On a particularly frigid morning in New York City, a bicycle commuter commented on twitter: “Just removed my gloves and discovered 5 Popsicle sticks inside.” It’s true that few sensations are as uncomfortable, or take the fun out of winter cycling faster, than cold hands.
Fortunately, there are plenty of gear options for keeping hands warm on a bike. When the mercury starts to drop below 35 degrees F, I rely on a variable, three-part layering strategy to stay comfortable on my ride.
Why your hands are cold
In cold weather, body temperatures drop and blood vessels in our extremities constrict in an effort to send blood and heat to our core. On a bike, inadequately protected fingertips may become painful or lose sensation, not only causing discomfort, but also affecting grip on the handlebars. Gloves provide insulation and warmth, helping to keep blood circulating.
Three easy pieces for the road
As with dressing for winter cycling, layering is helpful in protecting hands from the cold. Here are my essentials:
- Winter cycling gloves: For extreme cold, choose gloves with an outer membrane that blocks wind and moisture. The “claw” design of the gloves that I own helps keep hands warm by bunching the fingers together. These gloves are filled with a water-resistant, synthetic insulator and have wrist closures to seal out drafts. For safety, remember that thick gloves may interfere with dexterity, so practice shifting and braking before you set out on your ride. Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Softshell Lobster Gloves, $75
- Glove liners: On most days, the claws are sufficient, but I also carry a pair of light and snug glove liners. Besides providing an added layer of warmth, these protect my fingers when I remove the bulkier gloves to lock up my bike, adjust a zipper or switch lights on or off. Seirus Deluxe Thermax Glove Liners, $15
- Hand warmers: My final piece of back-up gear for particularly frosty days is a pair of hand-warmers. The two that I like are the reusable, salt-solution-filled variety for short-term relief or air-activated, disposable warmers for longer hauls. Some gloves and liners are equipped with a pocket to hold the warmers over the top of your hands. Each type of warmer is compact and lightweight for easy packing into a bike bag, purse or pocket — just in case. Wonder Warmers Small Reusable Hand Warmers, $14.99 pair. Grabber Disposable Hand Warmers, $12 (box of 10 pairs).
I only had to deploy the complete “system,” including the hand warmers, once last season, but having all the options on board can the difference between a bearable ride — and accumulating my own set of Popsicle sticks.