Gloves protect two of your most delicate and important tools: your hands. So why do some ride gloveless? Partly it’s for fashion. Partly the feeling of freedom.
But plenty of barehand riding aficionados also claim it enhances their “feel” so they’re more in tune with the bike, its controls, and the terrain. Tom Boonen did it. Sam Blenkinsop does it. I catch Mathieu van der Poel doing it from time to time.
I too have been guilty of riding gloveless. But as I get older, wiser, and more scarred, I wear gloves more often. On rough gravel roads, the extra layer reduces discomfort and hand fatigue. With my sweaty palms, gloves give me a better grip on the bars for technical riding. When it’s allergy season, they offer a convenient nose wipe. And after some recent mountain bike crashes, I was happy to keep my hands intact.
I recently had two very similar mountain bike crashes, one with gloves and one without. Which do you think I regret more?
Still, I flirt with gloveless riding on the road. The probability of crashing is low, I like the cool breeze against my fingers, and sometimes I just can't be bothered to pull them on when rushing out the door for a quick lunch ride. Plus, it gives me a chance to even out my unsightly glove tan.
So when should you wear gloves and when is it okay to leave them behind? Ideally, you should always wear gloves. But it’s mostly personal preference. Here’s how I decide if I pull on a pair:
When to wear gloves
- If there’s a higher probability of crashing, i.e. crits, enduro, and downhill
- Rides where sweaty or wet hands compromise control
- When the temperature drops below 55°F
- Long and tough gravel rides
- Allergy season
When to ditch gloves
- Most road rides
- Short or smooth gravel rides
- Casual mountain bike rides
These days, I’m starting to think the benefits of riding gloveless are a bit overblown. I’ve discovered glove options that practically disappear thanks to a good fit, thin palm, and breathable construction, so I actually think wearing gloves feels better. It’s hard to ignore the extra protection, comfort, and control they offer.
I might still go gloveless on the road just for the convenience. But I think the pros of wearing good gloves far outweigh any cons, especially when riding off-road. Sure Tommeke and MVDP do it, but gloveless riding just doesn't make sense for us normies.
Here's a guide to finding the right gloves for your mitts.
How to find the best cycling gloves
If you’re searching for the perfect pair of gloves, here are some of my favorites from POC, Mavic, and Fox Racing. I look for gloves that are light, breathable, snug, and provide plenty of feel and dexterity for controlling your bike. I’m not a fan of gel inserts (unless you have an injury or nerve issues) or velcro wrist closures since they add bulk.
Fingerless gloves are best in hot weather because they’re the most breathable. These are more suited to road and gravel as I prefer more protection for mountain biking, but I’d consider fingerless gloves for XC-style riding.
POC AVIP Short - $49.99
POC Essential Road Mesh - $31.99
Mavic Cosmic Classic - $48.99
Mavic Cosmic Pro - $35.99
Full-finger gloves are best for rough gravel and trail riding. These have breathable backs so they don’t get too hot. I like them to fit snug, with no extra space in the fingertips to maximize feel and control. I also like Fox Racing gloves because they work with phone touchscreens.
Cold weather gloves
Below 55°F I need gloves just to stay warm. Again, a snug fit is key, but until it gets really cold, I don’t like having too much insulation because you lose dexterity. These gloves have just enough insulation on the back of the hand to go down into the low 40s.