First it's uncomfortable, then your fingernail beds start to throb like they've been hit by a hammer. Cycling in winter with bare hands or gloves that aren't up to the job is grim. There are three reasons your hands feel the cold so much on a bike.
• They're an extremity, so your body will divert blood away from them to maintain your core temperature when it needs to. If you're warm enough elsewhere and can avoid stopping for extended periods, you'll get better blood flow to your hands.
• Your hands don't move much when cycling, so they'll get colder than, say, your legs which are in constant motion.
• Cycling creates windchill even on a still day. If it's zero degrees Celsius in still air, it will feel something like minus five at 10mph and minus seven at 20mph. This windchill is far worse when it's wet – which British winters tend to be.
Any gloves are better than bare skin, but proper cycling gloves are well worth the investment. As well as being insulated, they're likely to be windproof, waterproof, and breathable. The latter is surprisingly important. You can get a pair of reasonably effective winter gloves by wearing large size washing-up gloves over ordinary woollen gloves, but you hands become sweaty and whiffy.
There's a balance to be struck between warmth and dexterity. Mittens are warmer than gloves, because there's less surface area around your fingers, the insulation can be thicker, and your fingers are all together in a pocket of air. However, they make gear-shifting and sometimes braking awkward. 'Lobster claw' style gloves are a good compromise. They suit frigid conditions – and any cyclist who suffers badly from cold, white-fingered hands in less severe winter chill.
Many gloves come with sewn-in liners. If the liner is attached only at the wrists, take care when removing them or you'll turn the liner fingers inside out. It can then be difficult to get the liner fingers back into the appropriate outer fingers. You can buy glove liners separately, sidestepping the finger problem and adding warmth to any gloves. The Endura Fleece Liner Glove (£14.99, endura.co.uk) is a good example.
Cycling gloves benefit from features other gloves lack. Bright colours and reflectives emphasise your hand signals in gloomy or dark conditions. A fleecy patch on the thumb or forefinger is useful for the inevitable runny nose. (But make sure the gloves are washed often or germs will breed here…) The palm needs to be grippy in both dry and wet conditions, and you may want palm padding for extra comfort. Specific women's gloves are available from some brands; smaller-sized men's gloves are usually fine otherwise.
Here are five good pairs of gloves for UK winters.
Endura Wms Luminite Glove
As the Luminite name implies, these gloves have reflective details across the back of the hand and on the knuckles. The pink version is easy to spot in daytime too. Weather protection is good thanks to a breathable, waterproof membrane and a wind-blocking outer fabric. Inside, they're fleecy. The Velcro-closed cuffs are neoprene for a snug fit, and the outer material on the forefinger is Terry cloth for wiping what Endura euphemistically call sweat. The palm has gel pads for comfort and silicone prints for grip. Sizes: XS-L, in pink or black. Men's version available.
Cyclescheme Price: £23.45
Alé Nordik Glove
All smartphones and many GPS cycle computers use touchscreens, which is fine until you want to operate Google Maps or take a call at the roadside without fumbling your gloves off first. These ones use a conductive material on the tip of forefinger to enable gloves-on touchscreen operation. They're designed for 'intermediate seasons' rather than extreme conditions, but that should be sufficient for many UK winter days. The long cuff doesn't use Velcro, which makes them slower to don but means you won't be left with a non-tacky Velcro tab two years down the line. The palms have silicon patterns for grip. Sizes: XS-XXL.
Cyclescheme Price: £28.43
Altura Zero Waterproof Gloves
Designed for comfort on days that are genuinely freezing cold, the Zero gloves will keep even your wrists warm thanks to the long cuffs. There's a waterproof, windproof membrane sandwiched between inner and outer to keep out the elements, and it's breathable to prevent your hands getting wet (and subsequently cold) with sweat. It's pre-shaped – Altura call it ErgoFit patterning – to prevent it creasing up across the palm. Gel palm pads help prevent your fingers becoming numb through nerve compression. The back of the glove has reflective details and a sweat/nose wipe along the forefinger. Sizes: S-XXL.
Cyclescheme Price: £31.99
Sealskinz XP Highland Claw
Many gloves are comfortable in chilly, single-digit temperatures; these ones are designed for sub-zero conditions. They'll also cope with snow, hail or rain, since like other Sealskinz clothing they're not merely windproof but waterproof. While they might be a bit warm on milder days, they are breathable. For commuting, the reflective finger details are a useful extra. The palm is textured for grip and has some padding for comfort, while the thumb is suitable for mopping up duties. Shifting gear with STI, Ergopower or Double Tap drop-bar shifters is a little cumbersome in Claws but not difficult. Sizes: S-XXL
Cyclescheme Price: £35.55
Northwave Husky Lobster Glove
Waterproof gloves won't keep your hands completely dry if rain can run down your arms into them. So the Husky Lobster gloves have not only a waterproof (and windproof) membrane but extra elastic inside the cuffs to help keep the water out. They're well insulated and fleecy inside, so should keep your hands warm enough in any UK conditions. The back of the glove has reflective stripes, and the palm and fingers have silicone sections for grip. The thumb has a 'Superdry sponge' on the outside. Sizes: S-XXL.
Cyclescheme Price: £38.80
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