Nothing ruins a ride so quickly as freezing, numb fingers but sweat-soaked palms aren't exactly an invitation to ride either. So how should you keep your hands happy this winter? Read on...
We doubt there are many people who don’t remember playing out in the first snow of each winter as a child: the snowballs, the sliding, the sledging — undoubtedly happy memories. There was one thing we never liked, though. Badly fitting, loosely knitted woollen gloves that ended up sodden, with nuggets of snow hanging from the fingers.
Mercifully, fabric technology has come a long way since then. One major benefit of this progression is that gloves can now keep your hands (and more importantly fingers) warm in some pretty serious conditions.
Thermal fabric can now be made windproof while retaining its elasticity, and manufacturing and sewing techniques have also improved. Overlocking (the reinforcing of minimal seams) has improved the strength of stressed fabric joins while reducing bulk substantially and modern materials can be pre-shaped and expected to hold their form.
Waterproof membranes are more fit for purpose than before, being thinner and more permeable to water vapour. All in all, great news for maintaining body heat.
We’ve assembled a bunch of gloves that are what we’d class as three-season — thin enough to wear on mild winter days, but offering enough thermal regulation to warrant their use on far cooler outings. Seriously Baltic conditions would need something heavier (or pairing with, say, a silk liner glove) but for 90 per cent of the UK winter, these hand shoes will be more than adequate.
What to look for
Any exposed skin will do a great job of radiating body heat to the external environment. The more you suffer with cold hands, the more you’ll need to ensure you’re completely covered. Conversely, hot-handed riders can use exposed wrists to regulate body heat. Make sure that you’re able to marry jacket cuffs with the glove where necessary for optimal heat retention.
As we mentioned, technology has reduced the size of the seams required to keep the strained seams of gloves in one piece, but you still need to keep an eye, or feel, out for them. Too big and they can either rub the fingers or even constrict the digits, robbing them of blood flow — the major enemy of warm fingers. You should simply forget you’re wearing the best gloves — it’s the biggest compliment
you can give them.
With bigger gloves comes extra fabric.With gloves for winter use however, you need to balance their capabilities to insulate your hands from the cold bars with both dexterity and excess bulk. Too much padding, in the form of gel or foam pads, will result in a lack of flexibility in the palm. This can actually lead to bunching in the palm in use, causing at best a reduction in comfort, and at worst chafing or blisters.
Castelli Lightness £35
For riders who don’t suffer the cold excessively, finding a thin enough glove with a palm able to withstand regular use can be tricky. The Lightness mixes a brushed back fabric material with a tough Clarino synthetic leather palm. It’s unsurprising that it’s a firm favourite in the arsenal of Castelli’s sponsored pro riders as it fits very closely and has exceptionally low bulk. It’s the close fit, combined with the thermal fabric, that makes this glove warmer than you might imagine. It also retains its thermal capacity when damp very well.
dhb Amberley 2 £24.29
A long cuff, and a fully waterproof and breathable construction for under £30? It sounds perfect for the winter. In many ways it is, especially if you really suffer with cold hands. It’s only when comparing the Amberley 2 with more expensive gloves that you start to see a few differences. Internal layers move around; while it doesn’t do the dreaded ‘liner glove turning inside out’ trick on removal, it does mean that you don’t have quite as secure a feel on the bar. Given the price though, the Amberleys are very, very good.
9/10 – Best on a budget
Sealskins Nordic £39.99
The brand may be best known for waterproof socks, but Sealskins gloves are well worth consideration. The Nordic is designed for cross-country skiing and winter walking, so is full of features well suited to the winter cyclist. It has a soft-touch interior and is thin enough to maintain handlebar feel. There is also reinforcing at the thumb crotch, designed to withstand ski-pole wear, but perfect for bike use. The fact that they are 100 per cent waterproof and breathable are added bonuses. Sometimes it really does pay to look outside the box.
Pearl Izumi Cyclone £34.99
These have a good fit, and offer a similar feel to the Castelli glove, but with more protection. For the majority, it’s likely to allow use over a good amount of the UK winter. The E-Lite, stretchy softshell material extends around the sides of the fingers without adding too much bulk and the cuff is pretty long for a glove of its weight. The palm itself is of a thin leatherette material, complete with gel pads, but it bunches just a little, preventing it from getting a perfect score.
Giordana Tri-Season £39.99
The Tri-Season’s name suggests it fits the bill perfectly for this test. The bizarre thing about the Giordanas is that we often forgot about them when considering our verdict, so taking a step back we realised this was an exceptionally good thing — it meant we had no issues at all. They are warm enough in low temperatures, but breathe well enough not to leave you with sweaty palms while the fit is snug without being restrictive. The gel padding isn’t excessive and leather reinforcing panels have proven long lasting. Perfect on all counts.
Santini Krios Windstopper X-Free £44.99
As well as protecting from winter’s chills, the Krios glove is designed with extra padding to ensure comfort. For us, the bulk of this extra foam is just too much. The rest of the performance is up there with the best gloves at the top of the price spectrum. Snug fit and excellent water repellence are great, the long cuff has another box ticked, but we just feel for most riders, there’s too much padding. However, if you suffer from road vibration you will love these gloves as they isolate the hands well from road buzz.
Shimano Windstopper All Condition £39.99
There seem to be mixed messages with Shimano’s glove. It uses a thicker Windstopper softshell material than the Pearl Izumi (it’s more similar to the Santini in thermal nature) but has a far shorter cuff. It shares this Velcro-closure design with a thinner version, the Windstopper Light, but we can’t help but think this colder-condition glove needs to offer far more wrist protection. It may have an excellent palm, superb fabric and good build quality but, as with most things, a small detail can spoil an otherwise great product.
As we mentioned in our introduction, glove performance has improved massively as fabric technology has progressed. The overall performance of every glove in this test is testament to that fact.
Some of the lower scoring gloves shouldn’t be dismissed if they suit your exact needs, but there were a number of gloves that scored well above the others. Pearl Izumi’s thin softshell glove is a great product let down by a slightly bunching palm while the Amberley 2, by online wizards dhb, is easily the best value, but for outright performance just didn’t quite cut it in the breathability stakes. If your budget can stretch to an extra £10, it’ll go a very long way.
The two winning gloves can be split by how they handle low temperatures. Cold-handed folk should run the Sealskinz as hot-handed riders will find them just a bit too much for all but the coldest days. Giordana’s Tri Season’s will suit them far better and tick every box just fine.