and any combination of kit you like.
Tester Ash writes: “Featuring the mid-weight style of the Aeron Rain Defence range, these arm warmers are well up to the task of insulating you from the cold. The rain resistance they offer is very impressive, while the thickness of the fabric provides insulation even if water manages to seep through, which it did on one occasion in a fantastic 20-minute deluge. No shame there, though, for in all other showery and light prolonged rainfall they stood up impressively well. I'd happily rely upon them for any conditions considered 'reasonable'.
“They're certainly performance cut, fitting snugly around your arms from hem to hem, and retain against your arm largely because of this. You've got a silicone gripper at the upper arm as well, but it's hardly necessary for me, if reassuring for those with Froome-like guns. They're also shaped and slightly stretchy, with pre-moulded areas for your elbows, adding to the comfort factor.”
The Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Knee Warmers keep your legs toasty, dry quickly after a downpour, and stay up well. What more do you need from knee warmers?
They look identical to the previous model, but there is one new addition: the PI Dry technology coating, which makes them water resistant. The Elite Thermal Fleece fabric means they are very warm and kept our legs comfortable down to around 4 degrees.
The Galibier Ardennes Roubaix Leg Warmers work well, keeping out the wind effectively and keeping in warmth nicely. The fit is also a strong point thanks to the left and right-specific fits.
They are made from two different fleece-backed Roubaix fabrics, which Galibier claims are matched to the motion of the pedalling leg. Inside they also have a good fleecy material to help keep warmth in.
Tester George writes: “Overall, these leg warmers are really impressive. I've tried to look for some genuine negatives and the only one I can think of is that they are ever so slightly more difficult to remove mid-ride than some. Aside from this, there really is nothing I don't like. This is helped by their price, which for something of this quality, is excellent.”
These ETC Snug Arm Warmers share many of the same attributes of more expensive sleeves but cost just a tenner. They offer a good fit, they stay put, and work in temperatures typically found in spring and autumn.
ETC's take on this little wardrobe staple is impressive for the money. Rather than just a single seam, the Snug warmers have a second one that creates a sort of elbow area. I found this to help with the flex, and stopped any material bunching on the inside of the elbow. They aren't exactly 'shaped', but this really helps.
At just £10 these are some of the cheapest arm warmers we've ever tested, and they certainly don't feel like ETC has scrimped anywhere when it comes to the fabric or build quality.
DeFeet Kneekers are seamless knee warmers. High in comfort and stretch, they're are ideal for autumn cycling.
They’re made from a single seamless tube of Coolmax/Lycra material. They're longer than most knee warmers and that means they can cover the legs well above and below the knee, providing extra insulation on cold autumn rides.
They provide good protection from the cold and rain without any hint of overheating. There’s Aireator mesh in the back panel, which improves heat regulation and also contributes to the comfort, but allowing extra flexibility.
If you want a bit more warmth, there's a Merino wool version too.
Here are the pick of the arm, leg and knee warmers we've reviewed over the last few years.
The Endura FS260-Pro Thermo Leg Warmers are warm, weather resistant and stay put whilst riding. The quality feels high, the zips mean you don't have to take your shoes off each time and have well-placed reflective accents on the calves. Limited size choice means they may not suit everyone, though.
Tester Jamie writes: "I've happily used these down to 5°C, and I'm confident they could comfortably be used below this as well. The fabric offers good protection from the wind and, if necessary, packs down small enough to fit in to a jersey pocket.
"They've proved good in changeable conditions, too. The DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coated fabric will keep out light rain and the majority of road spray, by cause it to bead on the surface and roll off.
"Overall, the FS260 leg warmers are high quality and offer great protection from the elements, whether that be cold, wind, light rain or all three at once. They're well priced and have some good features (such as decent sized zips, reflective accents and silicone grippers), but the lack of stretch results in a small amount of wrinkling around the knee, and it's hard to see the two sizes suiting everyone."
Rapha's Merino Arm Warmers are, as the name suggests, mostly merino wool with a bit of elastane (5%) thrown into the mix to add stretchiness, and they're exceptionally comfortable.
Tester Mat says “These arm warmers aren't thick so I thought they'd let more air through than Rapha's standard (and £5 cheaper) fleece-backed arm warmers. But wearing them side-by-side (not a classic look, admittedly), I'd say they offer about the same level of insulation. There's really not much in it either way, meaning they're a good weight for autumn and spring. They're certainly considerably warmer than skinny Lycra options.
“The other good thing about wool as opposed to most synthetic fabrics is that it doesn't start reeking if it does get sweaty. So if you use these on the ride to work in the morning, say, you won't be pulling on minging kit for the ride home.”
These merino wool knee warmers from Rapha are soft and comfortable, and they provide enough insulation for nippy autumn and spring rides.
Tester Mat says: “They're 95% fine merino with 5% elastane (Lycra) in there to provide extra stretch and a bit of added durability. The wool feels super-comfy against your skin and offers a surprising amount of warmth given the light weight - about as much as a pair of roubaix warmers, give or take. (I wore a roubaix knee warmer on one leg and a merino one on the other leg to check. I think I got away with it. People thought it was a fashion statement).
“Whereas arm warmers just sit there and look pretty - or not - knee warmers have to flex repeatedly. I've had wool knee warmers in the past that have struggled to retain their shape and, apart from not being a good look, they can bunch behind your knees and start to chafe. These knee warmers don't do that. They're well behaved. They keep their shape throughout even a long ride and that's a good thing. They also stay warm if they get a bit sweaty and are much more odour-resistant than most synthetic fabrics.”
Tester Ash writes: "These leg warmers are every inch the quality product we've come to expect from Pearl Izumi, and are very nearly the equal of their arm and knee warmers. Nearly? It comes down to whether or not you like a an ankle zip on your leg warmers. An ankle zip allows you to get your foot through far easier when putting them on and taking them off, saving stretching stitching with your toes or heel. The downside is the potential for the zip to rub slightly, and possibly a slightly looser fit.
"In this case, Pearl Izumi has nailed the cut brilliantly when they're zipped up, just like a trusty pair of Altura leg warmers I've owned for years. Add in the ease of getting them on and off, and it's made a convert of me.
"Like the knee warmers, the legs feature a cut that assists with easy bending at the knee, with very little in the way of bunching as a side effect. Coupled with the fleece backing and stretch of the material, they're some of the most comfortable leg warmers I've worn. The fabric has been infused with Pearl Izumi's PI water repellency treatment, which once again provides a surprisingly resilient barrier to water ingress."
Sportful's NoRain arm warmers are comfortable, with a fleecy inner and a surprisingly water-resistant outer. The styling is subtle and they offer protection that can simply be rolled up and popped in a jersey pocket when not needed. The price is good too.
The NoRain element is a hydrophobic silicone that sits within the fabric. It works well to fend off light rain and wheel spray. Sat on the start line of a rainy road race, my arms were at least, dry. On general rides, these are very comfortable to wear, with a close fit that doesn't move or bunch up while riding.
Knee warmers are a great addition to your outfit in changeable weather conditions, and the temperature range that these Sportfuls work in makes them ideal for spring through to autumn. I found them plenty warm enough from around 8°C through to about 15°C.
They are good wind blockers and the fleece lining on the inside adds warmth while remaining soft against the skin.
These are the companion arm warmers to Pearl Izumi Elite's Thermal Knee Warmers, above, and they're just as good. In fact, if you run hot you might find that you're perfectly comfortable in them down to actual freezing temperatures.
Comfort is further improved by an anatomical cut that's shaped at the elbow, which means fit is practically perfect whether you ride in the saddle or dance out of it with a dynamic arm movement. They're demarcarted into left and right arms, with Pearl Izumi logos placed on the top (slightly to the outside) to help oncoming or merging traffic pick you up.
Morvelo Stealth Stormshield Knee Warmers keep your knees luxuriously warm down to about 3-5 degrees in foul weather. They are water repellent, stay up well and the plain black material means they will work well with most of your other riding kit.
They're made from a thick Roubaix material for warmth and a windproof and highly water repellent fabric, called Stormshield, to block out the elements. It’s a highly elastic fabric with four-way stretch and has the ability to move moisture away from your skin while blocking incoming water which makes it ideally suited bad weather riding.
The advantages of Castelli's Thermoflex arm warmers are individually small, but they all add up to create one of the most comfortable, best fitting sleeves on the market.
The Thermoflex name comes from the fabric. It's a medium-weight fleece to trap a layer of warm air against the skin which it does well providing plenty of warmth in temperatures ranging from mid-single figures to the low teens.
The best thing about the Thermoflex Arm Warmer, though, is the fit. They are anatomically shaped during construction — a pre bent elbow if you like — and the fabric is super stretchy so it fits closely and moves with your arm. This means there are no creases or rucks in the material, better for comfort and aerodynamics.
A neat addition is the silicone grip on the outside at the top to grip your jersey sleeve.
Castelli Nanoflex kneewarmers combine two handy functions, keeping your knees both warm and dry. The fabric incorporates silicone filaments that keep the rain out, causing it to bead on the surface and be moved away by the wind.
The inner is a fleecy lining Roubaix style that is very soft to the touch and keeps your knees warm even when the rain eventually gets through. The Thermaflex fabric does exactly what the title suggests, flexes and moves with your leg while travelling through the pedalling motion.
We haven’t tested this exact incarnation of dhb’s well-priced Roubaix leg warmers, but we liked the very similar Pace Roubaix model.
Those were excellent, with five separate panels to give an 'anatomical' shape - ie, they've got a bend half way down, to match the bend in your leg, and silicone grippers round the inside of the ankle cuff, and around the inside and outside of the thigh cuff so they don't slip down from under your shorts to reveal that annoying and very unstylish inch of bare skin.
With an identical feature set, we’d expect these to be just as good, and the price is very reasonable.
These arm warmers are from Stolen Goat's Orkaan winter range are made from the same material as their bib tights, so you get a comfortable brushed inner surface and a degree of protection against the cold and wet. They have a section of reflective Pixel material which is a great idea, giving some much needed side visibility for night-time riding.
They always stayed safely tucked inside the jersey sleeves, helped by elasticated cuffs at each end with a silicone Bioracer pattern on the inside.
As arm warmers go, Craft's are at the upper end of the scale, both in the design and technology that has gone in to them and in price. They are nevertheless amazingly good value in terms of versatility, usefulness and all-round ride comfort.
They kept our tester’s arms pleasingly warm on even the coldest days. You really don't notice you are wearing them. The silicone grippers at the top of the arms do the job effectively but unobtrusively, the material is soft to the touch and there is nothing to itch or scratch.
Castelli's Nanoflex Leg Warmers are well designed and comfortable with the added bonus of being water repellent, thanks to the Nanoflex fabric. It keeps road spray and showers out but harder rain does work through, especially through the bit at the front of your knee that you stretch repeatedly as you pedal. But the point is, these feel like any other leg warmers in terms of feel and breathability – like most, they're made from nylon and Lycra – so there's no down side to that extra water repellency.
Nanoflex aside, these are good leg warmers in their own right, coming with just one flatlock stitched seam up the back, which I haven't found at all irritating. The elasticated gripper has silicone on the inside to hold it against your leg, and on the outside to keep it in place against your shorts. I've never had any trouble there. A YKK zip at the back makes getting them on and off easy, even over your shoes.
Arm warmers can extend the time of the year when you can ear your favourite jersey, or add extra insulation under a jacket if your arms feel the chill.
When the weather’s cool but not frigid, leg warmers can keep warm the bits of your legs that aren’t working hard while your thighs keep themselves plenty warm enough in shorts.
Some riders find their knees complain in cool weather, but their shins and calves are fine; knee warmers fit the bill.
Warmers are especially useful on autumn and spring days that start cold and warm up. When conditions improve you can peel them off and stuff them in your bag or pockets.
Bringing that versatility to your outfit makes arm and leg warmers an essential part of your cycling wardrobe.
Arm and leg warmers are usually made of some sort of insulating fabric that’s thicker than the usual Lycra or jersey material. The most common is a fleece-backed Lycra called Roubaix which traps air against your skin to keep you warm. Super Roubaix, as the name suggests, is a thicker, warmer version of the same idea.
Arm and leg warmers are also made from knitted fabrics, usually some sort of polyester or Merino wool for maximum warmth and luxury. These are often thicker and warmer than Roubaix, and if they’re knitted in one piece they don’t have the seams that some people find annoying.
A big step forward in the last few years has been the introduction of water-repellent fabrics that help keep you dry. Rain beads off Sportful’s NoRain line, Castelli’s NanoFlex and dhb’s Rain Defence fabrics. Water gets through them eventually, but they’re a good first line of defence against damp weather.
You can also get thinner arm covers that protect against the summer sun without adding insulation. We think they're a bit pricey, but Castelli's UPF 50+ Light Arm Skins do a good job of stopping your arms getting fried.
Most warmers use silicone strips to grab your skin, although some very carefully-designed models manage to stay up without it. Some also have silicone on the outside to grab your shorts legs or jersey sleeves to keep them in place too.
Arm warmers are all supposed to be long enough to reach from your upper arm to your wrists, though some manufacturers do offer different sizes to accommodate longer or shorter arms. But as well as shorts-to-ankle leg warmers, you can also get knee warmers that end mid-calf and turn your shorts into three-quarter length tights. If you find it’s your knees that really take the brunt of cold weather, you may find this surprisingly comfortable.
Our readers are always a great source of information. Here's the pick of what they had to say about warmers in the previous version of this article.
Achtervolger: "I've found Decathlon's arm and leg warmers to be very good, and reasonably priced. The arm warmers stay up better on my skinny arms than other sets I've owned."
LastBoyScout: "I've got the Castelli Nanoflex knee and leg warmers and they're brilliant. However, the matching arm warmers were a terrible fit (unless you have really skinny arms) and the thin lycra panel means they don't keep your arms warm.
"Best arm warmers I've got fit-wise are a pair of Pearl Izumi ones - although they started white and sadly went grey after the first couple of washes."
portec: "I can vouch for the dhb Regulate leg warmers. I only purchased them recently so I don't know how they'd fare in mid-winter but for chilly Spring mornings I found them ideal. They're also not uncomfortably warm that you're forced to take them off as the temperature rises. The fabric is light and very stretchy so they're comfortable to wear - I barely notice them - and they're very easy to put on and take off. I love the rubber grip on the outside of the tops that grips the shorts so they don't move even on a long ride. I wore them on the recent Paris-Roubaix sportive over 170km and they stayed put for the entire ride, even as I was being shaken to bits over 54km of rough cobbles! Overall I'm very impressed."
notonthis: "Big fan of the Galibier arm & leg warmers. By far the best I have owned and actually designed to fit the body rather than a tube of material. Great grippers as well, never shift while on the bike.
stevio1967: "I've had several pairs of Gore's 2.0 Universal arm & knee warmers including some bright neon knee warmers, and used them extensively. I did just buy some "medium" Aldi arm warmers with reflective sleeves nr the cuffs as a low cost alternative to the Lusso Night ones, however on delivery they barely fit my wife and won't go over my hands, never mind forearms.
"The message; fit is everything and quality counts!"
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.