When it’s cold outside your hands are the first place you’ll feel it while riding a bike.
They’re at the chilly coalface, sitting in the windblast and feeling like they’re turning to blocks of ice. A pair of decent gloves will help you battle on through to your destination. Here’s our guide to finding the right pair for your ride…
How much do you ride in the cold?
Thermal motorcycle gloves are available from as little as £29.99 and the price can go over £250 for the most advanced offerings. A rider who has a long, year-round commute will get more value from a substantial purchase than someone who digs out their bike only on relatively mild winter’s days.
The cheapest gloves will cover the essentials of warmth, waterproofing and protection, but increasing the outlay will boost the quality of materials to keep you warm and dry.
Our SBS Choice reports highlight the winter gloves that get the best ratings from Sportsbikeshop customers in the sub-£50 price range.
Other gloves can keep you safe and dry, but only a winter glove can keep you warm on a cold day. Most of the warmth comes in the form of insulating material, the most common of which is Thinsulate. This is made up of tiny polyester fibres that trap heat yet allow moisture to escape. It’s available in thicknesses from 40gsm (grams per square metre) up to 800gsm, but most bike gloves will be in the 60-150gsm range. Often the liner on the back of the hand will be thicker than the one lining the palm, where riders demand more dexterity. Other brand names for insulation include PrimaLoft and Dexfil, but the idea is the same – grab warm air as it radiates from the body and trap it next to the skin.
The next warmth level
A more advanced form of warm lining is Outlast. This is a thin polymer that contains ‘phase-change’ materials that transform from solid form to liquid as it absorbs escaping body heat. It stores this heat while skin temperature is high and then returns it as the skin temperature reduces, turning back to a solid and acting as a warmth lining. It’s thinner than an insulating liner and feels cool to the skin when first worn, then warms to match the skin temperature.
If old-school insulating materials aren’t enough to keep your mitts functioning, it’s time to plug in. Heated gloves can be powered either from the bike’s battery or standalone battery packs. Heat is conducted around the glove via small wires or panels of material that cover the back of the hands and fingers. For long journeys it’s best to connect to the bike’s battery as standalone batteries generally last a maximum of six hours before they need recharging – and only around two hours if they're pumping out the highest heat level. Many riders expect heated gloves to be thin, but they need to be thick to stop the generated heat from radiating straight into the atmosphere. If the options of heated gloves don’t work for you, electric liner gloves can be worn inside a normal pair of winter ones. Our guide to the best heated motorcycle gloves will help you understand what will work for you.
So, how thick?
Everyone feels the temperature differently, but we’d say a rule of thumb is to expect a medium-weight glove with a thin liner to cope with temperatures 10°C-15°C and that it’ll take a thicker winter glove for single-digit temperatures. Once you’re down to the 1-3°C vicinity it’s probably time to start thinking about heated gloves if you’re on the bike for much more than 20 minutes at a time.
Virtually every winter glove will have a waterproof membrane inside. This is a material with microscopic holes that are too big for water droplets to get through yet big enough for sweat vapour to escape from the inside. Wet skin loses heat 25 times faster than dry skin, so it’s important that sweat vapour can get out. The most renowned breathable waterproof membrane is Gore-Tex, which is rated highly for allowing the skin to breathe more effectively than cheaper membranes. Gore Grip is the most advanced form of the membrane as it’s bonded to the outer layers to stop it coming out of the gloves when you remove them.
Wetting out happens when the waterproof membrane is one of the innermost layers. In heavy rain the outer layers saturate with water before being blocked at the last hurdle by the waterproof membrane. They’ve not leaked, as the water hasn’t made it through to the hand, but wet gloves will quickly feel cold. Gloves featuring OutDry offer a good solution as the membrane is laminated to the outermost layer. Alternatively, you can treat the outside of the gloves with a water-repellent coating. This makes water bead up on the outer surface rather than soaking through to the inside, helping to prevent a soggy mess. We’d recommend a spray like sDoc100 Reproofing Spray for textile gloves and a treatment like DucksWax for leather gloves. This will need regular reapplication to help keep out the rain.
Cuff in or out
Few subjects are as contentious as the one surrounding whether to wear a glove inside the jacket sleeve or over the top. In truth there is no correct answer. Wear a glove over a jacket and you risk water running down the sleeve and into the glove, defeating the whole object of a waterproof glove. One worn on the inside of the jacket sleeve won’t suffer this fate, but water can soak into the glove and wick up inside the cuff, wetting any layers you’re wearing inside the jacket sleeve. We’d say the second problem is preferable to the first, but it’s a matter of personal taste. Alternatively, this can be avoided with…
The twin-cuff design lets you wear them over AND under your jacket sleeve. A wide cuff peels back to reveal a tighter fitting one underneath. The narrow one goes under the jacket sleeve and then the wider one is secured over the top. Any rain that runs down the sleeve and gets inside the outer cuff is repelled at the seam between inner and outer cuffs. Some twin-cuff gloves have a drain hole here to allow the water to escape. With the inner cuff stopping water making its way up the glove and to the inside, there’s far less chance of it making its way to the layers under your jacket.
Many winter gloves are basic in terms of protection, but features like hard knuckle armour, scaphoid sliders and full-scale wrist restraints come into play as the price increases. Leather offers better abrasion-resistance than most textile materials, but it costs more. The most basic gloves are made entirely from textile. Many use leather on the palms, where the protection is most needed, and textile for the back of the hand,. All-leather gloves tend to be the premium option.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Many riders detest the thickness of winter gloves, and those with smaller hands feel the dexterity deficit more keenly. But the pain of cold hands is difficult to overcome without bulkier gloves. They feel detestable at first, but you’ll get used to them and be glad you’re not trying to steer a bike with blocks of ice.