Mountain bike gloves serve several important purposes. While gloves don’t cost a lot of money, finding the right glove for mountain biking is important because it can have a serious impact on comfort. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for bike gloves.
First and foremost, mountain bike gloves exist to improve the rider’s grip on the handlebars. Bare, sweaty hands make for dangerous handling, which is why most riders wear gloves, even in the summer.
Many gloves use a synthetic, leather-like material called Clarino on the palms and grip side of the fingers. Clarino, and other similar materials absorb sweat and provide decent grip, even when wet. On top of that, most manufacturers add rubberized patterns for additional grip. Some even utilize a silicone coating on fingertips for improved brake lever gripping.
Mountain bike gloves are designed to provide a level of abrasion protection, and not just in the event of a crash. Sure, it’s nice to have palm protection for a hands-first skid across the dirt, but gloves do just as well protecting hands from high-speed brushes against trees and plants along the trail.
Some gloves are actually designed with armor built-in, generally on top of the knuckles. Leatt’s DBX 4.0 series of gloves feature a flexible material on the knuckles and third and fourth fingers that hardens upon impact, reducing the trauma associated with smacking a hand against a rock or tree.
While grip and abrasion protection are the primary reasons mountain bikers wear gloves on the trail, warmth is perhaps the next most important reason for donning a pair of gloves. Bike gloves are offered with varying amounts of insulation, from winter to summer weights.
For winter, look for gloves that are well-insulated but also offer dexterity on the bike. Too thick, and it can be difficult to operate shifters and brakes.
On the flip side, summer gloves are designed to keep hands cool while still offering grip and protection. Fingerless gloves are an option, though many riders avoid these because they tend to bunch up between the fingers, causing discomfort and even blisters. Summer gloves typically utilize a lightweight, vented fabric on the top side, along with tiny, strategically-placed pinholes on the palm.
Mountain bike gloves are available with varying degrees of padding in the palm and fingers. With sore hands after a ride, beginning mountain bikers may be attracted to the promise of gel-padded gloves. However, many often conclude that padded gloves actually make matters worse, causing blisters and discomfort in other parts of the hand.
Mountain bikers love to talk about the importance of finding the right saddle, and getting the right glove fit is similarly important. I’ve been guilty of wearing gloves that are too big, and the result is almost always blistered hands.
How do you know what size glove you wear? Well, standard glove sizing is based on the length (in inches) around the palm of your dominant hand, ranging from about 6.5? to 12?. Most bike glove manufacturers simply size their gloves small, medium, large, etc., which corresponds to a standard size chart on their website.
Even if you know your glove size, and can match it to a manufacturer’s sizing system, it’s still a good idea to try on different sizes to see what works best. Personally, I like to go with a glove that feels a little tight, knowing that it will stretch over time. Reducing blisters is all about finding a glove that fits like a second skin.
Some bike gloves feature a velcro or snap enclosure at the wrist, while others simply utilize an elastic band. Well-fitted gloves should stay put with just an elastic enclosure, but some riders like the added security of velcro. A drawstring closure works well on insulated gloves where keeping cold air out is important. For summer riding, it seems most riders prefer gloves with elastic wrists since they’re generally more comfortable and weigh less.
Like everything else in the bike world, bike gloves are chock full of features specifically designed to meet the needs of riders.
For starters, I like to look for gloves with a built-in snot rag. Many utilize a material like terrycloth on the top side of the thumb which is perfect for wiping your nose at the start of a cool ride.
With the advent of smartphones, many gloves now feature smartphone-compatible coatings on fingers and thumbs. In my experience, few of these actually work as advertised, but it’s worth a shot. Pro tip: in a pinch, you can use your nose to tap on a smartphone without removing your gloves.