There’s nothing more invigorating than setting out on a bicycle on a clear, crisp morning. But, as the mercury drops, frigid fingers can quickly freeze out the joy of a cold-weather ride.
Fret not. A few simple gear essentials will keep hands warm while cycling, whether you’re commuting across town or taking a long ride on the weekend. I’ve broken it down to a three-part layering strategy that will help keep you comfortable, even in the coldest and most blustery conditions.
Why your hands are cold
First things first. 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 secret to protecting hands from the cold. Here are my no-fail essentials (see photos at bottom):
- 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 synthetic insulator and backed with Windstopper® wind-proof fabric. Extended wrists with adjustable closures 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. Terry Split Mitt, $59
- 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 last year to a pair with touch-screen compatibility that allows me to use my smartphone without removing this layer. REI Liner Gloves, $19.95
- 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, $10 (box of 10 pairs).
Thankfully, you’ll rarely need to deploy the complete “system,” including the hand warmers. But now is a good time to accumulate the essentials so that you’ll be ready for whatever winter throws our way. While thermal gloves may seem like a big investment, they last for years. And their value on a freezing winter morning? Priceless.
Photos: Top, David Hollcraft, bottom, velojoy