You don’t have to be a racer to wear race gloves. They offer the toughest protection and great feel for the bike controls so they’re a decent option for the road too.
The ACU rules on gloves for racing, for those who do want to compete, are very simple: “Competitors must wear leather protective gloves. No areas of skin to be left exposed between the wrist of the suit and the wrist of the glove.”
In the absence of more guidance from the racing authorities here are our pointers to choosing the right pair for the track or road…
A full leather race glove will usually be made from a combination of cow and goat hide, or kangaroo skin. Cowhide is tough and is most often used for the back of the hand, where dexterity and finesse is less important.
Goatskin is less crash-resistant than cowhide, but it gives greater levels of feel for the bike’s controls so it is generally used for the palms of a glove. In more expensive gloves you’ll find the palm is made from kangaroo leather. The way a roo’s skin fibres are arranged means it offers the same protection as goat, but from a thinner hide – hence more feel and the same protection.
Expect to find an extra layer of leather around the heel of the palm, often with an additional layer of abrasion-resistant fabric sandwiched between the two layers. A race glove should have an overlay panel across the outer side of the hand to protect the main seam from abrading against the road and coming open. There may be extra grippy sections of suede or silicone in areas that contact handlebar grips and levers.
You might see a scaphoid slider on the heel of the palm. This isn’t a challenge to scuff your hands on the road while riding – it’s there to alleviate the effects of one of motorcycling’s more common wrist injuries.
It’s designed to promote your outstretched hand sliding out from underneath your body when you land on it, rather than gripping and becoming trapped by your weight. This reduces the chances of breaking the scaphoid, a small bone in the wrist that is vulnerable in a bike accident and can be troublesome to heal after a break.
As with many garments, seams can be either internally or externally stitched. Having the seams on the inside protects the stitching from wearing away on contact with the road, but it can be less comfortable to have seams up against your fingers.
It’s less intrusive to have the seam on the outside, but it does make it more vulnerable to coming apart if it contacts the road. Many gloves combine the two methods, using internal seams around the forefinger and external seams in areas less likely to hit the road.
The most likely area to find extra impact protection on a glove is across the back of the knuckles. It follows the same principle as armour in jackets and jeans – it absorbs or deflects impact energy away from the area it’s protecting. Most race gloves use plastic or carbon for this purpose, backed by a thin layer of foam for comfort. If a glove has proper knuckle protection the CE approval label will be marked with the initials KP.
Speaking of CE, all new gloves should be marked with the CE safety test they’ve passed. There’s a more detailed guide on that here, but the essentials are that you should have the level pass on a label – level two is higher than level one – and the ‘KP’ initials on gloves that have been tested to offer knuckle protection. In our experience, very few gloves are approved to level two of the CE standard, even those designed for racing.
A full-length glove will usually have two closures to keep it on your hand – one right at the wrist and another sitting slightly further towards the elbow. The one at the wrist is smaller, but is much more effective at keeping the glove on in an accident (trying taking off a glove that’s secured here and compare it to taking off one that’s solely done up at the cuff). If you’re buying a short glove, try and get one with a proper wrist restraint.
There are several ways of getting air in to cool your hands, and allowing hot air to escape. The most basic is via perforations in the leather, either in the fourchettes between fingers or on the palm. Finger perforations work better as air can reach them while riding.
Some gloves have intake vents on the backs of the fingers and at the knuckles, to drag in cooling air, and there are also gloves like the Racer High Racer that have a large amount of perforations on the back of the hand. These gloves, perhaps obviously, have a narrower comfortable operating temperature than those without copious perforations.
The waterproof option
Waterproofing isn’t the top consideration for a racer, but a sports glove with a waterproof membrane is a handy road option. The membrane compromises feel slightly – but it’s not like wearing a winter glove. It also means your hands will be a bit warmer, but in our experience they’re still comfortable into the low 20s in Celsius. Go for a Gore-Tex option for the best breathability (though they are a bit more expensive than gloves using other membranes).