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As mentioned here earlier, an alloy handlebar works like a heatsink. Even with nicely padded pogies and with lobster gloves, silicone grips do a lousy job of insulating the heat. They slowly transfer the heat from hands to the center, where the stem and fork act as heatsinks.

One solution is to switch to a carbon handlebar, but perhaps a milder solution using grips with better insulation will do.

Silicone mittens are normally sufficient to remove a pot from a 400F/200C oven, but hold the pot for a few seconds, and the heat will soon reach your fingers.

Still, silicone may have been just "good enough" because the temperature difference between a pot out of the oven and my hands far exceed the temperature difference between the ambient riding temperature (-2C to +2C) and my hands, but I can now say from practical experience that simply holding the grips for two hours does drain the heat and one's fingers will start to freeze.

What is a good grip material for heat insulation?

Should you just "toughen up"?

How critical is it to get insulation right? If you're embarking on frostcycling, before listening to someone derisively and dismissively writing about toughening up, consider for a second that they may not actually know what they're talking about, and read carefully about frostbite.

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  • Worth a read - revelatedesigns.com/site/a-winter-riders-guide-to-warm-hands. Suggests Cork or foam bar tape. Can also get handlebar heaters (no idea where they fit on the 'works' though to 'gimmick' scale. .
    – mattnz
    Dec 27, 2021 at 1:59
  • There have been wood and bamboo grips that I bet would do better than silicone. Dec 27, 2021 at 2:00
  • 2
    May I suggest Rule #5? (Tongue in cheek)
    – Carel
    Dec 27, 2021 at 9:50
  • Can we get your input on the frostcycling tag here on Meta: bicycles.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1440/…
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jan 17, 2022 at 17:45
  • @WeiwenNg 1/2 Done. Thanks for the note. BTW, grand tour races conjure precisely what "road cycling" is about, but we will sadly never have a precise definition for a sport termed frostcycling because it is impossible to control the conditions of a long terrain with roads covered in the very many stages of freezing water.
    – Sam7919
    Jan 17, 2022 at 23:27

3 Answers 3

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Leather makes an excellent grip material, but being organic has maintenance.

You need to feed the leather with something like bees-wax, and keep it out of the weather where possible.

Leather can be formed and sewn into a slip-on grip, or wound on in a strip like other bartape.

Being organic, leather works fairly well to reduce heat transfer. Thickness is directly proportional to insulating factor.


Insulation might work too - by isolating the grip from the bar you would reduce heat transference. Consider a thin layer of wool mat, or other fibrous material with a lot of air voids. Over the top wrap a different product that is hand-safe and will trap the underlying fibres.

Downside here is that moisture is to be avoided, and it is easy to dampen it with sweat, where the salt adds to corrosion hidden under the tape.


Heat-shink Tubing I use this stuff occasionally for all sorts of repairs. A 150mm length of 30~35 mm diameter heatshrink costs cents when purchased from China in metre-lengths, and does an excellent job of covering up slimy grips and half-failed bar tape.

This would be an excellent top layer over some Pink Batts / rockwool or cheap foam bartape.


Bar-heaters do work, but suffer the same issues as your hands in that they heat the bar underneath more than your hands.

I had a pair on a recumbent, and while they certainly made heat, it was lost to the bar and to the airstream. I ended up sewing some pogies around the grip area which helped immensely, as did layering some cheap foam bartape between bars and heater strip.

Main downside of bar heaters is getting power to them. These are designed for motorbikes where there is a continuous 12V power from the engine. My setup would run a pair of 18650 batteries flat in about 20 minutes, so I would only pulse them on for 30 seconds at a time.


Exercise Part of the reason your hands get cold is because they're not doing a lot. Steering isn't exercising the hands, and I suspect you're on a long ride with minimal braking.

Instead, try moving your hands around in different positions. Drop bars give many positions, and even flat bars offer wide and narrower spots to hold.

On some particularly frosty rides, I've been known to tuck one hand between my back and my backpack (road bike) or simply resting on my tummy (recumbent) as long as the road is good, straight, level and open. Having such a hand position is not good for quick reactions. After a moment or two, swap to the other hand.

You can also just dangle an arm and flex the fingers. That alone can help get some blood flowing and invigorate the hand/digits.

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  • 1
    Another place to tuck a hand is in the opposite armpit. Braking doesn't work the fingers much, and sustained braking likely means more wind-chill from high-speed descending (wind chill is a thing even with gloves, but is hard to assess). MTB works the braking hands much more than road cycling as you tend to be on and off the brakes frequently, but it also works the bigger arm muscles, giving some heat to the hands.
    – Chris H
    Jan 25, 2022 at 13:25
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    @ChrisH one advantage on the bent - I can shove a hand in my jacket up the bottom hem, and warm it nicely. The frame and my legs act as a wind break and its not being blasted by cold so much there. Downside, it might look a little sus from a distance.
    – Criggie
    Sep 11, 2022 at 10:03
2

Surviving with fingers intact in freezing temperatures requires paying attention to the thermal conductivity coefficient of both the handlebar and the grips.

Handlebars

The thermal conductivity coefficient of

  • Alumin[i]um: 239 W/m/K,
  • Steel: 50,
  • Plastics and epoxy: 0.17-0.50, while
  • Titanium ranges from 22.5 down to 5.8, from pure to alloy.

Aluminum (alloy) is the worst material for a handlebar when riding in freezing temperatures.

Grips

The thermal conductivity of some materials that have been used to manufacture grips is as follows. All are in W/m/K.

  • Cork: 0.03 — 0.04
  • Wood: 0.04
  • Silicone: 0.2
  • Polyurethane: 0.03
  • Polyurethane foam: 0.03

Either switch to a more insulating material or increase the diameter of the grips.

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  • My bar tape is EVA foam, with silicone gel underneath where my palms go and in my gloves. I've also wrapped my aerobars for the same reason. Whatever gloves I wear, up to and including ski-style (but not lobster-claw or mittens), the wind chill on my fingers is far more of an issue than thermal conduction, given that small amount of insulation
    – Chris H
    Jan 25, 2022 at 13:27
  • @ChrisH I have given up on: 1- (chemical) handwarmers, 2- lobster gloves, 3- pogies, 4- (1) inside gloves under (4); keeping my fingers from freezing on 2-hour rides in ~ -10C. The ample heat from hands and handwarmers inside near-sealed pogies is lost through handlebar conduction. The only solution that worked—until I switch to a carbon handlebar—is to use Lithium-ion heated gloves. Unlike handwarmers, which heat palms, the heating elements go around the fingers.
    – Sam7919
    Jan 31, 2022 at 12:59
  • @ChrisH This (youtu.be/gvQfTze-boo) video is informative and mostly accurate. I used the brand/model of pogies he recommends so strongly, but they don't work. He omitted to mention a critical detail: whether his handlebars are made from an alloy or a polymer.
    – Sam7919
    Jan 31, 2022 at 13:00
  • I don't think I've tried 2 hours at -10°C, more like 45 minutes commuting. That's a rare low round here. I'm more used to 12 hour days that don't quite get above freezing, starting around -5°C.
    – Chris H
    Jan 31, 2022 at 14:48
2

My experience with handlebars has been:

  • If you have an aluminum handlebar that's entirely bare, i.e. no bar tape (drop bars) or grips (flat bars), in cooler weather the heat transfer via the aluminum handlebar starts to cool down your hands before the airflow cools your hands so much you would need to use gloves entirely due to the airflow. Gloves could help, but then you need to use gloves so early that you should really consider using bar tape or grips.
  • If you have any kind of good bar tape or grips, the heat transfer and airflow become problematic at about the same time.

So, I don't find it to be the case that grips would conduct heat too much. At the time when the grips become uncomfortably cold due to heat transfer via the aluminum handlebar, the cold airflow alone would cool your hands so much that using gloves is advisable.

You shouldn't really be looking at new grips. You should be looking at good gloves. On flat bars, gloves can make you survive at very freezing temperatures. On drop bars, there's an additional consideration: the gloves must be so thin that you are able to use your both small and big levers on your brifters (since bar-end shifters today are basically dead), which limits the glove thickness to so small value you don't survive much below zero degrees Celsius with those gloves.

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