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.

Knee warmers

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.

Riding with knee warmers.

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

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!

# Comments

  • jeff

    Have to admit I’m guilty of abandoning knee warmers for this very reason. Another key is buying the correct size. Just because you wear a size large t-shirt doesn’t mean your legs are size large in circumference. Look up sizing and measure around your thighs and calfs before buying.

    My hack to the knee warmer problem has been to wear protective knee pads on particularly chilly days. They stay put, offer generous warmth, and will protect me in the event of a crash. Win-win-win!

    Based on your tips I think I need to revisit this…

    • mtbgreg1

      Yeah, sizing leg things has always been a challenge for me. With tights and leg warmers, for instance, the ones that would fit as far as length are often way too tight around my quads… I guess my rock-hard legs are just too massive! 😀

      Thankfully, knee warmer length doesn’t really matter at all as long as they fit around your quads well. So great advice! Also, I’d add that, when trying on knee warmers or measuring, make sure you measure (or pull the warmers) far enough up your quad, as per this blog post!

  • abegold

    I found with knee warmers you have to have them tailored to your legs. Fold the top over to make it just a bit tight and sew it.
    Have Ibex warmers and now they work great.

  • Spartan

    Greg, I have massive thighs as well and I got the Pearl Izumi Leg warmers to use this winter. They are awesome. On my first two rides they came down and I was perplexed but it made sense due to my physical geometry. My fix that has worked amazing….Get everything ready..pump tires, put shoes on and do everything that causes excessive bending. Right before you mount the bike to leave use your waterbottle and squirt a little water on you hands and rub it all over your thighs, pull the warmers up into position and be gone. This has worked perfectly every time. Once you start to build up a sweat fuggedabout them falling down again. Important to note that hairy thighs will impede the grip of the warmer so a little trim might be well worth it to the manbeasts.
    Lastly, a great reason (not mentioned) to wear the leg warmers over full length tights is that you don’t get excessive bunching of all the layers of fabric in the crotchety regions at the saddle interface..

  • Fitch

    This is a great post! I’ve never thought to wear knee warmers for protective reasons; I always just figured I needed to tough-out the cold! Thank you for the recommendations!

  • Stl_Greaser

    I never knew there where adverse implications to riding with cold knees. Looks like I need to invest in a pair of knee warmers or pads!

  • kenoneputt

    Even that didn’t work for me. My solution has been to overlap the shorts and warmers by the width of the grippers, and then fold the warmers down to create an interlocking fold. That seems to do the trick.

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