No-Fail Secrets to Keeping Hands Warm on a Bike

On a particularly frigid morning, a New York City bicycle commuter lamented 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, whether you’re commuting across town or taking a long ride on the weekend. 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 the super-power for protecting hands from the cold. Here are my no-fail essentials (see photos below):

  • 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 — actually part glove, part mitten — 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. These are not inexpensive, but I’ve found them worth the investment in the years of toastiness that they deliver. 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 bike lights on or off.  I upgraded this year to a pair with special material in the thumbs and index fingers that allows me to use my smartphone without removing this layer. Seirus Soundtouch Deluxe Thermax Glove Liners, $15.
  • Hand warmers: My final piece of back-up gear for long rides on 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, $9.28 (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.

Do you have tips to add from your own experiences? Please share them in the comments section!

Gear to keep hands warm on a bike

Photos: Top, David Hollcraft, bottom, velojoy

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  • Starting with warm gloves/mittens and warm hands helps too. I put my mittens over the heat register at home for a few minutes just before I leave the house.

    • Elmar, you raise a good point. Handlebar mittens are another option for helping keep hands warm while cycling. Here is the link to the U.S. website for those who would like to learn more:
      Thanks for commenting!

  • I’ve tried lobster claws with a liner glove and after 15 minutes in -14C no joy. My lobster claws are by Kombi and have more insulation than the PI brand but my finger tips are painfully frozen. My core is warm (I am sometimes sweaty here) but my finger tips are still frozen.

    Do the hand warmers reach your finger tips or just give you sweaty palms?

    I don’t want bar mitts b/c they would preclude my bar ends, handle bar mirror, gear indicator and bell.

    • Roy, thanks for reading. I have found Grabbers (+7 hours), pushed as far forward as possible into the claws, to be helpful in keeping my fingertips warm But, that said, I’m not as hardy as you — I’ve not ridden in -14 C temperatures 🙂 Let me know how they work out for you.

    • I was just looking at that site, and the mountain & extreme bar mitts do allow for bar-end mirrors. They ain’t pretty, but they do look warm.

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