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.
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.
That’s especially useful on autumn and spring days that start cold and warm up. When conditions improve you can peel off arm and leg warmers 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.
Here are 14 of the arm, leg and knee warmers we've reviewed and liked over the last few years.
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 2016 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.
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.
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 Hackney GT Robi Arm Warmers are a really nicely designed and original looking set of arm warmers. They are well insulated with a heavyweight fleece lining and a decent level of windproofing to keep out the autumn and winter chills.
The Prendas Meraklon arm warmers are basic but they do a good job and come at an amazingly cheap price.
They're essentially tubes of polypropylene (58%), nylon (40%) and elastane (2%) with a ribbed top and a more tightly woven cuff section at the bottom. A little more air gets through than with fleecy Roubaix fabrics but they're warmer than skinny Lycra warmers – they split the difference between the two. We found them a good option for typical spring/autumn conditions.
Polaris's RBS (really bright stuff) arm warmers keep you cosy with their thermal lining and visible with their reflective trim.
The biggest issue our tester had was that they didn't match with anything in his wardrobe, unlike classic “goes with anything” black arm warmers, but they are certainly warm, and provide a decent degree of protection from chilly weather and wind. They are quite tight though, with secure silicone grippers. That’s good if you have skinny arms, not so great if you’ve got guns from another sport.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, the Craft 3Ds 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.
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Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.