For an experienced mountain biker who has been riding for decades, this might seem like a no-brainer. But to a relatively new user of knee warmers, figuring out how the heck to keep those slippery pieces of lycra from sliding down your legs and bunching up at the knees can be very frustrating… and for many, it can lead to shunning knee warmers altogether.
Why You Should Wear Knee Warmers
But why should you even bother to wear knee warmers? Admittedly, at first blush they seem like an idiotic piece of clothing: only about two feet long, and weighing only a few ounces, how much warmth can these things even provide? And why not just wear pants?
The main reason I have heard long-time cyclists give for the practice of wearing knee warmers is to protect the cartilage in your knee. According to cycling lore, you should cover your knees any time the temperature drops below 60 degrees. And for some lifetime cyclists, that cut-off line is even as high as 70.
If you think about it, when you’re on the bike your knees are two of the most exposed parts of your body. They are constantly breaking the wind, and since there is almost no flesh on your knees, there is essentially no insulation. The long-term effects of exposure to cold wind can reportedly cause serious cartilage damage over time.
As cyclists, our knees are one of the things we need to function well in order to bike, so if there is any chance of developing arthritis or other knee issues, I personally would like to stave that off for as long as possible.
The problem is actually keeping knees warm. When dressing for a bike ride, it’s difficult to find the perfect clothing balance: too little clothing and you’ll freeze, too much clothing and you’ll sweat like a hog. Oftentimes, (usually in the 50s and high 40s for me) a pair of regular riding shorts is warm enough for everything… except my knees. And, if I was to wear full-length tights at those temperatures, they would be way too warm.
Knee warmers offer the perfect compromise.
However, keeping those darned things from falling down can sometimes seem impossible. Personally, the battle of the knee warmer slide almost made me abandon them altogether. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I learned the secret to keeping them up:
It all depends on what chamois or shorts you’re wearing.
See, road bikers never really experience the problem of the drooping warmers because they always wear bibs or shorts that come down to just above the knee. In many mountain bike shorts, however, the chamois stops about halfway down the thigh.
In order to keep the knee warmers from falling down, there needs to be significant overlap of the warmer and chamois. If there is only one inch of overlap, that’s not enough: I like there to be about 4 inches or so.
So lately, here’s how I’ve been wearing my knee warmers:
- Knee warmer, pulled halfway up my thigh, bottom end of knee warmer near top of calf.
- Bibs (which go down to the knee), over the top of the knee warmer. About 3-4 inches of overlap.
- A pair of baggies (just the outer, no additional chamois) over the top for comfort and warmth.
In addition to the overlap, the final ingredient is to have a thick rubber gripper on the very end of whatever chamois or pair of shorts you’re wearing. All bibs have these (as far as I’m aware), and they help to latch on to the knee warmers and prevent the inevitable slip-slide.
Now you know the ancient secret to wearing knee warmers, and can wow your friends with warm, covered knees and zero bunching!