We have covered at a high level why cycling can be a great way to commute in winter here. A common problem though is gloves. Will thick ones impact my grip on the handlebars or my access to the gear and brakes controls? Or if I wear gloves that are too thin will they not provide enough warmth and my hands will simply freeze? Let’s look at a few of the main points.
Do you need winter cycling gloves in the first place? Wearing cycling gloves in winter keeps your hands warm and makes riding more comfortable. In extremely low temperatures they prevent your fingers from getting frostbite as well as joint pain both in the short and in the long run. You should choose the type of glove depending on the weather conditions, riding style, and personal preferences.
Before we jump into the topic and see what to pay attention to, here are some of the best gloves in each category.
|Name||Type||Lowest recommended temperature|
|ShowersPass Crosspoing Waterproof Gloves||Full finger||40°F (4.5°C)|
|Pearl iZUMi AmFIB||Lobster gloves||20 – 25°F (-4 – -6.5°C)|
|SealSkinz Lobster gloves||Lobster gloves||-4°F (-20°C)|
|Bar Mitts||Bar mitts||-4°F (-20°C) when combined with normal gloves|
What makes for good winter commuter cycling gloves?
There are few main points that need to be considered on winter commuter cycling gloves:
The temperature range is the most important factor to consider. Each cycling glove performs best in a certain temperature range, which is specified on the boxing or on the label. You can simply check that for your local conditions. I found that this rating is quite accurate. Some are rated to 41 Fahrenheit (5 Celsius), while some can go as low as -4 Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius).
If you choose too warm gloves, your hands will end up sweaty, which is just as uncomfortable as choosing too thin gloves and ending up with freezing fingers.
Access to controls
Generally, the colder the temperature you ride in, the thicker the glove needs to be. However, it is a great idea to try gloves on in a shop with your bike, or a similar bike. Changing gears and accessing the brake levers properly are critical factors for a safe and enjoyable ride, so make sure the gloves are thin enough to do this easily. It might be worth paying slightly more for a fancy fabric rather than not being able to stop for a major road intersection – though I’ll leave that judgment up to you!
Clearly, your hands will create some sweat when you are powering on the way to work. If this cannot evaporate then it will build up and cause issues, and can even make your hands colder. Ensure the gloves have breathable fabric. If your hand is sweaty already when you try the glove on in the shop, put it down and try another pair!
Generally, winter is wetter in most places, so with the extra water the factors of less grip and rubber wear are even more of a problem. When it’s going to be wet, you want waterproof gloves, otherwise, the wind chill is too high and you may as well have no gloves on at all when they get wet.
If your wearing this glove for many hours a day make sure that nothing feels strange when you try it on. After a while it will be mighty annoying and may result in a blister too. Don’t expect the glove to break in. It’s different than buying a new pair of shoes that conform to your foot.
An uncomfortable pair of gloves will leave you annoyed that you bought such a piece of junk. Also, it is important that there is padding on the palm of your hand to absorb some shock from the handlebars.
Can you use ski gloves for cycling?
Some ski gloves can be excellent for cycling if you pay attention to some details. Since they are made to keep your hands warm in cold temperatures and to withstand the windchill, they will provide sufficient warmth. The main thing you need to make sure is that you can access the brakes and gear controls well. Since they are not equipped with grip pads on the fingertips, you may find that you don’t have good traction on the brake levers.
Another point to consider for ski/snowboard gloves is that they don’t have padding on the palm to absorb shock from the handlebars, so if you don’t have front suspension on your bike your hands will get more tired and sore.
Waterproof vs weatherproof vs windproof. Are they the same?
Although waterproof, weatherproof, and windproof are different qualities, these gloves are all made with the same process of laminating. This means that a thin layer of plastic coating on the outer shell of the glove. By keeping the wind off, generally, the water also is prevented from entering by the fabric.
A complication is that your wrist is normally sloped down to your hand, so water can enter from the hole in the glove, meaning the fabric is waterproof, but the glove is not. This can easily be overcome by making sure your waterproof jacket sleeve goes OVER your glove hole.
Winter cycling glove types per temperature range
The temperature you will ride in affects the type of glove you need. For me it’s a below:
Above 15°C (above 60°F)
Summer gloves are fine. Here are my beaten-up summer gloves, which also have phone swipe pads on the right glove:
Above -5 to 15°C (20°F to 60°F)
Waterproof and windproof gloves are recommended. Here are my waterproof gloves, I haven’t had cold hands wearing them in Switzerland through winter.
Below -5°C (below 20°F)
Bar mitts, lobster, or ski gloves are the best options here. Although I’ve ridden downhill at speed in -15°C with my waterproof gloves and survived…
Do lobster gloves actually work? How?
Lobster gloves are a good solution if you ride in cold conditions and/or if you get cold hands easily. By keeping three fingers next to each other it means they can cross heat each other, rather than all the heat going into the glove. A good way to think of it is if you share a sleeping bag with someone where the two bodies don’t only generate heat for themselves but for each other too.
Also, you can use an under glove for extra warmth too.
By extension, it’s better to have all your fingers together in a mitten. Bike bar mittens are made by a few companies and are even better than lobster gloves because:
- All your fingers are in the same space, so it’s about as warm as they will get
- As all your controls are exposed to your hand there are no access concerns
- You can even comfortably wear a thin under glove or summer bike glove for extra comfort and warmth
My personal experience with gloves
On a personal note, for longer rides (>2km) I always wear gloves anyway. It provides a better grip on the handlebars and controls. Plus, the rubber wears off the grips and gets on your hands especially when they’re sweaty too. Also, the padding on the palm helps reduce the shock in your hands and arms. So gloves help to keep your hands clean and to have better control on the bike, so generally, gloves are a good idea in the first place, no matter the weather.
But I hear you ask – do I also need winter gloves? This depends. As a kid, everyone who cycled to my school used to simply stretch our jumper sleeves over our hands and that kept them warm enough, even on freezing mornings. A pair of gloves wasn’t “cool” and was just another thing to lose, break, or get stolen.
However, this might ruin your jumper (kids grow quickly so their clothes need to be replaced quickly anyway!) and limit your access to the controls. Then when I changed school and had to ride further, this method was no longer practical as my hands got too cold, so I had to buy gloves then anyway.
Then there are folks who just don’t get cold. These people probably don’t need gloves even in the winter.
If you are a person whose hands are cold even when it’s warm, then clearly you’ll need some winter commuter gloves. And make sure you don’t have a tight wrist strap that can reduce the blood flow to your fingers.
Generally, yes, winter cycling gloves are a great idea. They help you have a better grip on the handlebars and keep your hands warm and dry.