Crochet cycling gloves: not just for nannies and ninnies

by Raymond Parker on May 8, 2013

in Cycling, Technical

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Best Gloves Ever, 1983

When it comes to summer cycling gloves—and appropriate weather has finally arrived to forego winter gloves—I’m a big fan of traditional fingerless leather and cotton crochet hand armour.

I’ve sought out this style for more decades than I care to ponder, stocking them at many of the bike shops where I worked. The pair illustrated above (with Mamiyaflex 6X6 camera and Ilford Pan F Plus developed in Perceptol) were the best specimen I have ever owned.

The best examples (over the decades) seem to be made in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the quality of the leather and padding seem to have declined—at least in the ones I’m seeing  in local shops—in recent years.

I’m holding on to the last “bombproof” pair I own, though they have acquired a certain ripe nose.

As you can see in the illustration below, the palm leather is real and substantial. I can guarantee, from selfless personal stress testing, that such material will save your hide in case of spills.

Though I suffered a badly bruised palm from a 70 kp/h “endo” on a logging road some years back, I hate to think what my hand would have looked like were it not for the protection of similar gloves.

The very gloves pictured here saved my palms during a 50kp/h wipeout that saw me slide the width of the road, into the gravel shoulder. Only one fingertip wore through to the meaty bits. Oh, and my favourite bibs were shredded, along with my hip.

They are also survivors of my worst cycling debacle. But for some lost stitching, they remain intact—which is more than can be said for this grizzled senior cyclist.

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Second Best Gloves Ever

I know some people don’t like a lot of padding in their gloves and some cyclists forego the use of gloves completely. This article is not for them.

On long brevets and bumpy roads, my ulnar nerves signal their appreciation for the extra insulation. As above, should my skills or fate fail me, I have a second skin between me and the road.

The palms of these gloves can be cared for in a similar manner to leather saddles. I hand wash them occasionally (to combat the aforementioned odour), use saddle soap and Brooks Proofide. Most recently, I tried out some products bought to care for my leather jacket.

The cotton back is, to my mind, more comfy on hot days than synthetics, though you may find yourself with a spotty tan.

Poking around the Interwebs I notice there are a few interesting examples on offer (e.g. Bike Nashbar) that look somewhat more serviceable than what I’m seeing locally.

What kind of summer cycling gloves do you love?

JIm May 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Have always prefers leather palms. the problem I had with my first 2 pair with crocheted backs the backs fell apart in a season. I had a pair of leather gloves from PI that died about 5 years back and have not found anything to their match since. I may need to try crocheted backs again.

The “best gloves ever” remind me of old motorcycle gloves cut down.

Raymond Parker May 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Agree, all crochet is not created equal. The Activa ones are/were good. Trouble is, they are no longer available, and the Axiom replacements shops are stocking are nowhere near the same quality–at least not the leather.

I’ve heard the Nashbar product is pretty good. I may order some to compare.

David Buzzee May 9, 2013 at 10:26 am

I have been most satisfied with the Nashbar gloves. Last time they were on sale I bought four pair – a needless precaution since they have lasted for a very long time. Only complaint is cosmetic. The first several rides in the rain left my hands a royal blue color which had greater permanence on my hands than on the gloves. The classic Pakistani gloves from Nashbar are of goatskin which wears well and is relatively unharmed by water. I wash mine after every sweaty ride using gentle cycle and regular detergent.

Raymond Parker May 9, 2013 at 11:33 am

Thanks for this info, David. I’ll definitely try out the Nashbar gloves when my present ones are caput.

Bruce May 10, 2013 at 4:07 am

Doesn’t Grant Petersen over at Rivendell stock some ‘stani made gloves? I stopped wearing gloves in summer because I kept “losing” them at controles.

Raymond Parker May 10, 2013 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Bruce, he does. Apparently, going on customer reviews, those suffer from the problem reported with some other gloves: bleeding dye. Eventually they stabilize.

It appears Rivendell only stocks the white crochet, which stains from the delinquent dye. As you can see above, I’m a black crochet kinda guy myself.

Conor Ahern May 13, 2013 at 2:38 am

I thought crochet gloves were a thing of the past like shorts with real chamois leather.

Raymond Parker May 13, 2013 at 10:08 am

Nope. And old school shorts are available too, though I can’t vouch for their serviceability.

I still have a very well-made pair–veterans of long tours–with some life left in them, but what remains of the chamois has taken on the characteristics of cardboard.

Conor Ahern May 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

Nothing beats that “sand-paper” feeling of chamois that has dried out to to the point all of the chamois cream on earth wouldn’t make it supple again.

These modern synthetic pads feel like cycling in a nappy (diaper for North American readers), they just don’t feel right to my experienced behind.

Raymond Parker May 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Agreed. I wish I could walk into a LBS and buy a new pair of the aforementioned wool shorts, or, even better, bibs.

+Wool doesn’t become transparent. :-)

Ryan May 15, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Although I don’t wear gloves in the summer (though I use to when I had my road bikes), I have a pair of gloves like in the picture.
Same name, only difference is the mesh part is white, and the palm area is a light brown.

They were actually my brothers, and I’m pretty sure they are as old if not a couple of years older than I am.

I also have a pair of full fingered cycling gloves. Mark’s Work Warehouse was throwing away a bunch of crap, and they had two gloves, though different styles. Fortunately for me there was a left and right, and they are similar in colour.

Frank M May 26, 2013 at 7:17 am

Seeing this glove again brings me back about 30 years. I remember getting that perfect oval tan on the top of each wrist. And after a century or longer during the summer, getting the tan “measle type” marks that came through between each crochet fiber. No glove after these ever really felt like a cycling glove.

Craig June 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm

These were my favourite summer gloves for about 2 decades. I purchased mine at MEC (Canada’s equivalent of the REI). I think the only choice was tan/brown leather with white or off-white mesh backs. I recall my palms being stained tobacco coloured after long rides in the rain. Aside from that the only real downside to those gloves was when wiping sweat or other things off of your face with the back of your hand – it certainly hurt a bit more than the same action with those velour patches on the thumbs of the nylon backed pretenders I’m wearing now. I need to replace my current gloves and maybe I’ll see if I can find some of these old stand by’s again.

Raymond Parker June 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Craig: I think I can take credit for originally bringing this type of glove into MEC, when we launched the nascent cycling department, in 1981.

See above for some contemporary sources, and notice the glove I have now features a terry back on the thumb.

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