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: www.rapha.cc