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I haven't cycled for many years already and long ago when I was cycling I didn't pay much attention to equipment. Now I see that many cyclists wear a certain kind of gloves - that only cover the palm and leave the fingers uncovered.

What's the purpose of wearing such gloves (and not usual gloves for example)? In what non-cycling activities can such gloves be useful?

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please consider accepting one of these as the answer to this question. –  Neil Fein Oct 20 '10 at 3:33
    
After a long glove-less ride on a rough road you would kill for any kind of padding on your hands –  crasic Oct 27 '10 at 4:24
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11 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Cycling gloves do a few basic things:

  • reduce friction between your hands and handlebars, which could otherwise cause blisters
  • dampen vibrations which might cause hand/finger numbness
  • reduce pressure on your ulnar nerve, which also causes numbness

Of course, if none of these are problems for you, it's fine to ride without them. Other types of gloves should offer similar benefits too (wool gloves with "grippy" palms are nice in cold, wet weather). I try to ride without cycling gloves for rides up to an hour to toughen my palms and reduce the bizarre tan lines the gloves create. But for longer rides (especially randonneuring, which is 200km+) I can't ride without them.

What else can you use them for? Basically anything where a padded palm would help. They make great workout gloves, and I've occasionally used a pair for paddling, doing yard work or helping someone move.

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Bizarre tan lines! A badge of honour if you ask me :-) –  Anthony K Oct 24 '10 at 12:40
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They also are nice protection if you fall and try to catch yourself with your palms. –  CyberKnoy08 Jun 5 '11 at 3:53
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Cycling gloves come in different varieties (like full-fingered or half-fingered). Typically:

  • Cycling gloves have extra padding at the palms, which for me makes a difference when riding for hours at a time.
  • They protect your palms in case you attempt to use them to break a fall.
  • Like regular gloves, they can keep your hands warm in cold weather, especially since your hands aren't moving as much as your legs.
  • My particular pair of cycling gloves have a "towel" built in at the base of the thumb "finger" so I can actually wipe off water/sweat by running my fist over it.
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Why do they leave the fingers uncovered? –  sharptooth Oct 19 '10 at 6:12
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@sharptooth: It's not a defining characteristic of cycling gloves - you can get full-fingered cycling gloves if you want. The half-fingered ones can allow for extra ventilation and doesn't interfere with your sense of touch for bike controls. –  In silico Oct 19 '10 at 6:13
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The aim is to provide padding - you want padding all year round i.e. when its warm as well as when its cold so in the summer you only need sufficient glove to hold the padding on your palm where its needed. Leaving most of your fingers uncovered gives you more feel (for brakes and, once upon a time, for gears) and hence more control. –  Murph Oct 19 '10 at 7:52
    
My fingerless gloves are just mesh (like fishnet) on the back of the hand. It's really all about the palm: the rest is extra, for fall protection or warmth as needed. –  Andrew Vit Oct 19 '10 at 19:31
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@sharptooth - so you can pick your nose –  mgb Nov 30 '10 at 20:33
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Cycling gloves dampen the vibrations coming into your hands from your handlebars.

I find that if I cycle for more than one or two hours without gloves I slowly loose feeling in the tips of my fingers and I get a tingling feeling in the pinky side of my palms near my wrist. This slowly spreads to essentially make both my hands feel numb. It goes away quickly when I get off the bike at first, but during cycling holidays where riding a bike is a daily activity I ended up with numb hands essentially all the time. Simple cycling gloves have solved this for me.

Note that front suspension would probably address at least part of the same problem.

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Gloves do help with hand numbness/discomfort, but the primary benefit to me is safety. If you fall and take a handlebar spill, your hands won't be torn up if you instinctively put your hands out to protect you.

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For bmx, the greatest benefit is grip. If your hands are sweaty, you'll have to apply a lot of extra force to prevent throttle grip. Gloves eliminate all that. Also, the padded palms work nice to prevent meat paw, terry cloth thumb is good for wiping sweat away, and there is usually some tacky material on the fingers for good brake lever grip.

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When you fall off a bike your natural reactions will lead to putting your hands out to stop your fall. Your hands are quite likely to hit the ground first so gloves provide some protection against that.

Comfort is another factor - damping vibration and providing protection from the elements.

Depending upon your climate you may want different gloves for different seasons. I wear motorcycle gloves on my bicycle in the winter.

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aside from the warmth and padding, I also wear them to protect my hands in case of wipeout. grinding gravel into my palms doesn't sound like a fun thing to do.

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Padding and warmth are covered in other answers, but in the winter I have a third use. In the warmer weather my fingers swell slightly, which doesn't happen so much in the winter, so my wedding ring has a tendency to be looser in colder weather.

Long fingered gloves stop me from worrying so much about it slipping off when on bumpier rides.

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To answer the second question. Gloves like that are great for working on cars... The padded palm keeps you from tearing up your hands on old rusty parts. The top of the hand is covered for when you slip and bang into sharp rusty parts. The fingers are exposed so you can still easily grip small parts. I find they work much better than traditional "full finger" mechanics gloves...

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They also work pretty well as weightlifting gloves. –  Gary.Ray Oct 19 '10 at 14:25
    
I've actually gone the other direction with this... I bought some 'mechanics gloves' and use them as full-finger gloves for those early and late-season rides when fingerless gloves aren't warm enough. It's worked out great for me! –  Dennis Wurster Jun 4 '12 at 4:32
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One thing that I use my gloves for on nearly every ride is putting my palm down on the tops of my tires after going through a section of stone dust or cinders. In fact, just today I was forced to ride through a section where some fresh blacktop spillage stuck to my tires. A quick drag on each wheel and the tires were completely clean again.

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Be careful doing this - just recently a guy in our bunch went down after getting his hand caught between the tyre and the rear stays. I have had it nearly happen to me a couple of times as well. –  Anthony K Oct 27 '10 at 12:28
    
@Anthony K: use the top of your foot instead (placed low to the ground, just behind front wheel or ahead of the rear) -- it's more stable plus no risk of losing a finger. Also works for bikes with fenders. –  darkcanuck Oct 31 '10 at 19:46
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One other purpose for gloves is that if you have rubber grips, for example grip shifters on a hybrid or mountain bike, gloves will protect them from deterioration due to sweaty palms.

I ride two bikes with rubber grips, one always with gloves and one without. After a few years, the grip shifters on my hybrid are ruined and the rubber can't be replaced without replacing the whole shifter. The other bike's grips still look great after 8 years.

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