16 November 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Swiftwick Olefin Arm Warmers

Now you can buy Swiftwick socks and arm warmers directly from Bikefix, with free shipping! Visit our store!

I've never really taken to arm warmers. The idea is great- a bit of extra insulation for cool mornings that can easily be removed and stashed in a jersey pocket when temperatures rise or the sun comes up. Unfortunately, for riders like myself, who aren't particularly built around the biceps, finding arm warmers that work (especially for the more upper body-intensive mountain biking) can be a bit of a challenge. When I first saw sock company Swiftwick's Olefin Arm Warmers at Interbike last fall, their approach made a lot of sense. Rather than building their warmers like sleeves or tights, Swiftwick knit theirs like socks (after all, they are a sock company). Pulling them on at the time, they actually felt like they might stay up. After talking to the company at this year's show, they sent out a new and improved second generation for us to review.

Available in three lengths (S/17in, M/19in, L/21in), Swiftwick's Arm Warmers are continuously knit of olefin. While the Nobel Prize-winning fabric floats and is the stuff Tyvek is made of, it also wicks moisture, is extremely durable and holds its shape well. When pulling them on, even a rider as skinny as myself notices the snugness along their entire length. It may be to impart some of the benefits of compression garments, or just keep them from slipping down, but Swiftwick's Arm Warmers are snug enough that my arms don't fall right back to my sides when wearing them. Though the snugness felt a bit restrictive off the bike, while wearing them they feel quite normal. The only downside that I can see to the Arm Warmers' snugness is that they're impossible to remove while wearing gloves- which means that I can't remove them while riding. The Arm Warmers are knit with stripes down the inside of the arms and an elbow-y shaped pattern at the inside of the elbow, but I can't necessarily feel any benefit to pulling them on with the markings any one way over another (they aren't pre-bent like crew socks are- thought that might be cool). If nothing else, they ensure that the company's logos are upright and visible when worn.

I tend to be skeptical of any knit fabric's ability to keep the wind at bay- a preconception that probably come from my experience with loosely-knit wool jerseys. That said, the Swiftwick Arm Warmers do a very good job at doing just that, even on high-speed road descents. They're not windproof, but are certainly no more permeable than a mid-heavy weight jersey. Not unlike wool, the olefin material itself seems to regulate temperature very well- I've worn the Swiftwicks on cloudy days in the low 60s and cool mornings around 50 degrees without being either too hot or too cold. Because they are snug from bottom to top, the Swiftwicks hardly move at all, so all but disappear when warn. Despite wearing the company's largest size (they were out of stock in my size), I have yet to notice any slippage, on road or off.

Not everyone shares my physique. However, a disproportionate number of cyclists do, so it's nice to find a set of arm warmers that actually fit. Sweetening the deal is the fact that the made-in-America Olefin Arm Warmers cost only $22.50 (either at your local bike shop or through the company's website)- making giving them a go a pretty low risk. 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. After several weeks, I see myself wearing these well into the fall and again next spring- look for a longer-term review then.



thanks to Kip Malone Photography for the photos.

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