Knee and leg warmers are one of the most versatile pieces of kit in the road cyclist's locker. Here is our guide to this useful piece of kit
What are leg warmers?
For those new to the sport, leg warmers are designed to be worn with bib shorts. They are intended to be worn underneath your shorts, typically from the mid point of the thigh to the ankle, being typically made from lyrca, with silicone grippers to hold them in place.
Knee warmers are a shorter version of leg warmers, and you guessed it, cover the knee joint, effectively transforming your bib shorts into a 3/4 length short. Although less popular than leg warmers, they can be very useful in certain conditions.
If you ride in a temperate climate with changeable weather, it can often be chilly in the mornings or evenings. Leg warmers give you the option to set out in cold weather while keeping warm.
Once you warm up and the mercury rises, leg warmers can be peeled off and stuffed in your jersey pocket (or team car!). Another popular use is to put a pair of warmers on ahead of a chilly mountain descent.
Why wear leg warmers?
Why not just wear a pair of tights you may be asking? While a pair of tights may do a similar job in chilly conditions, they are nowhere near as versatile.
Living in the UK, the weather can be very changeable. Often you start a ride first thing, feeling a little chilly, with the temperature around 8ºC only to rise.
Having a pair of leg warmers you can peel off and stuff in a jersey pocket is a great option. They are also really useful for riding in the mountains. Ahead of a long, chilly descent a pair of leg warmers can be a godsend. You will often see professional riders warming up in leg warmers, only to take them off before they take to the start line.
What to look for
Quality pairs of cycling leg warmers are ergonomically shaped to accommodate a bent knee, allowing for good freedom of movement and to maximise comfort. With regards to size, we would suggest you opt for the same size you would normally wear for shorts.
More expensive pairs often have a multiple panel construction, with single piece warmers typically being cheaper. Some will feature a zip opening on the ankle to aid taking them off over shoes. Warmers such as Castelli’s NanoFlex have a water repellant coating, although this does wear off over time. Bear in mind that you can apply your own hydrophobic coating to most leg warmers.
Our pick of the best leg warmers
Castelli NanoFlex+ leg warmers
Review score: 9/10
A market leader, the NanoFlex warmers are renowned for providing comfort, warmth and protection from the rain thanks to a water repellent coating. The grippers hold them up without digging in and the fit is close-to-skin. We did find that the water repellent coating didn’t last as long as we’d like, though.
The newest ‘NanoFlex+’ versions have an extra flexible insert running down the back, which provides added flexibility.
Sportful No-Rain Knee Warmers
Using very similar fabric to Castelli’s offering, the NoRain warmers boast nanotechnology which keeps the rain water out without keeping too much heat in. They’re soft, stretchy, and the silicone gripper at the top keeps them in place.
GripGrab Classic leg warmers
Review score: 9/10
Effectively like two seamless tubes of material, these stretchy leg warmers come with no zips to cause irritation.
Not ideal for the coldest of days (though the range now consists of various levels of weight for a range of conditions), we found them great in mild conditions and enjoyed the breathability offered by the light material.
Assos S7 leg warmers
The Assos leg warmers take a different route when compared to most. Rather than using a gripper to hold them in place at the thigh, these travel right up to your hip, and rely upon the lycra in your shorts to hold them in place.
Made from a warm RXQ fabric, the fact that they go right up to the hips also adds to their longevity as they provide almost the same coverage as a pair of winter bib tights. It is worth bearing in mind that they’re not water repellant, however.
Lusso NiteLife Thermal Knee Warmers
Review score: 9/10
If you’re not after full leg warmers, then these knee warmers from Lusso are a good alternative. We found the gripper kept them in place well, and the reflective fabric on the cuff is a nice nod towards visibility.
dhb Regulate Lite knee warmers
Test score: 9/10
You don’t want to pay too much for a set of warmers which are mainly designed for the small window between summer and winter – and you won’t have to with this value option from dhb, at £16.
We found these knee warmers just right for the in-between months, liked the length of them and found the grippers kept them in place well without being uncomfortable.
Dress right for the Autumnal weather
How have we tested the leg warmers?
We have been testing these leg warmers on rides of various lengths in different weather conditions. This has included rides with changeable weather and stuffing them in a jersey in anticipation of long descents from the tops of chilly cols.
All the warmers tested were judged on the following criteria: fit, comfort, thermal insulation, breathability and other features such as water repellency. We also paid close attention as to how well they stayed in place during a ride.
How we score
10 – Superb, best in its class and we couldn’t fault it
9 – Excellent, a slight change and it would be perfect
8 – Brilliant, we’d happily buy it
7 – Solid, but there’s better out there
6 – Pretty good, but not quite hitting the mark
5 – Okay, nothing wrong with it, but nothing special
4 – A few niggles let this down
3 – Disappointing
2 – Poor, approach with caution
1 – Terrible, do not buy this product