Note: This is the fifth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, “A Guide To Winter Cycling”).
One of the hardest pieces of winter gear to find is the right pair of cycling gloves. Some cyclists try to use gloves that were designed for hunting or skiing, but most of the time they are disappointed—those gloves are insulated to keep your hands warm, but they are usually not windproof and as soon as your hands start to sweat the inside of the gloves turns to ice. I own more than twenty pair of full finger cycling gloves and in this article I want to highlight my favorite gloves for fall and winter cycling. I have included the temperature range that I recommend for each of these gloves, but your personal preferences might not be the same as mine.
50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 16 Celsius): The Planet Bike Orion Gel Glove is intended to be the first full finger glove you use in the fall and the last one you use in the spring before your regular summer gloves come out. However, this temperature range will vary depending on the type of cycling you do. A commuter or mountain biker might be able to wear these gloves in slightly cooler temperatures because they are generally moving slower and the wind will not impact them as much as a roadie riding along at 25 or 30 MPH. The palm of this glove is made of terry and the body is made of a four-way stretch woven spandex—these two pieces are held together with a thin strip of woven Lycra. This glove also has a large Velcro closure, so you can either keep the glove tight or loosen it up a bit as the temperature rises. Planet Bike Orion Gel Full Finger Cycling Gloves retail for $26 and they come with a limited lifetime warranty against defects in material and workmanship.
40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 10 Celsius): For this temperature range I prefer the Gore Bike Wear Men’s Alp X III Windstopper Gloves. My fingers do get cold in these gloves when the temperature drops into the 30′s. However, they are highly breathable and block the wind like no other gloves I’ve ever used. They have a bit of reflective trim on the fingers, but not enough to make them stand out much in low light conditions. The Gore Bike Wear Men’s Alp X III Windstopper Gloves have a list price of around $70. I often use a very thin liner under these gloves and that allows me to use them in even cooler weather. As for sizing, these gloves run a bit tight. If you are ordering these online make sure you order them at least one size larger than normal.
30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 to 4 Celsius): The Planet Bike Borealis Winter Cycling Glove is absolutely the best winter cycling glove I’ve ever owned! Planet Bike advertises the Borealis as being a “3-in-1″ glove. The glove itself consists of a windproof outer shell and a removable fleece liner. You can use this glove wearing just the shell, or on a mild day you could ride with just the fleece liner, or put them together to have the best winter glove on the market. This glove also has a Neoprene cuff and pull tab with a Velcro closure. The cuff on the glove is big enough that you can pull it over the ends of your jacket to keep the heat in. There is also a fair amount of reflective piping on the back of the glove so motorists can see your hand signals at night. The Planet Bike Borealis Winter Cycling Glove retails for $42 and this has to be the best value you will find in a winter cycling glove.
Quick Tip #1: The best way to find the right size for your winter gloves is to go into a bike shop and find one that fits you hands, then buy the next size larger glove. You always want your winter gloves to have a loose fit—the air pocket between the glove and your skin provides excellent insulation. Tight gloves in winter leads to frostbite (or worse).
Quick Tip #2: Many winter cyclists, runners and skiers leave their wet gloves sitting on top of the heat register on the floor to dry out—and this is certainly a lot faster than just leaving them on a table to dry. However, forced air has a tendency to not only dry gloves, but shrink them as well. If you exercise outdoors in the winter your gloves are going to get wet inside and a thermal convection boot and glove dryer will dry your gloves out in just a few hours, but will not cause them to shrink. Thermal convection boot and glove dryer are available at most sporting goods stores and retail for around $45.
There comes a time when even the best winter cycling gloves just can’t keep your hands warm anymore. Fortunately, there are mittens that attach to the handlebars on your bike that allow you to wear lightweight gloves in even the coldest of weather while your hands stay toasty warm—and they also block the wind better than any glove can. The three best-known brands of these handlebar mittens are Bar Mitts, Moose Mitts and Bike Poagies. I own a few pairs of each of these brands and use all of them (but not at the same time).
One of the biggest mistakes people new to winter cycling make is wearing clothing that is too tight—this impedes blood circulation and ends up making your colder. Layered, loose clothing allows warm pockets of air to form around you and give an extra insulating layer (it works on the same principle as a sleeping bag). If you ride in temperatures below freezing you really need to buy one (or more) of these products—there is no reason to have cold fingers on winter rides! I usually start using these mitts when the temperature is around 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Celsius).
0 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 to -4 Celsius): Bar Mitts attach to your handle bars with a simple Velcro cinch and can stay on all winter long without any problem. Once installed you can put your gloved hands into the mitts and ride in some of the worst weather possible without worrying about frostbite. I ride with my “fall gloves” (gloves I use when the temperature is between 40 and 50 degrees) even when the temperature is in the teens. Bar Mitts give you much more control over your bike since you are wearing thinner gloves (plus you can actually find your energy bars and gels by touch). Getting out of the mitts while riding is no problem.
Bar Mitts are made of 5.5mm thick neoprene (a synthetic rubber used in wetsuits) and has nylon laminated on each side. Bar Mitts are available for both road and mountain bikes and retail for $65 a pair (with free shipping within the contiguous United States). The folks at Bar Mitts ship their products out very quickly—I’ve ordered twice from them and both times the items arrived within five days after ordering.
The mitts for flat bars fit most mountain bikes, commuter bikes, and Townies. They also have a style available for road bikes with drop bars—one style is for the older Shimano style (externally routed cables), and another is for Campy, SRAM, the newer Shimano style (internally routed cables). The drop bar version of Bar Mitts only protects your hands when you are riding with them on the hoods (you have no protection when you hands are on the drops or flats). Bar Mitts retail for $65 a pair and the company offers free shipping within the contiguous United States (International shipping is also available).
-20 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 to -9 Celsius): Moose Mitts for Flat Bars (most mountain bikes) are made of thick 1000 denier Cordura, a sturdy and abrasion resistant material, and are lined on the inside with heavy fleece. The outside is coated with a windproof and waterproof membrane—it also has a decent amount of reflective material so cars can see you better at night. On the inside of the Moose Mitts there is a small internal pocket where you can put chemical hand warmers or use them as a storage area for your energy bars. One nice feature of Moose Mitts is the Velcro closure on the bottom of the mitts that allow you to close the mitts and keep the heat in if you stop to take a photograph or “nature break.”
Moose Mitts also come in a road bike version for drop bars and, like the MTB version, are made of thick 1000 Denier Cordura and lined on the inside with heavy fleece. They are both windproof and waterproof. These mitts are attached to your handlebars by an elastic ring that goes over the bottom of your drops, a strip of Velcro on the top, and another strip of Velcro around your cables. There is also a strip of 3M reflective tape on the top of the mitts. The drop bar version of Moose Mitts allow you to ride your road bike with you hands in any of the three standard positions (on the drops, hoods, or flats). At first glance Moose Mitts look about as aerodynamic as a bookcase. However, I’ve ridden with them into 30 MPH headwinds without any trouble. In fact, and this is a very subjective opinion, I think the Moose Mitts create less drag than you would have with a pair of lobster gloves on.
Moose Mitts are hand-made in the U.S.A., but they are only manufactured during the winter months, so if you want a pair you need to order them soon—shipping can be a little slow if everyone decides to wait until the first snowfall to order. The mountain bike standard black sells for $70. The drop bar version of Moose Mitts sells for $75. They offer free shipping in the United States (Shipping to Canada is available).
-40 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 to -12 Celsius): Bike Poagies are manufactured and sold by Dogwood Designs, a small business in Fairbanks, Alaska (and those folks know what cold weather is really like). Bike Poagies fit over standard straight bar bicycle handlebars and allow you to slip your gloved hands in and ride in warmth and comfort. They have a durable nylon shell on the outside, polyester insulation in the middle, and a nylon taffeta lining. There is also a lightweight internal skeleton to make sure the Poagies hold their shape.
To attach Poagies to your bike you just slide them over your handlebar and then cinch them down around the bar with the attached elastic strap. There is also a gusset where you put your hands into the Poagies that you can close to keep the cold air out. However, I leave mine open most of the time because my hands get too warm when the Poagies are sealed up too tightly. If your bike has bar ends (like the Ergon GC3 Handlebar Grips) these Poagies will fit over them perfectly and allow you to still use several different hand positions. Bike Poagies are roomy enough that you can store a couple of energy bars or gels in them to keep them warm (or a chemical hand warmer if needed).
Standard Bike Poagies are good down to around -15 Fahrenheit. Dogwood Designs also offers Poagies Plus which are supposed to be good down to around -40 (I’ve never had a chance to try these out for myself). Both versions of Poagies are available with an optional reflective trim if you have to share your route with either cars or snowmobiles.
Bike Poagies sell for $98, and the Poagies Plus for $150. The optional reflective trim is an additional $12. Both versions of Poagies are available in an unbelievable seventeen different colors: Red, Royal Blue, Yellow, Neon Green, Hot Pink, Safety Orange, Electric Watermelon, Purple, Gold, Forest Green, Charcoal, Light Gray, Navy, Kelly Green, Chocolate Brown, Olive Green, and All Black. The cost for shipping to U.S. addresses is around $12 ($25 to Canadian addresses). The folks at Dogwood Designs do not have a Website. However, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for a current brochure (they will send it to you as a PDF file).
Quick Tip #3: If you store your bike in an unheated garage (like most of us do) you can quickly warm up the inside of the mitts with a handheld hair dryer before you go on your ride (it just takes about 30 seconds per mitt). I bought a cheap hair dryer for a local drug store for under $10.00.
Quick Tip #4: If it is really cold outside you can toss disposable chemical hand warmers into any of these mitts and they will do an even better job of keeping you warm.