Knee warmers may be cycling’s most eccentric garments but we still love them

Knee warmers may be cycling’s most eccentric garments but we still love them

The most commonly used and yet neglected piece of wardrobe in cycling is knee warmer and is probably quite complicated to explain to someone who is not acquainted with this sport. It surely does not take too much space in your cabinet and lies crammed between your bib shirts, tights and shorts, the poor knee warmer is able to provide its services for a diverse range of temperatures. Hey, at least I have not come across any cyclist who does not use a knee warmer and I bet you will not encounter any either. Let’s take you through the background of these leg tubes that have become so important for us cyclists. Here is a link to the Big Book of Cycling for Beginners that discusses some layering issues to help you get through all kinds of weathers.


Knee warmers emerged onto the global scene for the first time way back in 1991. Cyclist Edwig Van Hooydonck was the first one to put them on. In addition to his remarkably Flemish name, Van Hooydonck had a versatile approach to clothing as he believed in putting on minimalist apparel, one that could aid him in pursuing his love for cycling.

The cyclist suffered a knee injury in 1989 Tour of Flanders so he intended to keep his knees warm in the frigid temperatures but he was not all that happy with his leg warmers that used to bunch around his ankles. Initially, he tried out the longer knickers but found them to be annoyingly baggy. So, what did he do? Yes, you guessed it right! He trimmed the lower portion of his leg warmers and gave birth to the knee warmers.

Knee warmers soon became an essential part of a cyclist’s attire. There are numerous sportsmen in the world of cycling who still refer to knee warmers as Van Hooydoncks. However, we will not suggest you to pronounce that name when you are breathing heavily during a race! (pun intended)

What makes them awesome?

Knee warmers were comfortably able to conquer knickers and became the most commonly used means to extending one’s cycling apparel. Instead of replacing all your shorts with knickers when the weather becomes harsh, a single pair of knee warmers can render your typical collection of bibs bearable into the low 40s. And if temperatures increase during the ride (as is often the case), it is easier to remove knee warmers and tuck them into one’s pockets in contrast to tights or leg warmers.

Physiologically, knee warmers are designed to knee joint and tendons warm which can be essential preventing injury. Exercise physiologist Sean Burke believes that cold decreases the flexibility of soft tissue as well as the probability of injuring that tissue hence knee warmers ensure that all the movements are carried out in a seamless manner.

Having said that, Burke further envisages that the ideal way to warm up the joints, muscles and tendons is to send more blood flow to them by getting on the pedals. So, he goes on to reiterate that, knee warmers can never serve up as an alternative to a good warm up.

This video provides insight into the appropriate layering for rides at any temperature.

Choosing a knee warmer

Steve Smith of Castelli is of the view that an ideal knee warmer should fit snugly and it should be of an appropriate length. This means that the knee warmer should overlap with the shorts appropriately so that it stays up and the overlapping layers ensure that the thighs are kept warm.

So, it is always judicious to try out a knee warmer before you purchase one. It has been observed that cut and sizing can differ which implies that an ideal fit by one manufacturer might squeeze your kneecaps, cause irritation in the skin or restrict your movements in another. To truly analyze the fit, ensure that you try out the full extent of motion; though you might appear to be a lunatic at the shop but it will come in handy later on.

There are a wide array of weights available ranging from full winter fleece to lightweight spandex. Your choice here is predicated on the conditions that you have to face generally but Smith suggests that one should look for a knee warmer made of a water repellent fabric such as Castelli’s nanoflex so that the warmer should not get bulky, watery and cold during rainy days.

A style statement

As soon as you have purchased your knee warmers, you should put them on in an appropriate manner. Robin Carpenter of Holowesko-Citadel, a fashion stylist, should come from mid-thigh to mid-calf. However, he believes that it is absolutely pivotal to manifest some skin between the trendy tall socks and the well-positioned warmers. The knee warmers, he opines, should be put on in a manner that the seam is positioned towards the back but not directly behind the knee as it can cause some discomfort. This can be tackled by moving it a bit to one side or another for maximum comfort.