With so many pairs on the market it’s easier to become overwhelmed with information anxiety than pick the right ones for the job, says Alun Davies
Why do you need gloves?
As with most motorcycle clothing the answer to this question comes down to one word: protection. Those things on the end of your arms need to be protected against the elements, plus knocks and abrasions if you take a spill. And as someone who’s developed a habit of dislocating fingers and cracking knuckles and bones I can tell you now that without a tough pair of gloves it would have been a whole skin stripping worse.
How do I pick the right gloves for me?
There is a strong case for packing three sets of gloves for touring to cope with varying weather conditions; vented hot weather gloves, standard touring gloves and insulated winter gloves. All come with distinct advantages and disadvantages, for example vented summer gloves are as much use as a posing pouch in the Arctic when the weather turns ugly and full on winter gloves are uncomfortable and sweaty in hot conditions.
However, with the exception of some summer-specific products, all gloves needs to offer the same basic features; good dexterity for maintaining control of the bike, insulation from cold, a barrier for rain, abrasion resistance in the event of a fall and comfort in use. The problem is you can’t get a glove that excels in all those areas, so the level of compromise between comfort and protection is key.
It’s a known fact, and human nature, that in the event of an accident we instinctively thrust out our hands in an attempt to break the fall. Therefore, while our hands would be best protected encased in a metal cage that would mean we’d have no way to pull up our pants or operate a bike. The point I’m emphasising here is that in order to have dexterity and comfort, protection has to be compromised. How much you compromise is your choice but I tend to favour the former while still taking into account the latter – which may account for the number of dislocated fingers, bust knuckles and broken bones in my hands.
The main decision when choosing an all-season glove used to be leather or textile. These days there’s a third and better way; a mix of hard-wearing leather on the palms and other high-wear areas and a waterproof breathable textile elsewhere. The advantage of leather is that it is more durable and abrasion resistant than textile where as textiles generally breath better and offer greater comfort on hot rides.
For waterproofing and windproofing you need to look for a glove that’s been lined with a waterproof/breathable fabric – think Goretex. The downside is that no matter how breathable the swing tag suggests your gloves are going to be, your hands will be hot and sweaty in summer use.
In our opinion the best lining for insulation is pile; it’s warm when wet, dries quickly, is highly breathable and disperses moisture away from the skin. If you can find a glove with a removable pile liner (as standard in mountaineering gloves) then you get the best versatility and cooler hands on hot days. The alternative to pile is a ‘Thermalite’ type hollow fibre insulation – as found in sleeping bags. You get the best warmth-to-weight ratio with hollow fibres but they are next to useless when they wet out, and they will in extended wet weather use. Winter gloves in particular also need to extend up the arm to make a tight seal where it meets the jacket sleeve and are best if they have secure closures at the hem and a fine fit adjuster at the wrist.
While leather (or palm sliders) best protect the palm in a fall it’s strategically placed hard armour that’ll help protect fingers, knuckles and the back of the hand. And if hand armour is your main concern, check out something like the hi-tech Knox Handroid range.
Are cheap gloves a good buy?
In over 16 years testing gloves for our sister title Adventure Travel magazine in conditions ranging from Arctic expeditions and climbing Himalayan Peaks I’ve never come across a cheap pair of gloves that offer;
A good level of water-resistance
Warmth when wet
Quality of construction
Components that will last any length of time
A good level of abrasion resistance.
You get what you pay for.
TOP Tip: Liner gloves
Do not underestimate the additional warmth gained from a thin set of liner gloves. In the same way that a lightweight silk liner can uprate a three-season sleeping bag into a four-season sleeping bag, a thin set of silk or Merino wool liner gloves can make all the difference between fingers being seriously cold or comfortable, and they’re cheap when compared to dedicated motorcycle gloves.
The Alternative Mountaineering gloves
Now here’s something to consider when you’re next in the market for winter gloves. Check out the sort of hand protectors used by high altitude mountaineers and Alpinists. You’re not going to save any money with top spec Himalayan proof gloves but what you will get is exceptional warmth as frostbite is an ever present and real risk to mountaineers; durability and abrasion resistance from top spec materials and construction techniques, plus a level of dexterity that kicks most motorcycle-specific gloves into touch.
Over many, many years of riding motorcycles and participating in high altitude mountaineering (though not often at the same time) I’ve found that the level of comfort and protection from the elements available from mountaineering gloves generally exceeds that of motorcycle gloves. And as mountaineering gloves need to be used for such tasks as operating karibeeners, ropes and ice axes in life-threatening situations the level of dexterity needs to be faultless. You have to be prepared to compromise as there’s no hard protection in mountaineering gloves but more and more bikers are going this route.