Handling bad weather with winter cycling gloves

by Raymond Parker on April 18, 2013

in Cycling, Technical

Even as we transit spring, towards summer, it’s not too late to discuss winter cycling wear. Local weather over the last few weeks has prompted the question Do I carry sunblock, or sou’wester?

The “Wet Coast” climate is arguably harder to dress for than colder, drier areas, doubly for exposed extremities, especially hands.

Dry cold, common to the interior of the continent, can be reasonably easy to combat–adequate insulation is the key, while avoiding overheating/perspiration that can lead to chills, or even hypothermia.

Wet snow or driving rain at lower temperatures presents a greater challenge.

I have used neoprene gloves with some degree of success in wet weather. But where this material works well for overshoes, it has disadvantages for gloves: (1) As the thermometer dips and gloves become saturated, there just isn’t enough insulation to avoid blue digits. (2) Roquefort cheese, also blue, emits the same aroma as well-used neoprene gloves. If there’s a (forgive me) digital version of trench foot, here would be the incubator. Washing in industrial strength detergent is pointless. Incineration is the only recourse. I’m talking about gloves. Don’t try this on “trench hand.”

In my experience, “lobster-claw” gloves with plenty of polyester Thinsulate™-type insulation does a better job. This style leaves enough dexterity for braking and gear changes, while leaving several fingers free to cuddle for warmth. Available with a breathable/waterproof shell, these work best for frostbite prevention.

Axiom "Galeforce Claw"

Axiom “Galeforce Claw”

The “temperate” northern region I haunt calls for this design only a few days of the year.

But different folks have different needs. The circulation-challenged may don thicker gloves sooner and wear them through to spring (some cyclists’ quads hog all the blood their hearts can pump). Generally, as spring approaches, cyclists’ hands will begin to look less like marine crustaceans’ and more like those of dainty debutantes.

As with sport underwear in general, layering works well on extremities. A thinner liner with an over-mitt/glove allows the cyclist to swap layers, even mid-ride, according to changes in the weather and activity level.

I recently lost my best Activa full-finger gloves, that had prospered through many winters and had many more seasons left in them. This excellent Canadian company was, I hear, swallowed by a shark (I know, I know; sharks gotta eat) and I haven’t found a decent replacement for their bomb-proof crochet-back half-finger gloves (a subject for another post).

I replaced them (the full finger units) with a pair of medium-weight “Stormfront” gloves, made by Axiom, another local purveyor of excellent bike gear, featuring a light Thinsulate™ layer; waterproof, breathable shell; gel palm pad, and the crucial cotton terry thumb-back, which the manufacturer tactfully advertises “for sweat absorption.”

Axiom "Stormfront" glove

Axiom “Stormfront” glove

They have performed well over the last few weeks, though rising temperatures now call for something with just a wee bit less insulation, before switching  full-time to fingerless gloves.

Even in summer, the weather can change suddenly, especially in mountains and along exposed coastlines. Numb hands are no fun, they are an impairment to safe cycling. Are you prepared to protect your pinkies?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Conor Ahern April 19, 2013 at 4:04 am

There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!


Raymond Parker April 19, 2013 at 10:42 am

Now that’s wisdom, straight from the Rainy Isle! 🙂


Conor Ahern April 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm

The rain is what makes it so green, hence the “Emerald isle”.


Paul Nienaber April 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

After a VERY long search (and a few returns to MEC, who don’t carry good winter cycling gloves!) I ended up with a pair of Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Barrier 5-finger gloves. They save your fingers like lobster gloves, but let you keep your dexterity. As far as I can tell they’re totally unparalleled. They’ve recently changed the appearance of them, but I don’t know if this means much of a difference to their functionality or not. I hope not!


Raymond Parker April 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Thanks for the info, Paul. I like Pearl Izumi gear. The Pro Barrier and their lobster glove look very nice. Expensive, mind you.


Paul Nienaber April 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm

They’re not much more than the hopeless heavy “winter” gloves they compete with… maybe a 20% price premium versus the cheapest “premium” brands I tried from MEC? My fingertips are totally worth at least $15 😉


Raymond Parker April 21, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Yup. Can’t put a price on comfort.


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