We have had very strange weather in New England this winter. For the most part, it has been relatively mild. But we've had a few bitter cold days as well as some balmy ones. The problem is that the two extremes have come one right after the other. The high temperature can vary by 40F from one day to the next, making getting the right clothing choices a bit of a challenge. A little layering and judicious use of zippers usually are enough for me to adjust to changing conditions. Normally if I am under-dressed or over-dressed on one day, I can tweak my clothing choice slightly the next day and be comfortable. But since conditions have varied so much day to day, this hasn't really been the case this year. Most of the time when I have misjudged, the issue has been my hands, and so far I haven't inflicted permanent damage, but I do find I am now carrying extra gloves a lot!
Looking back through my photos for the last few months, I can clearly see that my Rapha Women's Softshell Jacket has proven to be incredibly versatile. I've used various different leg coverings, from leg warmers to tights to insulated pants, and various different types of headgear from headband to woolie hat to windstopper skullcap, and a dozen different gloves - which is ultimately what I'm trying to write about.
And I will. Right after I finish raving about that Rapha jacket. I got this jacket last fall from my local Rapha retailer, Ride Studio Cafe, and literally have worn it almost every day since - with notable exceptions being my trips to warm, sunny NC. The softshell fabric is windproof and water resistant, making it great in cold and damp conditions. The pit vents allow for nice temperature regulation when it gets warmer. My old cold weather standby is an awesome jacket from MEC that is no longer made. It is a fleecy jacket with wind-proofing on the front, shoulders and front of arms. It is so warm that I really only use it for temperatures well below freezing. It has seen many years of use for winter commuting, and the occasional all day bitter cold weekend ride. But if it gets too much above freezing during the day, the MEC jacket can get too hot.
So I was surprised after using the Rapha jacket lots this year, when I wore the MEC one day and really noticed the lack of windproofing on the underside of the arms. The nice thing about having the windproofing all around the arms, combined with pit vents, is that you can open the vents to get the draft or close them to keep it out. With the windproofing just on the front of the arms, I actually felt a bit of draft in a jacket I had always considered quite warm! What this ultimately means is the Rapha softshell could handle the bitter cold conditions as well or better than the fleecy jacket, and it also works well if the temperatures rises, whereas the MEC would cook me alive.
Both jackets have external rear pockets, providing a nice place to keep my phone and camera at hand, as well as extra gloves. Both have a zippered pocket to keep my wallet secure. The MEC has lots of reflective stuff all over. The Rapha has more subtle reflective piping, but I keep a lightweight reflective hi-visibility vest in the center pocket for those after dark rides home. The drop down bum flap has a reflective Rapha logo - good for spray protection should I somehow find myself without fenders, as well as nighttime visibility. I have the grey/black version. The men's version also comes in red.
The ladies cut is both flattering and functional, because it fits close. The thumb loops at the end of the sleeves are also very nice for keeping wind from coming up the arms without being a super-snug elastic band, as found on many jackets.
But wait, this post was titled GLOVES. So let me get back to gloves. Apparently I channel Imelda Marcos spirit through my glove collection.
When most folks talk about cycling gloves, they are thinking about the nice cool fingerless padded gloves that keep your hands from going numb on longer rides!
But sometimes, it gets cold, and you need more than just shock absorption.
Disclaimer: I mostly ride fixed gear bikes in the winter, so I have no worries about jamming fiddly shift levers when using bulky gloves or mittens. And my bikes with gears have bar-end shifters which also are no problem with even the bulkiest of gloves or mittens.
Below are my mittens for the coldest cycling conditions. I got them a few years ago when I bought my Lake Winter cycling boots, which I talked about here. These have a nice warm fleecy lining, and a heavy canvas outer. They are roomy enough to use with a moderately thick glove liner. And they have a little zippered pocket for a hand warmer - if it's really bad. They have some reflective material on the sides, which faces back with hands on the bike. These are good for temps below 25F.
My 25F-35F gloves are a pair of ski gloves to which I've added some reflective tape from lightweights. These have enough room to supplement with a light glove liner, should I misjudge. I'll also point out the security cords on these - very handy when I pull the gloves off on the move to take Panda shots and other photos!
The Chiba gloves are for 35F-45F. These are waterproof. I have used these commuting in 40F rainy conditions. They have cycling specific padding and grips, and the very important terry cloth thumb for wiping runny noses. They have a warm fleecy interior, but are not so bulky that they would cause issues with integrated shifters. If you just want one pair of winter cycling gloves, these are the ones to get! I added the lightweights reflective dots. I used the fabric specific product and ironed it on. The dots have survived many washings.
The Louis Garneau gloves are for 45F-55F. I bought these a couple of years ago after a cold spring-time brevet, to encourage the arrival of warm weather. It didn't work. I used them several times that spring. These are also a cycling specific glove with terry cloth thumb and minimal bulk. Again, reflective dots were added later.
The Seirus gloves are waterproof. Since my other waterproof gloves are for very cold conditions, I wanted something for warmer rain. These are very form fitting and claim to be warm without bulk. I didn't buy them for cold weather, so I can't criticize them for not working well in freezing conditions. I have them for 55+ and rain.
Glove liners are essential for me. I always have liners with me. They can add several degrees of comfort to any glove. They are also great with bulky gloves for when you need to take them off, to operate a camera or open an energy bar, since you still have some covering. These are lightweight wool liners from Ibex.
A couple of years ago, John and I were out riding on Christmas Day, when I found this brand new pair of gloves in the middle of the road, clearly someone else's Christmas gift, lost out of a pocket on their first outing. These have been great for borderline warm conditions - and the price couldn't be beat!
The above selection are the gloves I keep by the door! John has a similar collection with a few other brands and models thrown in the mix.
I guess the real point is that if you are riding in real winter conditions, you likely need more than one pair of gloves, and will find yourself with a similar ranking of gloves and temperature. A little layering can be done using a glove liner, but beyond that, different gloves are needed for different conditions.
Before I head out for a ride, I check the current temperature and forecast, and grab gloves accordingly. Given the wild variations of late, I should probably just carry all of them all the time!
I should also mention handlebar mitts like Pogies, Moose Mitts and Bar-Mitts. These are oversize mitts that attach to the handlebars at the brake levers. There are models for both road style drop bars and flat bars. The idea is you wear a light glove and place your gloved hand inside a giant outer glove, providing ample insulation and windproofing while leaving you with fine control for brakes and shifting.