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.
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