Gear of the Day: Rapha Arm Screens


A subtle bend in the elbow enhances fit.

I have to admit I was pretty skeptical when a set of white Rapha Arm Screens ($45) showed up in the mail about a month back. In theory the idea that a little shade for your arms on hot, sunny days makes sense the same way a patio umbrella does.

But this doesn’t take into account the wind factor – as in when you are pedaling your bike down the road, the manufactured breeze helps keep you cool. And typically the best way to take advantage of that breeze is to expose as much skin as possible, which is why in July at the Tour de France we’ll see lots of unzipped jerseys flapping in the breeze when temperatures climb.

So while I’m sold on the idea that Arm Screens provide protection from the sun to the tune of UPF 50, the idea that, as the marketing copy reads, “the technical fabric also includes coldblack technology to keep the fabric cool against the skin,” seemed a little dubious.

Yes, this is how we rode down a shadeless road on a 95-degree day.

Initial testing confirmed this. While not hot the way a regular arm warmer would be if worn on a balmy day, when I slipped on the Rapha Arm Screens during a lunch pedal in Boulder, Colorado last week, slightly clammy was the first impression that came to mind. It wasn’t overwhelmingly stuffy, but I certainly preferred bare skin.

But one ride doesn’t make a test, so this past weekend I tucked the Arm Screens into my jersey pocket just before heading out for a ride departing from the tiny town of Naturita in far western Colorado. It turned out to be one of the better decisions I made that day.

Due to various circumstances, my ride partner Dave and I got a late start (11 a.m.) for what turned out to be a 79-mile, 4.5-hour ride from Naturita to Old La Sal, Utah and back for my ongoing “75 Classic Rides: Colorado” guide book research. The late start is noteworthy, because as anyone who’s traveled that part of Colorado knows, afternoons get really hot there this time of the year. In this case mid-90s with not a speck of shade hot.

After pedaling most of the way out to Old La Sal and starting to overheat in a way that is borderline scary, I remembered that I’d brought along the Arm Screens and decided it was time to give them another shot. Except this time I put them on wet thanks to a hose pumping out ice cold spring water on the right side of the road near the top of our last climb during the out-leg of the ride.

Success. Gone was the clam-factor that had turned me off during ride No. 1, replaced by a pleasant cooling sensation that helped make this dessert-furnace jaunt a little more bearable. Of course, the Arm Screens eventually started to dry. But that was just about the time we reached our next water bottle top off (and Arm Screen dousing) point at the old Bedrock General Store on lonely Colorado Highway 90. It’s also worth noting that after an initial application of SPF 50 sunscreen right before roll-out, I never re-applied. But at the end of the ride, thanks in part to the Arm Screens, my arms did not resemble the main course at Red Lobster.

Rapha’s Arm Screens are considerably thinner than their arm warmer counterparts.

Bottom line, I don’t see myself wearing Rapha’s Arm Screens all summer long, but when heading out on super hot days, they can be a great weapon against the sun and its skin-burning rays — as long as you can get them wet.

The lone remaining question is how well the black Arm Screens work. (I was sent a pair of those, too, but haven’t tested them yet.) Common sense would dictate, not as well. And if current product availability is any indication, consumer sentiment echoes this. Right now all sizes of white Arm Screens are sold out on the Rapha website, but all sizes of the black are available.

Rapha Arm Screens Key Features

  • Stretch fabric exclusive to Rapha
  • UPF 50 protection
  • Anti-bacterial treatment
  • Low profile, bonded seams
  • Lightweight gripper
  • Reflective Rapha logo

More info:

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the / staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • Brian says:

    Has anyone tried the Columbia Freezer Zero Arm Sleeves? Seem to be essentially the same thing at a cheaper price.

    • Christopher says:

      I’ve recently started using the Columbia ones with good results. I haven’t tried others to compare with though. On 30C days, they provide a nice break from the sun and my arms don’t feel much warmer than they would otherwise. They breathe really well, which helps the arms stay cool.

  • oliver says:

    I use Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves; tried them because of sunscreen allergy and never looked back. There is definitely a cooling effect, even though I don’t wet them

  • John says:

    I’ve used traditional white Nike arm warmers all year long for the last 4 years. I hate putting on sun tan lotion and the arm warmers make sure I’m safe from sun burn. For me, they aren’t any hotter than bare arms under the blistering sun. On super hot days, I drench them in water and I’ve got built in air conditioning for my arms. If I’m on a long ride and the temp drops from the 80′s during the day to the 60′s at night, I’m fine. The warmers keep me warm when it’s cool and cool when it’s warm. Another benefit is that if you crash, a lot less road rash on the forearms / elbows. Some of my friends that have been watching me wear these in all types of weather have finally given in and are now doing the same. Even in hot weather, I prefer the lined warmers as when it gets really hot they hold more water for a longer period of time. Love ‘em.

  • Vic303 says:

    I have a set of Craft arm sleeves and use them regularly in the North TX summer. They are great! Now to find a similar set of solar leggings…

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