Winter Cycling Gloves

by Neil Fein

It’s the middle of September. The evenings are getting cold. I had to wear a jacket today when I rode into town. (I admit, it was raining, but it was a little chilly.) Soon, you’ll be cold when riding any time at all.

Imagine with me, that it’s October, or maybe November:

You’ll be riding down an icy road with the cars forcing you into the shoulder (where the ice will be thicker with snow on top of it, since that’s where the plows are gonna pile it). The air will be cold, below freezing, and your fingers will feel numb. You’ll have on thin gloves so you can work the gears and brakes, but they won’t keep your fingers from going utterly numb.

What gloves work well for winter riding? Regular, fingerless cycling gloves won’t, and normal winter gloves are too bulky and clumsy for riding. You’ll need bike-specific full-finger gloves. They’ll give you more dexterity and finer control over those shifters and brake levers. They’ll also have padding in the places you need it when riding. However, very few of these gloves will be warm enough for below-freezing cycling. (Windy days above freezing can be even worse.)

As I write this in September, fall is coming with winter not too long behind the changing leaves. The best solution I’ve found to the soon-to-be-upon-us problem of keeping your hands warm while riding in the winter is to ride with layers on your hands. Using full-finger gloves outside with thinner layers underneath works well. On longer rides, you may need to pack several pairs of gloves and switch off as you need to warm up and cool down.

Wind is the enemy when riding in the cold, and your fingers will get cold. Options to prevent this include thicker gloves (like ski gloves, although these will make your hands clumsier) or “lobster-claw” gloves, which keep groups of fingers together but are designed to let you work those bike doodads. (These are more or less like mittens with a split that will make you look like a Vulcan about to tell someone to “live long and prosper”.) I haven’t had to get a pair of those–yet. Here’s what I do use, and why:

Winter cycling gloves

Upper left: Regular fingerless cycling gloves

Cycling gloves are designed to pad your palms, protecting against (1) the rider leaning against the handlebars, and (2) the road leaning against your palms. (For “leaning”, read: “You just got flipped off the front of the bike and put your hands out to protect yourself as the road rises up to meet you.”)

I’ll use these, usually with glove liners underneath, when riding in slightly warmer winter weather. These are best-case scenario gloves, often used with liners in mildly cold weather.

Upper right: Glove liners

These are about the thickness of denim. I’ll usually take these along whether or not I need them, since they can be rolled up to the size of a handball when not in use. They’ll fit well underneath regular fingerless cycling gloves.

Lower left: Full-finger winter cycling gloves

I used to bring bulky ski gloves along before I got these. The full-finger cycling gloves I have are made by Gore, and will be water-repellent and super-warm like they have been every winter–more so than those bulky ski gloves. It’s a bit of a squeeze to fit liners under them. The disadvantage of these gloves is that I can’t work my GPS or phone easily with these on. They’re also overkill when I’m not riding, or if I’m riding slowly.

Lower right: Conventional winter gloves

These are good for off the bike on a tour, or when the Gore gloves are too warm but the liners/half-finger gloves are too cold. These are also excellent for snowball fights.

In the end, I’ll bring several pairs of gloves, particularly when I’m on a longer ride, like a day of winter touring or a commute to band rehearsal.

Soon, there will be biting wind and snow and ice. And it will be very, very cold. Get yourself some gloves.


Neil Fein is a freelance editor. On the side, he’s the guitarist in the band Baroque & Hungry, he rides a mean bicycle, and he paints with oils when the mood strikes him.

This article is a heavily revised version of the answer Neil wrote to this question at bicycles.stackexchange.com.

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