Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Winter commute mitten gloves

Dear glove and mitten manufacturers,

Here's my take on the perfect winter commuter mitten glove. This doesn't exist. In my experience, the only bike-specific winter gloves I've tried have too narrow of a useful range. The PI Lobster Claws, and Novara winter cycling gloves work for dry and cold from about 20F to 35F. Lower temps, my finger tips freeze and higher, they melt.

Commuters are different than club/road riders that suit up and hammer for hours in the cold. They're different than hard-core epic Alaskan mountain bikers.

Generally speaking, commuters stop more often and sometimes need to quickly remove a glove or otherwise user their fingers to do stuff as they are stopped at a light. They typically spend shorter bursts on their bikes than the aforementioned groups for which most gloves appear to be optimized.

These gloves would be ideal for commuters in northern-US commutes where typical winter day-time lows are above 0F but below freezing. They would also work well for the edges of Fall and early Spring.

My current hacked solution. REI convertable mittens with Smartwool liners. I sewed a little wind/water block on the front. I wish they were a bit warmer but they do OK for about an hour down to the teens F. 

Functional Requirements
  • Easily exposed fingers: commuters need exposed fingers for unlocking and locking stuff, picking at face, taking pictures, answering phone, fussing with MP3, etc.
  • Mitten style: true mitten style. Not lobster-claws. The lobster claws I've tried are the worse of all worlds: no warmer than cheapo mittens and still crippling in the "answer your phone" department. You can shift just about any system just fine with mittens. Some brifters are challenging, but not impossible, and I'd argue that most winter commuters are not running brifters. They're running fixed, single speed, thumbies, or bar-ends. And a handful are running brifters.
  • Water-resistant: waterproof is nice if you can really get them to breath. For freezing commutes, where snow is more likely than rain, waterproof is not as important as breathable -- but they should keep from wetting out for 20 minutes or so of hard rain.
  • Short cuffs (not gauntlet style): most working people wear a watch and need to check it. Gauntlets are nice for snowmobiling, but overkill for most commutes.
  • Room for thin glove layer: just like everything else, you should be able to layer your hands for varying conditions.
  • With liners, the mittens should be warm enough down to 0F for an hour. Without liners: they should work up to 40F and with exposable fingers, you could push that to 50F. Liners should be optional, not included. There are plenty of thin wool or plastic/poly glove options out there for people to choose from.
  • No buckles, clasps, velcro closures: the mittens should be easy to pull on with your teeth and should slip off easily.
  • No pockets or other silly add-ons (like goggle wipers). Who uses a pocket on their glove?
  • Snot spot: they need that fleece backing on the back of the thumb of both gloves. The larger the patch the better.
  • Normal looking. Black please. But bonus points for some reflective bits to highlight turn signals.
That's about it.

I'm still using my REI glove hack that I created a couple years ago. But I'm embarrassed to admit how many gloves and mittens I've bought and tried in the last year or so -- but I keep going back to these.

I just found a set of these gloves on sale at REI, so I'll be hacking another pair for next year. The next pair will have the water-resistant/wind-blocking piece all the way around the fingers, not just on the outside.


alex wetmore said...

Right on.

When it is in the 20s to the 40s I end up commuting with 3 pairs of gloves to handle changing conditions. It is insane. My gloves shouldn't take as much space in my bag as a pair of pants.

The best Seattle gloves are the PI Zephyrs which haven't been made for many years. They are pretty rain proof shells, then you stick the appropriate thickness liner underneath.

Rachel said...


Here's what I want out of commuting gloves:

* Waterproof on the top of the hand and all the way around the fingers (when you touch stuff, you don't want your gloves to get soaked through, not to mention rain coming down on the top)
* Vented but still insulating in the palm
* Lobster Claw that flips open to expose fingertips (As opposed to John, I think I prefer lobster claws, but I might change my mind with more experience)
** Bonus points if you can remove (unzip?) the finger covers altogether and just use the gloves as fingerless gloves
** Bonus points if there's a mitten version so both John and I can be happy
* Removable insulation liners for inside the lobster claw flip section (without liners, good for 35-45 degrees, with liners, good for 0-35 degrees. Add your own pair of thin gloves under for sub-zero)
* Gauntlet cuffs (unlike John, when it's really cold, I want to seal the space between my gloves and my jacket)
** Bonus points if you can remove the gauntlet parts (unzip?) because when it's warmer, it's nice to be able to get to your watch
* Room for glove liners underneath
* A strip of reflective piping across the lower knuckles (where the fingers meet the hands)
* Plain and practical. Minimal logos. Black is good because they will get dirty.

Jonathan Eberly said...

I have had good luck with a thin pair of wool gloves and a thicker wool mitten. I am good from about 50* down to 10* depending on whether I am wearing one, the other, or both. The don't seem to wet out too fast.

I'd really like if I could find a super thin goretex shell mitten. With them I think I would be good for pretty much any temperature and weather we experience here in Spokane.

Pat S said...

My major piss-point with any of the insulated gloves is the liner and how when you pull your hand out of the glove you can never put it back in because the liner is all twisted and bunched up. It's why I've gone to a separate liner and shell. I frequently need to use my fingers and I don't have time for that shit.

My PB lobster-type gloves have a liner with separate fingers inside the ganged fingers of the shell. Unbelievably mega stupid design that makes me so mad I wanna punch my face. I've relegated them to dog frisbee chucking duty. I think my PI lobsters were the same way, but I can't find them to verify - I think I heaved 'em into the river or gave 'em away, can't remember.

+1 on the snot spot. Super-size mine, please, with a little battery-powered blow dryer and scraper system to knock the sharp edges down. But wristwatch access? Really? I must be out of touch.

In any case it's clear that we all sure could use a well-thought-out utility glove. Maybe we need to start up Spokane Glove Works and go all viral with our fantastic product. Just dreaming out loud.

Great topic and some really interesting observations, Mr Speare. And you other commenters.

Ken Paulman said...

Anyone ever tried Bar Mitts? My neighborhood bike shop guy has been raving about them, but I'm dubious.

They do seem to address the big problem - wind. Most gloves are fine if you're standing still, it's that rushing cold air that's the killer.

Rory said...

the best glove I found for seattle riding is the "Manzella® Men's Cascade Convertible Waterproof Fleece Glove/Mitten" . it falls in line with what you are talking about, except it has velcro to keep the mitten portion in place. the ebst thing i like about it is the mitten part being convertible, since i can slightly unpeel them going uphill, and then put them back for going down hill.

Rachel said...

Strange contraptions, those bar mits.
Too bad they don't have a version for those of us with bar-end shifters. Also kind of a bummer that the thing doesn't account for the hand position on the flat part next to the stem - I've been using that one quite a bit lately.

Michael said...

There's a product similar to bar mitts made for kayaking. They don't work very well.

Unknown said...

mittens, bar mitts, mitten shells, all this shit is easy to sew. bonus: everything can be just the way you like it, and you can be proud for making something cool and saving money. want pogies for bar-end shifters? go to goodwill, buy an XXL mens fleece jacket and a rain jacket ( without too many seams). cut them up for fabric. make a pattern out of paper bags. track down a sewing machine and get sewing. you may need to order retroreflective fabric, but it's still not expensive.

mechBgon said...

I have a tattered set of PI Zephyr shells and Army surplus wool gloves to use inside them. If I'm going for a long ride, I take a spare set of the wool gloves. It's soooo nice to be able to separate the shell and liners for quick drying during the workday, and they don't turn into a sweatbath nearly as badly as a conventional waterproof-breathable cycling glove.

My pal Willy suggested looking at these Manzella shells as a replacement for my dying Zephyrs. REI carries them, I need to get over there and try some on for size.

Regarding pogies, I use these on my flat-bar bike when necessary: cheap ATV mitts from They're not without their drawbacks, but if it's bitter cold, they really help.

Unknown said...

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