In this article, we’ll quickly walk you through how simple it is to choose the right pair of cycling gloves that meet your needs. In fact, the process only comes down to answering two simple questions.
If you merely cruise around the block every now and again, the grips or tape on your bars is probably acceptable for keeping your hands comfortable.
Much farther than this, however, and you’ll soon experience rubbing, chafing, and blisters—not to mention potential numbness and tingling. In a worst-case scenario, you might aggravate symptoms related to carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
What’s the solution, then?
Cycling-specific gloves help prevent these side effects via a combination of specialized features like strategically placed padding, breathable fabrics that dissipate moisture, soft materials that prevent chafing, form-fitting designs, and tacky materials that maximize grip (more soon).
They also come with different closures—Velcro, hook-and-loop/strap, pull-on/slip-on, and adjustable straps are some of the most common—which keep the gloves in place and further maximize comfort.
Not all bike gloves are created equal, though, since most are designed primarily around one of three factors: whether you’re riding on the road, shredding a trail, or getting outside during the colder and wetter months of the year.
Overall, you’ll find that each of these classes shares many of the same high-level features, though—they’re just implemented differently to suit each distinct riding styles and condition.
Road cycling gloves are typically fingerless (also referred to as “half finger”), with a breathable fabric on the back of the hand to maximize air circulation and moisture transfer.
The palm typically features thicker, more durable material, since it makes direct contact with the handlebars. There’s also a layer of gel or foam padding that reduces pressure on the ulnar nerve and helps compensate for a road bike’s lack of suspension.
Pro tip: Many cross-country mountain bike riders (myself included) wear fingerless gloves during the warmer months to minimize heat buildup, so there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to gloves. This is a theme we’ll frequently revisit in this article.
In general, mountain bike gloves feature full-fingered designs that help protect cyclists from trees, rocks, and other debris often encountered on the trail. They also normally feature heavier-gauge material to withstand added abuse.
Padding might be non-existent on the palm, or there could be a thin layer present for added comfort. Compared to road-oriented models, mountain bike gloves feature padding in different areas, such as toward the outside of the palm and on the top for added protection against contact.
Textured grips are also common on modern MTB gloves, which also typically feature electrically conducting materials at the fingertip so you can still use your smartphone or other touchscreen-enabled fitness devices.
As mentioned above, many cross-country mountain bike riders (myself included) often use fingerless, padded gloves to maximize coolness during warmer months. There’s seldom a one-size-fits-all solution, and it will almost certainly take some trial and error to find your perfect pair of gloves.
To maximize your comfort and enjoyability, bike glove manufacturers strategically implement a blend of materials, depending on the conditions for which they’re designed.
Here are some common materials you’ll encounter, as well as their cycling-related benefits:
Pro tip: These are many of the same materials you’ll also find in cycling socks.
|Polyester||A sturdy, durable fabric that withstands the elements and resists wear caused by frequent use and repeated movements.|
|Leather (Real or Synthetic)||Adds durability and grip on the palm, which is often ventilated with small holes to promote airflow.|
|Polyurethane||A coating that helps fabrics remain soft and breathable while boosting durability and abrasion resistance.|
|Nylon||Another synthetic fiber found in a variety of clothing, including bike gloves, which is durable and water-resistant.|
|Spandex / Elastane||A type of polyurethane fabric that can stretch a great deal and return to its normal shape, without distortion.|
|Mesh||A material that can be made from many different fabrics, which are woven into an interlaced structure for improved airflow. “Micromesh” features smaller interlaced structures than standard mesh.|
|Gel / Foam||Strategically placed in the palm of cycling gloves to improve shock absorption.|
|Rubber||Often found in winter gloves, where it’s used to prevent water intrusion.|
|Primaloft||A waterproof synthetic insulator that mimics natural down and is typically found in winter gloves.|
|Neoprene||A synthetic rubber that remains stable and flexible in a wide variety of conditions and temperatures.|
As a general rule, you’ll want to make sure that your bike gloves fit snugly enough that they don’t scrunch up and cause chafing, but not so tightly that the webbing between your fingers is taut—something that will only increase when you grab your handlebars.
Pro tip: If you can’t make a fist, your gloves are too tight. On the other hand, if your gloves bunch up in the palms, they could be too loose.
While each manufacturer boasts slightly different sizing, figuring out the right one for you is easy: With your dominant hand on a flat surface, measure your palm’s circumference just below the knuckles (don’t include your thumb). Then, use the table below as a high-level guide:
Note: If you’re between sizes, most professionals recommend choosing the larger size.
How Should You Care for Your New Bike Gloves?
It’s important to wash your bike gloves regularly. Why? Because salt and body oils can accumulate and cause the fabric to break down—not to mention act as a harbinger for bacteria and other yuckiness that can lead to unwanted odors.
The good news is that washing your gloves is as easy as tossing them in with your other clothes—but, always on a cold setting with mild detergent!
Also, make sure that you close the Velcro straps (if any), which can quickly clog with lint and other debris, rendering them useless. Many online cyclists explain that they add their gloves a small laundry bag since they’re easy to damage in the washing machine.
As always, make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which are usually located on an interior tag.
Along these same lines, most manufacturers point out that you should only air dry their gloves, as machine drying can shrink or otherwise distort the material, leading to a less-than-stellar fit. Too much heat can also dry out the leather and elastane, and even melt the gel padding in the palms.
With this said, you’ll find plenty of online cyclists who report they treat their bike gloves just like any other garment and wash them on cold cycles, followed by machine drying on low.