Photography by James Brown...
Thanks to relentless media imagery, bikers have been programmed to believe they're a tough, hardy bunch. But we're among friends now, so let's just drop the act.
Most of us have been caught unprepared in wintry weather, and it made us whimper enough that we ran to procure a proper pair of mitts -- once we regained the feeling in our fingers, of course. Hands take a beating in any season, but they're especially susceptible to the harsh conditions in the winter. When temperatures drop, your extremities tend to freeze up first, potentially hampering your operation of the motorcycle's controls. But it's essential that winter gloves keep you warm without sacrificing dexterity; thankfully, there are plenty of qualified choices available in this cold, cruel world.
You're looking primarily to keep your hands warm, so simply remember that cold is really just the loss of heat. To help trap heat, look for a thin, efficient lining (like Thinsulate) that covers the whole hand, especially the fingertips and between the fingers. Keeping the hands dry also keeps them warm. Did you know a human hand sweats approximately two teaspoons of water in an hour of moderate activity? Losing just one teaspoon can steal enough heat to drop skin temperature by 10 degrees. A waterproof/breathable membrane (such as Gore-Tex) will keep the elements out and usher sweat away from the hand, so there's no convective heat loss. Nylon/ leather shells with synthetic insulation combined with this waterproof/ breathable layer are your best all-around solution.
But perhaps the most important issue for winter gloves is dexterity. Your digits should always be left to move freely without binding and reducing circulation. If the mitts are too snug, get the next size up. Look into options with a thinly insulated palm, which will maximize throttle and lever feel.
Winter gloves should be designed to protect against impact, too. The choice between leather and textile often boils down to personal preference -- leather feels better and offers superior impact protection, but it's usually not waterproof. Textiles are more flexible and often give better sensitivity at the controls. If you're shopping for leather, go for premium hides that are at least 1mm thick. If you go with man-made material, avoid the cheap, flyweight stuff and splurge on tightly woven synthetics.
The best gloves will have extra reinforcement in the hard-wearing crotch of the thumb and forefinger and additional layers on the palm to diffuse vibration. Look for a fastening system to keep the glove securely in place in a crash. A gauntlet will offer better coverage, too.
Finally, check the construction -- if the gloves have multiple layers, they can slip and bind if not assembled correctly, which is not only uncomfortable but also potentially dangerous. Liners or inserts should be firmly anchored so they won't shift, bunch or pull out.
We asked the following manufacturers to provide us with a comfortable, well-rounded winter glove. Some of the entries we received favor extremely cold conditions, others are better suited for cool situations and still others are tailored more for comfort. We wore them for 30-minute stints at 60 mph through the Sierra Nevada mountains, where the approximate ambient temperature was 45 degrees. Here's how they fared.
ALPINESTARS STORM GORE-TEX GLOVES: $60, Nylon Construction
An appealing mix of technology and design, the Storm gloves combine features designed to humble Mother Nature, including a Gore-Tex membrane and Thinsulate insulation. This textile entry features a water-resistant nylon outer shell with Kevlar reinforcements for impact protection and a reinforced, tear-resistant palm and fingers. A strap across the inside wrist secures with hook-and-loop material, and the medium-length elastic gauntlet offers good coverage -- and cinches tight with a drawstring. Added nonslip material gives you traction while pulling on the gloves, and a foam insert pads the knuckles. Two-tone reflective piping across the top offers conspicuity at night. The Storms are available in black, blue and red.
Cheers: Flexible and easy to put on. Nice gauntlet design and functional palm padding.
Jeers: Baggier than we'd like; the lightweight insulation is better suited for fall or wet-weather riding.
BELSTAFF STRATUS GLOVES: $65, Hybrid Construction
The hybrid construction of the Stratus gloves -- 500-denier Cordura outer with a solid leather palm -- is top-notch. Warmth comes courtesy of medium-grade Thinsulate lining, and an internal waterproof and breathable Hipora membrane keeps digits dry. Reflective trim adorns the wrist and top of the hand, and a Kevlar insert on the palm gives you extra impact protection. Grippy material positioned between the thumb and forefinger prevents slippage at the controls. Attractive leather reinforcements and padding on the knuckles and fingers serve double duty, with foam on the wrist to dampen vibrations. A top strap adjusts around the wrist, and a wider strap cinches the cuff. In black only.
Cheers: Great fit, good pliability, strong reflectivity; grip material on fingers works well. Adequate warmth for short rides.
Jeers: Gauntlet is shorter than we'd like; not enough to tuck in entire jacket cuff.
BMW GORE-TEX WINTER GLOVES: $119, Nylon Construction
As you'd expect, the BMW mitts have high-tech ingredients, such as medium-grade Thinsulate to trap warmth and Gore-Tex for waterproofness and breathability. The primarily Cordura nylon construction boasts leather reinforcements in the palm and fingers and a double layer of leather on the inside of the thumb and index finger. Foam padding at the knuckles and heel of the palm dampens vibrations. An elastic stretch panel at the top of the wrist is covered with an adjustable strap. A short cuff (one of the shortest here) drops slightly below the wrist, cinching at the end with a drawstring. A reflective stripe on each cuff adds a safety component, and suedelike material on the outer index fingers allows you to dab moisture off your visor. They come in solid black only.
Cheers: Slim design allows easy fit around controls; well-placed grip material on fingertips. Good flexibility, acceptable warmth.
Jeers: Even allowing for the high-tech stuff, they're pricey. We wish the cuffs opened wider and were longer.
FIRSTGEAR WINTER TEK GLOVES: $82, Leather Construction
The Winter Tek glove has premium leather with a breathable, waterproof Hipora insert and added Thinsulate thermal insulation to give you the best of both worlds. The knuckles and palm are padded with double leather in articulating panels. The supple, all-leather glove felt soft the instant we put it on. There is a hook-and-loop cuff closure that snugs the short gauntlet at the bottom. Interestingly, the enclosed literature claims there's a faceshield wiper on the right finger, but we didn't see one. The Winter Tek is available in black only.
Cheers: Supple leather with solid construction; great padding and nice grip.
Jeers: Leather is too soft, has baggy fit; 40g Thinsulate is too light for real winter riding. Minimal reflectivity, no wrist strap.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON COLD WEATHER GAUNTLET GLOVES: $80, Leather Construction
We imagine Commodore Perry wore these kinds of things on his North Pole assault -- they have the ultralong gauntlets that go up to your forearms. These gloves are made completely of premium, drum-dyed leather, with a heavy-duty 150g Thinsulate lining and an insert of water-repellent Aqua-Tex in case any liquid should sneak past the beefy hide. A soft, breathable nylon lining wicks away moisture inside. Two adjustable leather straps at each cuff adjust the gauntlets and are embroidered with the Harley logo.
Cheers: Excellent gauntlet coverage; comfortable lining and solid leather construction. If you're going to Alaska, pack a pair. These are the warmest gloves here.
Jeers: They're bulky; no wrist strap. Control feel can be vague.
HELD NARVIK GORE-TEX WINTER GLOVES: $100, Hybrid Construction
This serious winter touring glove features a Gore-Tex waterproof and windproof membrane and medium-heavy-grade Thinsulate for good cold/wet-weather comfort. It's constructed of beefy Cordura with premium cowhide reinforcements all over the palm, fingers and knuckles. A padded palm heel softens vibration to the hand, a leather strap secures around the wrist and a leather tab adjusts the gauntlet. There's a visor squeegee on the left index finger, and there are reflective, padded panels on the side of each gauntlet. Available in black from the company's exclusive U.S. distributor, Intersport Fashions West.
Cheers: Very warm. Attractive leather, superior retention system, good gauntlet design.
Jeers: Only one reflective patch. Requires break-in, thanks to dense material construction. Only adequate control feel. Pricey.
JOE ROCKET RADIANT 2.0 GLOVES: $70, Leather Construction
These mostly cowhide gloves offer up a Dry Tech waterproof/breathable lining and precurved fingers for an easy fit and medium-grade 70g Thinsulate for warmth. A reinforced gel palm dampens handlebar vibrations, and there's a shield wiper on each thumb. High-density rubber on the knuckles gives you padding, and a bungee cord on the nylon cuff makes adjustments easy. The gauntlet cuff is nice and long, and since it's all nylon, it's easy to rearrange around your sleeve. A leather strap adjusts around the top of the wrist, too.
Cheers: Gauntlet design with integrated rain gutter. Very pliable and adequately warm for our 30-minute jaunt.
Jeers: Finger and thumb design is baggy; two dots provide the only reflectivity.
OLYMPIA ULTIMA 1 GLOVES: $75, Leather Construction
You feel the premium, drum-dyed cowhide first, but the Ultima gloves also contain a waterproof/breathable Aqua-Tex insert and high-grade 100g Thinsulate insulation with a soft Hydrofil lining that wicks away perspiration. The knuckles have tremendous padding with raised fingers and a padded cuff, and the palm and forefinger have added reinforcements. Two hook-and-loop straps secure the fit, one at the wrist and the other at the cuff. Precurved, boxed fingers fit comfortably. The Ultima comes in black only.
Cheers: Snug, but not tight; slim finger design offers good dexterity. Excellent padding, good warmth.
Jeers: Very dark, with no reflective surfaces at all.
ORINA STYLE 118 GLOVES: $54, Hybrid Construction
This dark-horse entry, from German company Orina, contains Thermolite -- which is said to be four times warmer than Thinsulate. The Orina gloves also have an additional polar fleece lining, and the entire underside is covered with leather -- with extra reinforcement on the palm and inner thumb. A top strap secures around the wrist, and they have a cool zipper for the long gauntlet cuff. There's a waterproof membrane inside for added protection. Imported by the company's U.S. distributor, Adventure Motorcycle Gear.
Cheers: Best value here. Excellent warmth with good construction.
Jeers: Slightly bulky; cuff doesn't cinch tightly. No reflective surfaces.
Roadgear Boss Gloves: $90, Hybrid Construction
The Roadgear Boss mixes a tough nylon outer with premium leather for a fine protective shell. Medium-grade Thinsulate adds insulation without bulk, and the hybrid leather/nylon construction is fully breathable and waterproof thanks to a Hipora insert. Double-leather-reinforced palms and finger/thumb area provide extra protection, as does reflective padding atop the knuckles. The Boss offers a tailored fit and has a medium-length cuff that cinches tightly with a wide hook-and-loop strap. Another belted strap secures the wrist, and reflective tape and piping along the cuff add more conspicuity. Looks sharp, too. Available in black only.
Cheers: Fine cool-weather glove; terrific fit with good dexterity. Superior conspicuity and good gauntlet coverage.
Jeers: Not warm below 45 degrees.
TEKNIC THUNDER GLOVES: $60, Leather Construction
Teknic's gladiator-grade mitts have precurved fingers for a good fit and are constructed with top-quality cowhide and a leather palm for superior abrasion resistance. Inside is a 100-percent-breathable Powerskin membrane, with superior Thermolite insulation for warmth. A rubber squeegee on the lower forefinger of each glove allows you to wipe your helmet visor. A layer of suede covers the pinkie-finger seam, and a beefy, multi-adjustable cuff system seals out the weather while providing abrasion resistance -- this is probably the best-protected cuff here. There are additional reinforcements and padding in the palm. A wrist strap secures it.
Cheers: Good value, sufficient warmth for cool weather. Superior gauntlet protection and padding.
Jeers: Somewhat bulky and stiff; virtually no reflective materials. Need significant break-in; closures a chore to operate.
TOUR MASTER POLAR-TEX COLD WEATHER GLOVES: $50, Nylon Construction
Tour Master reinforces the bulletproof 1000- and 500-denier Cordura nylon construction with a leather palm and warm 100g Thinsulate Flex insulation (stretchier than regular Thinsulate) on the Polar-Tex. These gloves have lengthy gauntlets with a well-designed zipper adjustment that bellows open to accept bulky sleeves. A Porvair liner makes them waterproof and breathable, and a top wrist adjustment with big rubber grips is easy to operate. Knuckle and finger flex panels allow a wide range of movement, and precurved fingers provide comfort. Foam padding on the palm lessens the shakes, and a reflective logo on the cuff provides conspicuity. The suedelike material on the index finger acts as a shield wiper. The Polar Tex is available in black, black/blue and black/red.
Cheers: Excellent value, good warmth, terrific pliability. Go for the two-tone color option.
Jeers: Gauntlet doesn't cinch and zipper is small, making it hard to operate; palm padding lessens control feel.
Vanson Leathers Lineman Gloves: $102, Leather Construction
The Vanson Leathers glove offers the sweetest, most decadent leather construction in the bunch. You could use these as a lovey. The tanned cowhide has lightweight Thinsulate lining, and the fingers are precurved on a heated form and shaped for ease of natural finger movement. There's an adjustable leather wrist strap with a hook-and-loop closure, and an extra-long gauntlet provides good coverage.
Cheers: They're oh-so-silky-smooth. Superior stitching and construction mean you won't want to take them off. Excellent control feel.
Jeers: No waterproof features, no padding, no reflectivity. And yikes, they're pricey...
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