When I was introduced to my first arm warmers, they seemed like the punchline to a lousy joke. At the time, I lived in a place where temperatures at the start of a ride weren’t often terribly different from those at the finish. A cool day that deserved a long-sleeve jersey for even a minute, almost always did so for the whole of the day.

Those armwarmers I saw friends wear on late spring and early fall days did little to sell the concept, either. All black and usually made from Lycra with a bit too much stretch. Safety pins did the job of gripper elastic. Who in their right mind would choose armwarmers over a long-sleeve jersey that carried a design down each sleeve?

In the twenty-plus years since our introduction, I’ve moved, learned a thing or two and armwarmers have come a long, long way. They are now an indispensable part of my wardrobe and the reasons why are almost innumerable.

MuseeuwMuur01 @PhSpt

The first, biggest, reason is that I live in a place where your arms must be covered during morning rides at least eight months of the year. Many days, if you are on the bike long enough, the temperature can be counted on to rise 10 degrees or more, making clothing adjustments more than necessary.

Thermal Lycra with sublimated designs, improved fit (and less stretch) and gripper elastic have vastly improved the garments’ usability. And I love the look of an asymetric jersey design carried through long sleeves; who can forget the look of the red and blue Motorola jersey? The practicality and flexibility of armwarmers may have made them a necessary part of my wardrobe, but it doesn’t account for my affection for them.

To me, they are the visible embodiment of hard-man style. Their form-following fit befits the hardened physiques of the PROs and the aerodynamic requirement for speed. When I see a bulky long sleeve it makes me think of the countless base miles Euro PROs will accumulate in thermal jackets.

They are to arms what Belgian knee warmers are to the legs. It telegraphs the cold, the early start to the day, the hope for rising temperatures during spring and fall days. For reasons I don’t understand, they are rarely used on mountain stages in Grand Tours, so their appearance to me always spells a Classic.


I took my cues on how to wear armwarmers from the PROs I saw in photos from John Pierce and Graham Watson. Studying photos, I learned to put them on before my jersey so the sleeve came down over the cuff of the armwarmer, rather than pulling them over the sleeves.

Properly fitted armwarmers don’t budge, so when I see the exposed skin of an arm, what I see is a day with changing conditions—fresh rain, a cold wind blowing in. The best, though, are the shots that come from races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy, where the riders have pushed the armwarmers down to their wrists. As it’s not hard to take an armwarmer off, what I see in such shots is an indicator of just how hard the day is, how tactical the racing is and how other than for drinking an eating, the race hangs in too precarious a balance to take a hand off the bar for anything else.

I’m noticing a nip in the air on those early morning rides. It won’t be long now.

Images: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Trev

    I love wearing arm warmers. I always feel cooler (more stylin’) in them. For some reason they invoke a feeling of seriousness, or dedication….as though the weather would dictate you should not be riding, but you have chosen to ignore the cold and are ready to go. I often wear them, even without knee warmers….they just speak to how hardcore the rider is. But they also look pretty cool. I have not tried the Rapha ones yet, but so far my favorites are DeFeet arm warmers.

  2. Tony

    Thinking about arms and reading this : “To me, they are the visible embodiment of hard-man style. Their form-following fit befits the hardened physiques of the PROs and the aerodynamic requirement for speed”, while looking with the pack of toothpick arms depicted in the photo causes an uncomfortable level of cognitive dissonance.

    Sure, talk about hardened physiques and brute leg strength all you want, but leave the arms out of it. That FDJ on the left? Looks like my grandmother could snap his humerus with her arthritic hands. Of course, that’s before you take into account the fragile osteopenia lurking under those hardened triceps.

  3. Adam


    How does wearing armwarmers invoke a feeling of dedication? or how hardcore the rider is? One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen written on cycling.

    For the record, I love my arm warmers as well… but not because they make me look “pro” or make me hardcore. They keep my arms warm – go figure.

    1. Author

      Tony: I didn’t say their arms were muscular; they are hardened, as in lean.

      Adam: I totally get what Trev wrote. For many people, cycling is strictly a fair-weather activity and the moment you don a pair of amrwarmers you have acknowledged that your love of cycling is too great to be confined to warm weather.

  4. mark

    We may have had two weeks in July when arm warmers weren’t necessary on the weekly Alpine Loop ride. With a sunrise start and 8,000 foot summit, they’re indispensable.

  5. Marco Placero

    My lineage from the Tribe of Bobke Neanderthals gives me huge arms– along with that telltale pronounced brow ridge– and prevents pro armwarmer sag at the top, which on a Classic day does indeed look so hardened. Although most pros look like hatracks off the bike, on they look sleek with aero wings instead of bulk, and just the right amount of sag on a freezing day tells me too that they’re working like animals. Sweating like a fireman but with blue skin at the top where the sag shows.

    I gotta confess that if I could do it I’d shrink to Mr. Punyverse size. But I already strain like Levi when it’s my turn to open a bottle of bubbly and my doctor told me to start eating because my bodyfat is too low (got a secret boost outta that one, thanks doc).

    I can’t get my arms to shrink to that state of grace where on a cold day the jersey sleeve flaps in the wind and the armwarmer sags just right. Think Balan whirling out the final kliks to his Ronde win. But I still get cold on days when my more rotund buds roll their eyes on my must match jersey manicotti.

  6. trev

    @ adam

    if you took the time to read what I said , I will repeat….and you should have your answer.

    ” as though the weather would dictate you should not be riding, but you have chosen to ignore the cold”.

    Listen, if you are looking for a forum in which to be an idiot and pick fights go , get off here.

  7. Dan O

    Here in the Seattle area, arm warmers get used all year round – especially for early morning commutes or rides.

    I think they look cool as well…..

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