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Review: Swiftwick Ole Armwarmers

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Mmm…  Fall.  After a long, hot summer, who doesn’t look forward to crisp mornings, changing colors, and the reduced likelihood of violent afternoon thundershowers?  Along with the return of cooler temperatures, I am always happy to welcome some cool-weather favorites back from hibernation.  This year, the first things out of the closet were my Swiftwick Ole armwarmers.  Click ‘more‘ to find out why…

Like many cyclists, I have biceps that could charitably described as aerodynamic.  For that reason, it took me quite a while to get arm warmers.  For a long time, I held on to my first pair- and never used them. Like most arm warmers, these were basically sheet of fabric sewn into a long tube with a gripper at the top end.  They were good for keeping a chill off the arms, but really a bit too warm for their use, often resulting in the unique combination of rock-hard nipples and sweaty forearms.  Infuriatingly, they would slip shortly into every road ride (and immediately off road).  Eventually, I made friends with lightweight jackets and carried on.

swiftwick-olefin-arm-warmer-2A few years ago, Swiftwick- a sock company- introduced their Olefin arm warmers.  I tried a pair on at Interbike and was impressed- they were the first I’d found that felt like they were built for cyclists.  Continuously knit in the USA like the company’s excellent compression and riding socks, Swiftwick’s Ole Armwarmers don’t have distinct grippers, instead relying on top-to-bottom compression to stay put.  And stay put they do.

The fit of Swiftwick’s arm warmers feels a bit funny at first- much like compression garments do.  It takes a good tug to get them on, but once in place, the Oles are very comfortable.  Even though I weigh in at 140lb, my large (21in- medium/19in and small/17in are also available) arm warmers are snug along their entire length- so much so that my arms don’t fall right back down to my sides when wearing them.  It feels odd off the bike but very natural when riding.  Pulling them off isn’t too bad when starting from the top cuff, though it can be hard to get them past larger gloves.  On the road bike, it’s easy enough to pull the Swiftwicks past summer gloves and stuff them in a jersey pocket without stopping.

Warmth-wise, they are on par with a jersey and base layer and breathe well.  I was initially skeptical of the ability of a knit to keep the wind at bay, but they generally do a better job at that than the jerseys they’re likely to be paired with, even at road speeds. The Nobel Prize-winning olefin floats (I’m told) and is the stuff Tyvek is made of- but more relevantly wicks moisture, is extremely durable, and holds its shape well.  It also does a good job at regulating temperatures- I find the Ole Armwarmers comfortable from pre-dawn rides at 50 degrees to sunny 60-degree afternoons.

Despite pulling about eight feet of thread from them while washing (don’t throw them in with snag-covered mountain shoes), my year-old pair look almost new.  At $22.50, the Oles are about as inexpensive arm warmers as I’ve seen- especially impressive for having been made in the first world.

Not everyone shares my physique. However, a large number of cyclists do, so it’s nice to find a set of arm warmers that actually fit us. I could imagine more muscular riders struggling a bit to pull them on- but then again, they may be that much more comfortable and compressive for them as well. It takes a truly exceptional product to make me rethink a whole category of gear, and Swiftwick have made an arm warmer fan out of me.


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