A pair of leg warmers can keep the heat in and your muscles working more smoothly.
"My leg warmers really make a difference"
Generally speaking, these are full length, pull on garments. Most of the leg warmers you will see are made of spandex or a similar material with varying degrees of water proofing applied. These are pulled up and held in place by putting the tops under the ends of your cycling shorts and the rubber ribbing at the top and bottom, much like the ends of your cycling shorts. Tapered to fit your legs they generally will not ride up. Some models have zippers while others do not. The downside of leg warmers over tights is that you won't get the frontal crotch coverage that tights offer
I own a pair of Castelli Thermoflex Leg Warmer . The performance of them is top notch. The big plus with leg warmers is that you can take them off easily, roll them up and put them in the back pocket of your jersey. If it is really nasty, they can also be used to augment a pair of tights for added warmth.
A very nice addition to a fall ride when you don't want the full coverage of a pair of leg warmers. In general, knee warmers will take up less room in your back jersey pocket than a full leg warmer. I have seen some very experienced riders remove them without stopping. I can't say that for let warmers. Here's a photo of me showing off my red Carnac knit knee warmers on a chilly ride up the Stelvio in Italy in September of 2007. My wife really loves this photo. It was about 75 at the bottom of the mountain and snowing at the top right after this photo was taken. We had a van meet us up there with some food and warm drinks.
The knee warmers really came in handy as the temp started to drop on the climb. It was pretty nice until it dropped into the 50s and 40s, then I really needed something on my legs.
Now this is the real deal for full on cold days. You and your stoker, or you alone if you are riding a single bike will really appreciate a good pair of cycling tights. The benefits that tights can really give is the full extra layer on your whole lower body, not just the legs or knees. A windstopper panel in the front will really help on the biting cold days or when it is rainy and cold. Your legs will really thank you for spending the little bit extra to get a really good pair.
You can step up and get the full on bib tights to ensure wind, rain or snow don't sneak in at the joint of your jersey/jacket and the waistline. Just remember that it is an extra layer to deal with when you have to use the facilities at one point or another. It isn't really all that terrible for us guys but you ladies have a lot of work to do when you need to heed the call of nature.
Warm up oils/rubs
Sometimes you just don't want to deal with another layer on your legs. You might not want a wet pair of knee warmers or you don't think it is going to get really "that" cold. One option you have is some warm up salve or oil that you can rub on your legs.
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