As a professional athlete it’s my job to ride my bike year-round, but even I’m not immune to the gut-wrenching, tear-jerking pain of frozen hands. This winter I’m determined to never let frozen fingers affect my riding again. Here are my Top 10 Tips to Keeping Your Hands Warm While Winter Mountain Biking.

  1. Select Comfortable Gloves
  2. Consider Handlebar Mittens
  3. Keep your hands dry
  4. Warm Hands are a Part of the Full Body System
  5. Cold Hands Can Indicate a Poor Bike Set-Up
  6. Put Your Gloves on Outside
  7. Bring More Than one Pair on a Ride
  8. Don’t Store Your Gloves in Your Jersey Pocket
  9. Think About Using a Liner
  10. Pack some Hand Warmers

Select Comfortable Gloves: This is arguably the most important aspect to keeping your hands warm while winter mountain biking. While there are a lot of things you can do wrong after having the right pair of gloves, without the right pair of gloves, you never stand a chance.

When searching your first pair of winter riding gloves, look past all the confusing material names and look for your buzz words: “waterproof and windproof.” Those are the most important words to see on the label of the gloves you are purchasing. Next look for the degrees. Most quality pairs of gloves will tell you to what temperature they will keep your hands warm. Remember that in cycling you always have a wind chill factor.

Next pick your type of gloves. You need gloves that will keep you warm while still allowing you all the dexterity that you need in order to shift and grab your brakes. For that reason, it is best to seek out a cycling specific glove. Ski gloves will probably leave you struggling to grip the bars.  There are gloves with all different materials and shapes.  I am a fan of Giro gloves and have a large range of their products, however there are a lot of glove companies to chose from. Lois Garneau, Castelli, Specialized, Pearl Izumi, and Gore are just a few companies that have winter cycling gloves.

Giro Neo Blaze Gloves
Giro Neo Blaze Gloves

Giro’s warmest glove, 100 Proof, features a claw three-finger design that combines the traditional glove with the mitten in order to allow your fingers to keep each other warm while incased in a fleece-lined glove with an outer – waterproof shell.  Different than the claw design is the Neo Blaze Glove, which skips the inner lining and features a neoprene five-fingered glove. This glove traps your own body heat to warm you in the winter. It is like wearing a wetsuit on your hands.  

Consider Handlebar Mittens: You may have gotten the perfect set of winter cycling gloves, but if you are anything like me, that doesn’t mean you are safe from icicles replacing your fingers. Sometimes you need to bring out the big guns…or gloves rather. 

Handlebar Mitts are gloves that encase the handlebar and the brakes so that when you place your hands on the bars, they are encapsulated by the neoprene mitten. These gloves shield the wind and allow your own heat to keep your hands toasty throughout your ride. If it’s exceptionally cold, you can even wear gloves in addition to Handlebar Mittens. If there is precipitation, the handlebar mittens take on the brunt of the water, while your gloves on the inside can focus on keeping your hands warm.

Keep Your Hands Dry: This may seem obvious when it comes to avoiding rain and snow. Keeping your hands dry with waterproof gloves or handlebar mittens is just common sense under those weather conditions. What people often underestimate, however, is how detrimental over-heating on a cold ride can be.

I can’t tell you how many times I have started a ride uphill and felt tickled pink about how warm and cozy my hands felt, only to be in anguish on the descent because my hands have taken a turn for the worse. When you ride, do not allow your hands to sweat inside of your gloves. Overtime, the sweat will become cold and the cold temperatures outside will allow that sweat to start to freeze, thus compromising your hands. If you find that your hands are sweating while you are out riding this winter, you need a lighter glove in order to allow your hands to breath.

Warm Hands are a Part of the Full Body System: I’m sure that you’ve heard this before. You were probably told this when your mom shoved an extra hat, set of gloves, or jacket in your arms as you walked out the door. It’s true though; the fate of your hands on a cold winter day heavily rests on how warm the rest of your body is.

When you enter frigid conditions, your body’s number one priority is to keep you alive and functioning properly. This means that if your body temperature is compromised your body will move blood from your extremities (hands) in order to warm your abdominal organs and brain.  Next time, if your hands are cold during a ride, make sure that the rest of your body is appropriately layered.

In addition to your blood being pulled from your hands to warm the essential portions of your body, it is pulled into your muscles to help them function. As you exercise, your muscles need more blood in order to function to their potential. Unlike other sports, cycling doesn’t use the hands and arms to the extent that would require extra blood. This an another explanation for why your hands and body might need a little extra layering while out on the bike.

Cold Hands Can Indicate a Poor Bike Set Up: If your hands are cold when it seems like everyone else is comfortable in much fewer layers it could indicate that your bike isn’t properly fit for your body or riding style. If you are way colder than the weather would suggest you should be then you might be cutting off blood supply from your hands. This would be from gripping your handlebars too tightly or from holding your wrists in an abnormal position. If this sounds like you, then consider getting a bike fit in order to fix your arm and hand positioning.

tips for warm hands mountain biking
tips for warm hands mountain biking

Put Your Gloves On Outside: Even I’m a little bit skeptical of this one, but I promise it works. It seems a bit extreme, but extreme conditions call for extreme precaution. When you kit up for a cold ride, don’t stall for so long that you end up sweating while still inside. It feels like it takes exponentially longer to kit up for a cold ride than a summer ride, but the worst is when you can’t find that last shoe cover meanwhile your head is sweating from your ear warmers.

While you can’t put on your riding tights standing outside, you can wait until you step out the door to put your gloves on. If you put your gloves on while you are still inside, your hands become moist before your ride has even started. This moisture will quickly freeze over once you saddle up to ride. Even if you can’t feel the moisture, don’t take the extra risk, and simply put your gloves on outside.

Bring More Than One Pair on Your Ride: This is a game-changer. In the winter, I always bring at least two pairs of gloves on a ride…sometimes three. I bring one lighter pair of gloves for climbing, a thicker one for descending, and an emergency pair in case I accidently start to sweat. It might feel overkill, but you’ll be so thankful you have an extra pair when the weather turns for the worse and the wind chill factor increases. If you are accustomed to out and back type of rides, you would be surprised how much colder the road is moving in one direction than the other. Pack a pair of gloves for every weather condition.

Don’t Store Your Gloves in Your Jersey Pocket: If you plan ahead and bring more than one pair of gloves, make sure that your extra set is viable by the time is comes to use them. If you are a heavy sweater like me, it is likely that your jersey, under layers of other jackets, becomes a bit damp on harder rides. If your gloves are packed under all those layers of jackets, soaking in the warmth and moisture, you won’t even want to touch them by the time you want to put them on. Make sure that your extra gloves are packed in your outer-most pocket or if you want to take extra precaution like me, you can fasten them onto your handlebars. It might seem silly but electrical tape works wonders for securing your gloves to your handlebars.

Think About Using a Liner: Glove liners are made out of thin, moisture-wicking material that can be worn under your normal cycling gloves. These gloves help to absorb any extraneous sweatthat you may encounter while riding. They, in turn, are an extra line in defense to keep your hands warm and can be purchased at almost any outdoor store.

Pack Some Hand Warmers: This is your last line of defense! When everything else fails, when your hands just might fall off, when you are considering calling someone to drive you home, your hand warmers just might save you. Sometimes just knowing that I have a set of hand warmers in my back pocket keeps me pushing through on the longest, coldest days of the winter. 

So, now that you’ve read my Top 10 Tips to Keeping Your Hands Warm While Winter Mountain Biking I hope you’re ready to saddle up this winter. While all of your friends are logging trainer time, impress them with your grit as you long mile after mile outside in the bitter cold.