I need to level with you. I take a very skeptical view of most arm/leg/knee warmers. Even though I wear arm warmers for a good nine months of each year (people have no clue how cool the South Bay is), my standards are almost unreasonably high. I’m almost as likely to toss a new pair of arm warmers as I am to wear them. Almost.
The way I see it, I’m not being unreasonable. I just have a basic expectation. Arm warmers have a single mission: to stay in place so they may keep my arms warm. Same goes for leg and knee warmers. If they don’t stay in place then they can’t keep you warm, ergo, they haven’t fulfilled their mission. When I first entered cycling, I didn’t see anyone but PROs wear them. Then I saw a friend with a set. He safety pinned them to his jersey sleeves.
Let’s try that again: My buddy took safety pins and attached them to the ends of his jersey’s short sleeves to hold his arm warmers in place.
That’s a function fail. It’s a design fail. It’s a fashion fail. It’s more kinds of fail than I have the energy (though I certainly have more than enough space) to enumerate here. I rather instantly came to the conclusion that anything so poorly designed didn’t deserve to ride my skin. Then I became the dedicated cycling clothing guy for a bike magazine. I’ve worn dozens of different arm, leg and knee warmers over the years. I was required to try stuff I detested. Mercifully, I ended up only writing about the stuff that measured up.
Here are the most common fails. With arm warmers, length is usually the big one. Arm warmers that are too short make your upper arms and shoulders cold. Occaionally, I’ll run across a set made with Roubaix Lycra that isn’t stretchy enough. Pulling them on is a bit like getting a bone out of a dog’s mouth—surprisingly difficult and not without risks. Making them ultra-tight as a means to combat having them slip down is tantamount to setting fire to your checkbook to keep your spending down. Sometimes arm warmers are cut on too much of a taper, so by the time you find one that will fit your wrists, they are too loose on your upper arms. So they slip down.
With knee warmers length is an issue again. They need to be long so they can ride high on your thigh and still cover your calves. This, because most folks don’t own thermal bibs, so you want that Roubaix Lycra covering as much of your thigh as possible. This, by the way, is yet another reason to shave the whole of your leg. Having the leg grippers of a pair of knee or leg warmers pulling on hair is as much fun as being one half of a girl fight. And again, some Roubaix Lycras aren’t stretchy enough. The problem usually comes down to using material that is stretchy enough for thermal bibs, and because there’s lots more material in thermal bibs than there is in knee warmers, the smaller garment requires stretchier material. And for some, there’s a real challenge to finding a gripper elastic that won’t irritate the skin.
Leg warmers have the aforementioned challenges regarding the stretchiness of the material and even, sometimes, length. The bigger, more frequent issue has to do with zipper placement and taper. Years ago I recall seeing Axel Merckx in the start village of the Tour DuPont. He had leg warmers on. They looked like the most ridiculous bell bottoms ever imagined. Unless you played for George Clinton, and then they would have been money. Merckx’ calves were tiny, but the problem was that his ankles had been crafted from No. 2 pencils. Even zipped up, his leg warmers could have been caught by the chain and sucked through his drivetrain with the gleeful destruction of a Great White Shark feasting on whole chickens.
Could that be right? Ah, we’ll never know. He took the leg warmers off before the start of the stage.
So at some point I should probably mention Hincapie’s new stuff. I say let’s go for it. Okay, so the basics: The warmers are available in three colors—black, red and white. Length on the arm, knee and leg warmers is good. The arm warmers run from wrist almost to mid-bicep; they are roughly as long as some of the other big brands I’ve worn, though a bit shorter than my faves. They are different from some in that they are cut from two pieces of fabric—not one—to create a bend at the elbow. The knee and leg warmers are right in line lengthwise with some of the big brands like Giordana. And the ankles on the leg warmers? Cut on a nice taper so they don’t flair out like some pants. That the zipper on the leg warmers is red is an attractive detail. Another nice detail is that the zipper locks. I’ve noticed that I have to pull these leg warmers up exceedingly high to keep the bottom of the zipper above my cuboid bone (that bump on the outside of your ankle), which will just push it open if it isn’t flipped up in the locked position.
The warmers are all cut from Hincapie’s BodE Thermal Loft fabric. It’s unusually soft and seems to feature more loft than some materials I’ve worn, and it’s very stretchy so it’s easy to pull on. The Hincapie logo transferred onto the warmers is reflective because, Lord knows, half the time you’re wearing this stuff you’d have to shoot at F2.8 to get a properly exposed image.
All that stuff is nice, but not terribly different from stuff by competitors. Here’s why I bothered: Hincapie placed grippers on both the inside for against your skin and the outside to grab fabric. It’s a classic “D’oh!” innovation. That is, the fact that nobody did it before now made me go “D’oh!” when I pulled these out of the package. I didn’t need the fact sheet to clue me in on their purpose. In the image above the gray grippers at the top of the warmers are against your skin, while the red grippers hang on to your clothing. And both the knee and leg warmers are given grippers on the lower hems to keep them from riding up. These might be the most budge-proof warmers I’ve worn.
All that’s well and good, but this may be their best feature: Suggested retails for the arm, knee and leg warmers are $29.99, $39.99 and $49.99 respectively. In the past, I’ve spent more for less.