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What are Knee Warmers?

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  • Written By: Darrell Laurant
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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Knee warmers, a seemingly innocuous piece of clothing designed primarily for cyclists, have always been a subject of controversy among bike riders. Designed from a wide variety of materials -- including synthetic fleece, nylon, Spandex and Lycra -- knee warmers are designed, as the phrase implies, to keep the knees warm while biking. One cycling Website tosses out the mantra "If below 65 degrees, cover your knees."

Knee warmers are most often made as a sleeve for each knee, extending from mid-thigh to mid-calf. Ideally, this sleeve will intersect with biking shorts at the top and long socks at the bottom to provide continuous coverage to the legs. There is generally a band of elastic at top and bottom to hold the knee warmer in place.

Knee warmers can be purchased from virtually any cycling specialty store, all of which tout their particular warmth of material and ease of motion. They also come in sizes to fit varying leg lengths, and most cost in the range of $20-$30 US Dollars. Some of the newer knee warmers feature wool, which has the added attraction of "breathing" and drying quickly if soaked.

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The arguments against knee warmers range from the practical to the purist. Those in the former camp wonder that if it takes three different articles of clothing -- shorts, knee warmers and long socks -- to cover the entire leg, why not just wear sweat pants or stretch Lycra? Meanwhile, the more hard core bikers see knee warmers as a sign of weakness.

From that hardier set has come the phrase "Belgian knee warmers." This actually refers not to a piece of clothing, but to a liniment applied to the knee. According to its proponents, this keeps the knees warm from the chemical heat imparted while allowing freer range of movement. The liniment sheen on the knee on cold biking days is also regarded as a badge of toughness.

Range of motion is also an issue with those who regard knee warmers as constricting. The creator of the blog FatCyclist.com points out: "Knee warmers, while ostensibly keeping your knees warm (because we do not want chilly knees!) are in reality applying a gentle tourniquet to the quads, the muscles you use most when cycling. As a rider, you must ask yourself: which will help me stay warmer: a thin layer of Lycra, or not having my limbs turn blue and falling off?"

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lightning88
Post 4

Although I don't wear knee warmers, I have a few friends who swear by them.

According to my buddies, the cycling knee warmers keep your joints warm, which helps them to move more efficiently and keeps them from getting injured when you start biking and haven't warmed up yet.

They also say that it provides really good knee support, which is a big deal when you go trail riding and stuff like that.

So I have to say that I'm pretty torn on the whole knee warmers thing. While on the one hand I mercilessly tease my buddies for wearing bright white knee warmers, I can see their point about keeping your joints warm and functioning.

Where do you guys come down on the subject?

EarlyForest
Post 3

This article really made me laugh, because my grandfather wears knee warmers for his arthritis!

Of course, they're just some regular wool knee warmers, not the specialized bike knee warmers, but I really got a kick out of imagining Farfar out there biking like a maniac in the snow.

I'm surprised that people actually wear those things for exercising -- it seems like they would be really restrictive, which I can imagine would cause problems when you're biking. Thermal exercise pants seem like a better option than thermal knee warmers to me.

yournamehere
Post 2

How funny. I had no idea that there was so much controversy in the world of biking apparel.

Although I don't bike, and would therefore never need cycling knee warmers, I think that I could come down on the side of the purists and say that if you're really worried about your knees getting cold, then put on a pair of sweatpants.

Of course, I am totally not the voice of experience or anything, but it just seems really superfluous to use specialized knee warmers when once you start pedaling, your legs are going to get warm anyway, right?

Odd, very odd.

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