The Bike List

Rapha Merino Arm £45 and Knee £50 Warmers

Tested by Oliver Laverack, tester for The Bike List

It's 7am on a Saturday morning in Oct, it's dark and cold outside but by the time you step outside the door the sun has started to break through and despite being a chilly 7 degrees now, the forecast is for the temperature to rise to 14 degrees by 10am.

For me this is a classic arm and knee warmer territory. Not only is the temperature due to rise but once I've warmed up I may gradually become too warm, especially if heading out on a fast training ride. This is where the flexibility of being able to peel back layers whilst riding is invaluable.

As well as offering on the fly heat adjustment for colder days, arm and knee warmers are also a great back up plan for rides when the weather starts off great but has the potential to turn. Another key time I tend to carry arm warmers in my back pocket is as the summer draws to an end and I end up cycling back late in the evening.

So, on to material, and you may be asking what's wrong with traditional nylon and polyester based arm warmers? Well, compared to other arm warmers I have used these merino versions are noticeably softer. The super soft merino wool certainly feels nice to wear and once on you quickly forget they are there. Compared to polyester arm and leg warmers these merino counterparts are much easier to slide on thanks to their extra stretch, and once on they are also exceptionally comfortable thanks to the super soft fabric. This is also testament to the soft silicone grippers which also offer plenty of stretch and help hold the warmers in place without restricting blood flow or movement. I have found some arm warmers to feel a bit restrictive after several hours of use but this hasn't been an issue with these offerings from Rapha, making them ideal for really long days in the saddle.

Size wise the medium arm warmers have offered a great fit and good length. The size medium knee warmers however have felt a little loose on occasion, but my legs have filled them as my training has increased! It may be worth considering going for a smaller size than you normally would if you have more of a climber's physique. If you're more of a sprinter I suspect you'd be fine.

I have been wearing mine in cold and wet conditions for over a year now and have been thoroughly impressed. I have, however, found there to be a major difference to the other polyester and nylon arm warmers I own. It's down to the fabric which, when stretched, can become thinner in places, compared to polyester equivalents, allowing air to travel through more easily. I've found that this can be both good and bad. On cold days it's unpleasant when cool air sneaks in, but once you're warmed up the same tiny holes offer great ventilation. Arguably, if you wanted to then cool down you could roll the arm warmers down but for me this has meant I often don't need to worry about peeling them down once warm and I stay a comfortable temperature. Also, I have found that once you roll your arm warmers down you can quickly get cold again and can sometimes end up rolling them up and down constantly.

Having been caught out in the odd shower I have found these arm and knee warmers to be very good at helping you retain your heat even when damp and they also dry out relatively quickly as you ride (as long as they're not drenched).

Being made from a naturally anti-bacterial fabric, thanks to the lanolin in the wool, they also don't pong too quickly and I usually get at least three rides out of mine before I feel like I ought to wash them.

Before discovering knee warmers I used to occasionally come back from cold rides with really cold and red knees when I'd worn just bibshorts. Keeping them insulated with knee warmers, especially these, has helped with that. I know that both the arm and knee warmers will come in really handy for next years trip to France where we'll be ascending and descending some of the major mountain such as Alpe d'Huez, Col du Glandon and Col du Galibier. Having experienced long descents before it's amazing how cold you can get when whizzing down at 80kph for 10 minutes after having spent the previous 50 minutes sweating profusely.

There's no denying that these arm and knee warmers are a fair chunk of money costing £95 for the full set. You can certainly spend a lot less. Merino arm warmers from Endura for example cost just £17. Although Rapha's arm and knee warmers are well made and have seen a years use and still look like new, with virtually no loss of shape, I still feel they are a little over-priced. The material is excellent but they are essentially just round tubes of fabric flatlock-stitched together. To counter that, they are some of the most pleasant flatlock-stitched tubes of fabric I've had the pleasure to wear over my arms and knees. I defend Rapha's pricing where I think it is justified but to my mind these should be around £30 each at most and then they'd score 8 or 9 for value. If money is no object then I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these above traditional nylon and polyester arm and knee warmers.

At a glance

Verdict Pricey but super soft, stretchy and breathable weather barriers for your arms and knees. Ideal for cold starts, unpredictable weather, and long days in the saddle.
Value
Performance

Rapha says:

Merino Arm Warmers

Made from a fabric developed exclusively by Rapha, these high-performance arm warmers combine the natural performance properties of merino wool with a degree of Lycra for stretch and durability. They provide insulation, are highly breathable and also transfer moisture effectively. The fabric is quick-drying so the arm warmers can be used in a variety of conditions. They are versatile enough for city riding and work brilliantly when paired with any short-sleeved Rapha jersey.

Key features:

  • Exclusive, merino-blend fabric
  • Flatlock stitching
  • Rubber gripper to ensure they won't slip
  • Naturally odour resistant and anti-bacterial

Merino Knee Warmers

Made from a fabric developed exclusively by Rapha, these high-performance knee warmers combine the natural performance properties of merino wool with a degree of Lycra for stretch and durability. They provide insulation, are highly breathable and also transfer moisture effectively. The fabric is quick-drying so the knee warmers can be used in a variety of conditions.

Key features:

  • Exclusive, merino-blend fabric
  • Flatlock stitching
  • Rubber gripper to ensure they won't slip
  • Naturally odour resistant and anti-bacterial
  • Quick-drying
  • Insulating and breathable