Warm with decent weather protection and a secure fit, the Sportful NoRain are hard to fault, but other competitors do shine brighter
Warmest on test
Wind-resistance is great
Water-resistance is good
No left/right-specific shape mean they're easy to put on
Slightly less breathable than competitors
Slight over compression of upper arm
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The Sportful NoRain arm warmers are part of a trio of accessories from the brand, alongside knee warmers and leg warmers of a similar construction, each with the aim of adding versatile, removable protection on days where the weather can't make up its mind up.
Over the past few months, almost all of my rides have been spent wearing odd arm warmers in a bid to work out which are the best cycling arm warmers available. Luckily, most of them come in black, so my fashion faux pas has regularly gone unnoticed but, in that time, I've worn the Sportful NoRain arm warmers alongside Assos Evo 7 arm warmers, Castelli Nano Flex 3G arm warmers and others in hot, cold, wet, dry and even snowy conditions.
They are priced at £40.00 / $60.00, which is in the same ballpark as I expect for a decent pair of arm warmers, but if you shop around (or use the price comparison plugins on this page) you'll almost certainly get them for less.
Design and specifications
According to Sportful, NoRain refers to the treatment it has applied to the material used, which is essentially a hydrophobic coating on the fibres of the fabric. This differs slightly from a DWR coating, but the end result is similar; a material that forces water to bead up and roll off, rather than soak in.
They currently come in a grand total of one colourway - black - although they have previously been available in other choices such as bright red (you may still find them in this colour in certain retailers). Older designs print a large 'norain' wordmark on the outer arm. A recent redesign has added an orange rubberised 'Fiandre' stripe to one arm in place of that 'norain' wording, but for this particular pair, I have an all-black design with only a reflective Sportful 'S' logo for branding. For all of the above, the material and construction remain the same.
Unsurprisingly, given they come out of the same factory as Castelli, they are pretty similar in construction. While some brands add in pre-defined bends at the elbow - specifically placed seams or diagonal cuts at the upper arm - these are simply a tube of material with a single seam down the length, a double-stitched folded cuff and a strip of silicone on an elasticated band at the upper.
In fact, the only real difference to the Castelli Nano Flex 3G is the slightly smaller fit, which is perhaps actually a symptom of a material that feels a tiny bit thicker.
The key selling point of the NoRain arm warmers is that 'no rain' terminology, so to put this to the test, I did a few things. The first was an obvious test of wearing them in the rain, which they shrugged off nicely, but it's worth clarifying that heavy or persistent rain will always make its way through, as is the case for all of the competitors. The second test was a little more comparative; I turned on the kitchen tap, put the arm warmers on one by one, and counted how long they took for my arm to get wet. In this test, the Sportful NoRain arm warmers lasted much longer than some - including a supposedly waterproof pair from Santini - but they were outperformed by Castelli and Assos.
However, that's not the only metric on which to compare the success of an arm warmer. Warmth and wind resistance are two metrics that go hand in hand, and the NoRain were the warmest on test. As mentioned earlier, the material feels slightly thicker than others, and this translates into extra warmth, but also slightly less ventilation. The result is that it was often the arm that had been wearing Sportful that finished the ride feeling clammiest. Not uncomfortably so, but enough to be noticeable. Now that testing is over, these are the arm warmers I reach for on the colder days.
Comfort is the other key deciding factor, and a huge part of that is whether or not they remain in place while riding. In this regard, no pair was more secure than the Sportful NoRain, in fact, often I'd finish a ride with an indentation running the circumference of my upper arm where the elastic and silicone had been. Once again, this wasn't uncomfortable, but if you are more blessed in the bicep department than I am (which wouldn't take much), then you might find these on the tight side.
When comparing the Sportful NoRain arm warmers to its two closest competitors from Assos and Castelli, they finish in last place but before you rush off and buy one of the others, there are reasons why you should still consider them.
As the most secure pair, they are a great choice for anyone who struggles with their arm warmers falling down, but their compressive elastic hem could cause issues for anyone with anything above the stereotypical skinny cyclist arm. In addition, as the warmest pair, they are a great choice for those who live in more temperate climates but, again, beware of the reduced ventilation - something that might become an issue for those whose rides continue into the afternoon sun.
To sum it up, and I'll reach for my book of metaphors: Coming third in this test is a bit like rounding off the podium at Paris-Roubaix behind Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. You wouldn't be unhappy with a podium there, and you won't be unhappy with a pair of Sportful arm warmers here but you could do better.
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