Road Cycling

The Search: Leg Warmers for Female Cyclists that Avoid Sausage Leg

A reader asked us to find a pair of leg warmers that actually looked nice. Challenge accepted!

We’ve got ‘37.5 fabric’, ‘No Rain’, ‘Nanoflex’ and carbon woven into our bibs. You’d have thought someone would have been able to provide leg warmers for female cyclists that avoid sausage leg by now. 

Sausage leg can also be called ‘muffin leg’. This is derived from ‘muffin top’ – the term given to displaced fat caused by wearing skinny jeans low on the hips.

Though men can experience muffin/sausage leg, since women have on average 10 per cent more body fat (most of it deposited around the hips and bottom) it’s something that we tend to notice more.

Most cycling brands have a focus on catering for their majority male audience. Therefore they often put their leg warmer efforts into ensuring the grippers are tight enough for the tubes of fabric not to fall down, paying less attention to making them friendly towards upper leg ‘padding’.

So when a reader tweeted TWC asking for suggestions of leg warmers that wouldn’t create twin lumps in the short cuffs of a female cyclist, we decided to take them up on the challenge.

We’ve taken six pairs of leg and knee warmers that are designed to limit ‘muffin leg’ – with careful attention to the grippers, and photographed them on a size 8/10 keen cyclist (myself) to see just how effective they are.

Of course, readers will be a variety of sizes, and we can’t photograph warmers on a model of every size. However, the pictures should give a clear indication of which work – and which don’t.

The contenders: our six pairs of leg warmers

X-Bionic No Seam Leg Warmer £53 here 

The party trick for X-Bionic is the use of a seamless construction that means no chafing, as well as the use of ‘expansion knee’ technology to enable easy knee movement and ‘Partial Kompression’ to protect against fatigue from vibrations. The seamless construction also means that they shouldn’t dig in, too. The cuff is said to be ‘self adjusting’, meaning it will expand or contract to meet your leg. Perfect, right?

The verdict: The compression technology and notably breathable material certainly make for a supportive and comfortable fit over the leg.

My temperature was well moderated and I felt warm enough in these even on cold mornings and wearing them through the tail end of winter. The use of particularly stretchy fabric at the knee meant there was no discomfort or restriction when pedalling.

In terms of the gripper… though the seamless technology meant there was no chafing I did find the top dug in. Because the warmers were pretty long, the indent occurred just below the bum, creating effectively a ‘bum shelf’. Not really the look I was going for.

I tried these in both a Medium and a Large, eventually choosing to use the Large long term. This does imply bigger riders might struggle to find a good fit.

Good for: Autumn/spring – plenty of support and compression for racer’s riding hard

Size tested: Large

Leg gripper grade: 2.5/5

X-Bionic's leg warmer and the 'bum shelf'

Pearl Izumi Unisex Elite Thermal Leg Warmer £34.99 here 

Designed for winter riding, these leg warmers are lined with a thermal fleece that is pretty warm and cosy. The fabric is flexible, with 14 per cent elastane to go with nylon and polyester, so it’s extremely stretchy. The reflective ‘P’ on the lower leg stands out, and there are zips on the lower leg to make them easy to get on and off.

Pearl Izumi say these have a “plush wide elastic binding with silicone gripper for a stayup fit”. The band is wide, but it’s also fairly sturdy.

The verdict: Warm they are, and stretchy and cosy they are too. There was plenty of movement around the knee, and I could wear these on chilly mornings and stay warm.

The leg gripper – though wide – is made of quite a strong elastic. Efforts have been made, but I found these did dig in. They were also quite long, too, perhaps because I’d gone for a medium – but the tight gripper meant I wouldn’t size down to a small.

Good for: Autumn/spring morning and winter

Size tested: Medium

Leg gripper verdict: 2/5

Pearl Izumi's leg warmers were mega cosy, but dug in quite badly

A Seamless leg warmers £35 here 

Alé are fast becoming one of our favourite brands. These leg warmers are made from 70 per cent Polypropylene, 26 per cent polyamide and 5 per cent elastane, and are seamless with information printed on the cuffs so that no tags are required.

The fabric is incredibly stretchy, and designed to dry quickly. The gripper is just a slightly tighter tube of fabric and doesn’t appear to be overly restrictive.

The verdict: These are light and breathable, so are ideal for round-the-year wear, they also roll up tightly so can be removed on a summer ride if you’re starting before the sun has had its effect. The gripper is soft, and doesn’t feel restrictive, but does leave a slight groove meaning I can’t give these a full nod of approval, even though they feel really comfortable to wear.

Good for: Autumn and spring. Cover over the whole leg without being too warm.

Size tested: Medium

Leg gripper rating: 3.5/5

Ale leg warmers left a slight groove but were a little better than most thanks to seamless construction

Giro Chrono Knee Warmers £24.99 here 

Giro’s Chrono leg warmers arrived alongside the full Chrono range that we know and love.

Made from a ‘Wikipro’ fabric blended from elastane, polyester and nylon, these are incredible soft and stretchy. So much so that they feel a little delicate – but we’ve been wearing these reguarly since receiving them in August 2015 and they’re still going strong. The design is seamless, and tagless, so there’s no nasty rubbing or chafing to be had. They’re also light, so roll up well into a pocket if required.

The verdict: These leg warmers are the softest I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing, which is a good start. They also wick sweat beautifully  – though they tend to feel a bit damp on removal.

The gripper isn’t bad – it’s visible, but not overly so, and also feels fairly flat and comfortable against the skin. It’s worth noting that on our 5ft5 model, the ‘knee’ warmers were quite long. As though perhaps they were designed with generally taller human beings in mind.

Good for: Chilly spring mornings, summer before races when you want a light layer

Size tested: Small

Leg gripper grade: 3.5/5

Giro's 'knee warmers' are super comfy, but seem to be made for - taller people?

Madison Sportive Thermal Knee Warmers £19.99 here

This was the pair we were most excited about when we received them. Promising a light fleecy Lycra with thinner material behind the knee to prevent overheating, the shorter length means these are really ideal for the shoulder seasons. They also feature flatlock stitching to eliminate any chafing or discomfort – though this puts them at a disadvantage compared to other pairs which are seamless.

The key detail is the wide leg gripper, with a rubberised pattern on the inside to hold them up. Madison made a special effort to address the issue of grippers, and the idea is that the rubberised pattern does the hard work, so the band doesn’t need to be tight or restrictive.

The verdict: Success! You’re always going to get a slight groove (unless you’re absolutely ripped, with low body fat!) but these were the best of the bunch on the gripper front. The fleece lining is quite warm, but being knee warmers, there’s still plenty of room for breathability which means we could wear these on those days the air is just a bit nippy. Masion also offer a leg warmer with the same deign, if you want something a bit warmer.

Good for: Year round wear, versatility. Short length means they roll up into a jersey pocket well too.

Size tested: Medium

Leg gripper rating: 4.9/5 – this is as good as it’s going to get, ladies!

The Madison sportive knee warmer - the best you're going to get in terms of gripper!

ASSOS EV07 Leg Warmer – £80

Assos are known for providing high quality, carefully thought out kit – generally with a price tag elevated well over most of the alternatives on the market. The ASSOS EV07 leg warmers are no exception.

The leg warmers are constructed from three different fabrics to provide varying levels of protection and flexibility where you need it at the knee as well as reflective material at the rear ankle.

The upper leg construction – the key element in our group test, is entirely different to any other pair on test. A lightly elasticated hem sits on the inner thigh, whilst a loosly fitting ‘flap’ extends right to the top of the hip.

The idea of this is to provide warmth the entire length of the leg – but the added bonus is that your shorts hold this section close to your leg, and there’s no need for any tight elastic.

The verdict: These effectively transform your shorts into tights. Yes, they come with a pretty hefty price tag, but then if they can save you buying extra kit come winter it could be worth it. The fabric is quite thick and sturdy, with a soft fleece lining that feels great against the skin.

The ‘flap’ is a little bit difficult to fit – it needs to lie completely flat against your skin to be comfortable. In the end, we found the easiest method was to roll the warmers up first, then add shorts afterwards.

Good for: Winter riding, when you would wear full on tights

Size tested: Medium

Leg gripper rating: 4/5

Assis' leg warmer turns summer shorts into tights

The overall winner: Madison Sportive Thermal Knee Warmers

There had to be one winner – and we liked the Madison pair the most. Not only were they the friendliest in the wallet department, they’re versatile, and the leg gripper was the least obtrusive by a country mile.

Close competition came from Assos, Giro and Alé. However, in the case of Assos we couldn’t overlook the price tag, and might be more inclined to opt for full length tights if this kind of protection was called for, and the Ale and Giro pairs felt great on but just couldn’t match Madison’s seamless transition from shorts to warmer.

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