With the approach of autumn and cooler brisker temperatures in the morning it is time once more to give thoughts to long-fingered gloves and warm hands. Nothing gets chillier quicker than bare fingers wrapped around the brake hoods or handlebars, with the steady wind-chill of your own making, and when you add rain to the mix you can end up with a really unpleasant ride. You would think that with the obviousness of needing warm hands while cycling, for comfort and for being able to work the brakes and shift levers, the clothing manufacturers, with the nifty materials at their disposal, would long ago have solved the problem of keeping hands warm and dry while you ride.
But they haven’t. Finding good winter/wet weather gloves though seems to be every bit as tricky, maybe even trickier, than finding the elusive waterproof-but-breathable cycling jacket. I have tried quite a few different gloves over the years and for what it’s worth – given that we all have different metabolisms – I thought I’d post some of my observations on the various winter gloves I have tried, what has worked for me and what has not.
The gloves in the photograph are Assos Early Winter 851 gloves – a pricy option, but in this case I really feel I got what I paid for, and in the four winters or so since I bought them they have become my go-to glove when the weather turns chilly. Coupled with the matched liner and the lobster-shell outer (I bought them as a set) these have kept my hands comfortably warm even on thirty miles rides in -5C temperatures and still able to shift and operate the brakes safely.
In point of fact I seldom use the other liners or lobster-mitt outers, not often needing the extra insulation here in Sussex, but the winter gloves themselves have seen heavy use for four winters now and look good for many more. I make this point because Assos summer gloves do not have a good reputation for longevity – these are different altogether. They give good grip, absorb road buzz well, and are slender and tactile enough to make shifting easy. I can even work the buttons on my compact camera when I am shooting for my blog while wearing these gloves. Assos Early Winter 851 gloves retail for £66.99 a pair, but I notice on Wiggle they are on sale at the moment for £46.89, a discount of 30 per cent. They come in red, black or white. The Winter System gloves – which consist of the above mentioned glove, plus a liner and the lobster outer shell – will set you back between £111 and £125 depending where you shop, based on the quick Googling I did just now.
The caveat with these Assos gloves though, is they are not waterproof – water resistant, yes, to a very nice degree, but they are not actually waterproof. This does not matter much on run-of-the-mill rides or commutes, even moderately long ones, because the water repellent qualities of the fabric are good enough to see you through showers and light rain and bring you home again, or to work, with reasonably dry hands.
It’s when you are going for long rides in drenching rains, or if you’re touring all day in inclement weather, that you really start to want waterproofing and here you start to run into difficulties. Lots of makers claim their gloves are waterproof but few in my experience actually are. Of the ones I’ve wasted my money on, Sealskinz top the list. I bought a pair a few years ago hoping to get double use out of them, both for cycling and for work. At the time I was regularly going down to Antarctica for my job and making what were often very wet landings on secluded beaches in Zodiac boats. Something light and waterproof that would give me good grip (and later be able to be used on my bike) seemed like a brilliant idea. It was not. For starters Sealskinz have absolutely no thermal properties whatsoever; my hands and fingers froze. It was awful. Really painful. I was travelling at the time on the Antarctic Peninsula – one of the warmer parts of the Antarctic, and in the summer too, so the temperatures ranged from minus-5C to plus-5C and the water temperatures were about minus-2C. In other words, we’re talking cold here, but not ridiculous South Pole or Vostok-style cold; we’re talking the kind of cold you could easily find in an English winter.
Not only did the un-insulated Sealskinz freeze my fingers to the bone, they were not even close to waterproof. In fact I was genuinely startled at just how far they were from waterproof. They soaked up water like a sponge. In all, they were such a disaster I had to borrow gloves from somebody else on the ship who had a spare pair. Later on, back in England, after giving them a try or two on the bike and being very unhappy with the results, I gave them to a charity shop. I felt guilty about even doing that. The kinder thing would have been to put them in the bin lest anyone else waste their money. I am aware that others have had good luck with Sealskinz, and swear by them, and I am aware also that quite a few people have had experiences similar to mine. Perhaps it is a quality control thing – I don’t know and have little appetite to find out by buying any more of them. I notice that Sealskinz have expanded their range quite a bit too. Perhaps there is a jewel in their – I can’t be bothered to look. I was too badly burned – or rather, frostbitten – the first time around.
Next off the rank are Endura’s ironically named Deluge gloves (rrp £34.99). These too soaked up water like a sponge. I gave them a very thorough testing three years ago when I rode the length of Hadrian’s Wall in November – not the most brilliant time of year, perhaps, to go touring in Cumbria and Northumberland but certainly wonderfully moody and evocative…and rainy. The perfect time and place to test out what are billed to be waterproof cycling gloves. In fact, Cumbria had some of the worst flooding in history up there the week I rode Hadrian’s Wall, and I was out in it all day, every day, and unfortunately for me all I had were these ‘Deluge’ gloves. They were truly awful. My hands were red and cold and wet. Not only did they fail at the waterproofing, they were not even what you might call water resistant, my hands getting soaked within the first twenty minutes each day.
What made them even more aggravating was the fact that the thumbs on these gloves were very short, not at all in proportion with the rest of the glove, so that the tip of my thumb was constantly jammed up against the end of the glove. And I had the biggest size they made. I have read several other reviews of these gloves where the reviewer found the same thing with the thumbs of these gloves; they were simply too short. A couple of reviewers, who bought their gloves in shops rather than on-line, were able to find gloves that fit among the selection on the shelves, which leads me to think Endura may be suffering a raging quality control problem at whatever factory is turning these things out.
The last of the winter/waterproof gloves which I have personally tested are my newest pair, which were bought last February not for cycling but for use on a magazine assignment in the Norwegian arctic where cold and wet hands were likely to be a big factor. These are Gore Bike Wear Fusion MBT gloves. They are more like gauntlets than gloves. These are seriously hefty pieces of kit, and expensive too, at about £70 a pair, but by Golly, they do work. They kept my hands warm and dry up north, and the few times so far I have used them on the bike they did the trick, even in heavy rain. They are definitely cold weather gloves, though.
They are rather bulky, quite bulky in fact, and I think if I were commuting or in any kind of circumstance where I was having to shift and brake a lot, I would prefer the lighter and more supple Assos ones. Sure, you can work shifters and brakes with these gloves – actually better than you might imagine at first glance – but the others are far more supple and better for this sort of thing. However, were I going on a long ride on country roads, or touring in cold, hard rain, I would definitely take a pair of these – even if they do take up a lot of space in the panniers. They do work. One note on sizing though – with these you want to go up, and up and up. I have big hands, although not freakishly so, and generally take an XL in gloves. With these Gore Fusions, though, I was obliged to get myself an XXXL, the biggest they make. If your hands genuinely are of XXXL size, you may be out of luck.