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I'm starting to plan ahead for winter riding, and gloves are definitely high on the list.

What gloves work well for winter riding? Are cycling-specific gloves the way to go for a flat-bar bike with index/thumb shifters? Would regular winter gloves be good enough?

Another option I'm considering is buying some MTB gloves (full finger, some small amount of insulation) and wearing them inside regular winter gloves on the extra nasty days--letting me keep some protection if I need to ditch the thicker gloves (for repairs, or any other time the larger gloves get in the way). Is this advisable?


Update 1: I should mention I live in Burlington, VT. Lots of days below (and some well-below) freezing, and lots of snow :-D

Update 2: More clarification! I'm hoping to commute in the winter on a fairly short route. Initially (late fall) it will be ~4.25 miles, but hopefully by the time real winter sets in it will be about half that distance to a new location. I'd expect my ride will consistently be 20-30 minutes, so I'm looking for something that will work well for a relative short while--but not worried about all-day hauls.

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Lots of info here: icebike.org/Clothing/handprotection.htm –  Mac Aug 25 '11 at 6:59
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6 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Bike-specific full-finger gloves are generally going to give you more dexterity, allowing you finer control over shifters and brake levers. They'll also have padding in the places you need it when riding. However, very few of these gloves will be warm enough for winter riding.

The best solution I've found is to ride with a few layers of gloves, using full-finger gloves as the outer layer and thin gloves as the inner layers. On longer rides, you may need to pack several pairs of gloves and switch off as you need to warm up and cool down.

Wind is your biggest enemy when riding in the cold, and your fingers will get cold. Options to prevent this include thicker gloves (like ski gloves), although these will make your hands clumsier; and lobster-claw gloves, which keep groups of fingers together. (Essentially, these are mittens with a split making you look like a Vulcan about to tell someone to "live long and prosper".) I haven't had to get one of those - yet.

Here's what I use, and why:

gloves

(click this image for a larger version)

Upper left: Regular cycling gloves

I'll use these, usually with glove liners underneath, when riding in slightly warmer winter weather.

Upper right: Glove liners

These are about the thickness of denim, but can be rolled up like a small pair of socks. I usually take them along for that reason along, but they serve well under regular cycling gloves or even full-finger gloves.

Lower left: Full-finger cycling gloves

I used to bring bulky ski gloves along before I got these. The full-finger cycling gloves I have are made by Gore, and are super-warm (more so than those bulky ski gloves) and water-repellent. It's a bit of a squeeze to fit liners under them, but it works well. The disadvantage of these gloves is that I can't work my GPS or phone easily with these on. They're also overkill when I'm not riding, or if I'm riding slowly.

Lower right: Conventional winter gloves

These are good for off the bike on a tour, or when the Gore gloves are too warm but the liners/half-finger gloves are too cold. These are also excellent for snowball fights.

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+1 for the comprehensive answer. For my cold weather commuting dollar I love my lobster style gloves. The are a great balance of warmth and dexterity. I have a couple different pair. –  Gary.Ray Aug 25 '11 at 4:04
    
@Gary - Thanks! Been meaning to check out lobster-claws, but they're kinda pricey and what I have does the job well enough. If I were riding more in winter - say, a long commute every day - I'd have more incentive to pick up a pair. –  Neil Fein Aug 25 '11 at 4:10
    
Turned this into a post on my blog, although I expanded it a lot so non-cyclists can follow better: Winter Cycling Gloves –  Neil Fein Sep 16 '11 at 4:26
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I like these: http://www.rei.com/product/803542/pearl-izumi-cyclone-bike-gloves-womens They've got texturing for gripping, and they fit very snuggly which I find essential. Also the seams on the fingers were not at all scratchy/itchy, which is a problem I've have with other biking gloves.

Depending on where you are though, they might not be warm enough. In Boston I switched to something warmer maybe around December. All the warmer gloves I have tried so far have been too thick.

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Thanks! I updated my question to mention that I'm a few hours west-northwest of you in Burlington, VT. It sounds like they're good candidates for fall riding, but might not be warm enough when winter really hits –  STW Aug 24 '11 at 17:53
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I've gone through a lot of gloves over the years and have to say that effective cycling gloves for cold weather are a really hard problem. No one glove can work for all of the cold temperature ranges. That is why Neil has several.

As Neil said, wind is your enemy. This is more insidious than it seems at first because it means that you need gloves that block the cold air, but if they block the cold air, it means that they're also holding in moisture. Over time your sweat will make you miserable and give you cold hands no matter what you're wearing.

The right gloves or combination of gloves will keep your hands warm but no so warm that they sweat too much. This is a tricky balance that is impossible to achieve with only one pair over a wide cold temperature range.

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I've never felt a need to buy wool gloves. But I suspect, based on what I've read, that wool gloves can absorb an extraordinary amount of moisture before they start to feel wet, and that they still insulate fine even after they feel wet. Dear all: Am I correct? –  unforgettableid Jan 14 '13 at 1:45
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Wool is a great material for its ability to function when wet. It does work for certain conditions as a glove material by itself, however the fact that there's openings in the wool fabric means it admits cold air. For gloves, wool is best used as a base-layer/insulating layer with some type of wind-screening material on the exterior like gortex. –  Angelo Jan 14 '13 at 14:02
    
John Forester wrote in the on p. 34 of Effective Cycling (6th ed.) that Gore-Tex has insignificant advantages for cyclists. In the rain, it doesn't allow any moisture out at all. And when it's not raining, it doesn't transpire as fast as cyclists sweat. Maybe nylon plus a durable water-resistant spray is better than Gore-Tex? P.S. Please ping me with "@unforgettableid" when you reply. –  unforgettableid Jan 15 '13 at 1:14
    
@unforgettableid, like I said, no "one" glove can cover all conditions. Many gloves, however, use gore-tex for the outer-shell. Look at Neil Fein's answer. I'd be skeptical of John Forester's claims if they're anecdotal. –  Angelo Jan 15 '13 at 2:14
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Back when I used to do a lot of winter cycling (southern MN) I'd generally wear glove liners, then either a loose fingered "driving glove" or a ski mitt.

In general, I'd say no matter what you do have at least two layers, and have the outer layer (which should be wind-proof) easily removed. On a bike you often need good finger dexterity to fiddle with something, and you can't do that with heavy gloves on. But remove all gloves and your hands go numb quickly.

The glove liners I use are polypropylene (most recently from Performance brand, since I can no longer find the better brand I used to buy), knit as one piece, a little heavier than T-shirt fabric. (There are heavier sewn glove liners, but they're generally too thick to wear under regular gloves.) In fact, I have about ten pair, and I still use them sometimes on cool rides (under regular fingerless gloves), plus I keep a pair in every jacket -- handy even off the bike.

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I've ridden through two winters in the Pacific Northwest, and while our winters might not get as frigid, I have formed similar conclusions to our fellows, but I would like to frame my answer from more of a preparedness point of view.

  • core temperature affects hand warmth: if your hands are regularly colder than you want with your gloves on, you might actually want to add a layer

  • cut tight wrist elastic: once I realized that circulation was important to hand warmth, I noticed that I had gloves with really tight elastic wrists. I took my pocket knife to them and sliced up some of the elastic and they work much better now that they don't fit so tightly around my wrists (layers of gloves can exacerbate that pressure)

  • layers of gloves: polypro glove liners are inexpensive and quite effective, I keep spare liners around because if I lose some, I don't want to be stuck without. I try and keep a pair of liners with every other glove pair I might want (one for the work gloves, one for the flip mits, one for the mittens)

  • latex or nylon middle layer: I when it's below 30F, I often get a pair of disposable nylon work gloves over my polypro liners. This keeps my warm moisture in, keeps the wind out. This can be inconvenient and a tight fit has mixed results.

  • Fleece flip-mits over liners: I find the fleece can block wind well, and that a mitten is warmer than a glove. I've commuted with Goretex ski mits, those work so long as you can grab the brakes, but flip-mits are a lot more convenient

  • brightly colored leather work gloves: you might find reflective or fluorescent colored workman's gloves at your hardware store. I like bright colored gloves because people can see you signal better at dusk or at night (and I've done a lot of dark, rainy commuting)

  • gloves that match the task: like Atlas latex super-grip gloves, these are nylon mesh gloves dipped in latex rubber and you can get a tight grip on oily surfaces with them. I keep a pair with my tire cables in the car. (If you also have a car, consider keeping these around for cable changing.) I keep a pair of leather gloves handy when I need to work outside and I don't want to tear fleece gloves

  • gloves you can clip or velcro together: losing a glove is the pits, and I am often shoving something in my rear jacket pocket and missing, and its cold enuf that I just don't notice that I've dropped it. I really like gloves that clip together because I'm less likely to lose them.

  • disposable hand warmers: if you have to change a tube or other task and you need to take your gloves off, or your hands get soaked in slush, keeping a chem hand warmer packet can really be a quick recovery for a very frustrating moment

  • ziplock pogies (or proper pogies, even!) I've seen locals craft envelopes of coroplast over their drops or use gallon sized ziplocks over their flat bars to keep rain and wind out. I use gallon sized ziplocks with cardboard on the inside to be brightly colored and more stiffly open. This helps keep my gloves dry while its raining, visible in the dark (I should add reflectors), and the wind off. if it's above 25F, I can just do with my glove liners while my pogies are installed.

I hope this gives you some useful ideas. Best of luck on your winter commute!

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Riding pretty much year round (I <3 my Pugsley) in the high mountains out AZ, I've had to come up with a few glove solutions for the different weather. I don't think I would be able to ride every day without each of the following:

  • Beard-freezing cold (10F and below): Bar Mitts combined with the Gore or Pearl gloves below. These make it so that at 20F I can ride with my summer gloves. They work AMAZINGLY well and also cover the glove/jacket barrier.
  • Deep cold (20F - 10F): Gore Radiator gloves. For the most part wind and water proof. The combined ring/pinky slot helps quite a bit, as my pinkies always get cold first, except with these gloves. Super warm, and keep the elements out, but can get sweaty if the weather warms up much at all.
  • Light cold (20F - 40F): Pearl Izumi Select. These are a good mid-range glove. They're not air-tight, but they do offer some protection and the gauntlet up the wrist helps with that gap between jacket and glove.
  • Summer riding (20F - 110F): Specialized Body Geometry - Ridge. Just general summer riding gloves with padding in the right places. Full-mesh back so they stay cool even on trips to the hotter parts of AZ, while still protecting your hands from falls and sunburns.

I would also suggest you check out Pearl Izumi's website for gloves. They have a pretty wide array, and most of the ones they make in my size (quadruple-extra-jumbo) fit and work rather well.

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