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Bike Gloves Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Pair

March 17, 2019

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Bike Gloves Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Pair

We won’t make buying the right pair of bike gloves more difficult than it needs to be. In fact, we’ll make it as easy as answering two simple—but fundamental—questions.


Quick fact: Only three parts of your body make contact with your bicycle—your hands, feet, and backside.

But, despite the immense effort cyclists typically put into their shoe and shorts choices, gloves are often little more than an afterthought.

The reality, though, is that choosing the wrong pair can lead to unnecessary pain, a miserable riding experience, and can even more severe conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve damage.

In this article, we’ll quickly walk you through how simple it is to choose the right pair of cycling gloves that meet your needs. In fact, the process only comes down to answering two simple questions.

Question 1: Which Type of Cycling Gloves Do You Need?

If you merely cruise around the block every now and again, the grips or tape on your bars is probably acceptable for keeping your hands comfortable.

Much farther than this, however, and you’ll soon experience rubbing, chafing, and blisters—not to mention potential numbness and tingling. In a worst-case scenario, you might aggravate symptoms related to carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

What’s the solution, then?

Cycling-specific gloves help prevent these side effects via a combination of specialized features like strategically placed padding, breathable fabrics that dissipate moisture, soft materials that prevent chafing, form-fitting designs, and tacky materials that maximize grip (more soon).

They also come with different closures—Velcro, hook-and-loop/strap, pull-on/slip-on, and adjustable straps are some of the most common—which keep the gloves in place and further maximize comfort.

Two of the most common closures found on bike gloves, including pull-on (left) and Velcro hook-and-strap (right).

Not all bike gloves are created equal, though, since most are designed primarily around one of three factors: whether you’re riding on the road, shredding a trail, or getting outside during the colder and wetter months of the year.

Overall, you’ll find that each of these classes shares many of the same high-level features, though—they’re just implemented differently to suit each distinct riding styles and condition.

Road Bike Gloves

Road cycling gloves are typically fingerless (also referred to as “half finger”), with a breathable fabric on the back of the hand to maximize air circulation and moisture transfer.

The palm typically features thicker, more durable material, since it makes direct contact with the handlebars. There’s also a layer of gel or foam padding that reduces pressure on the ulnar nerve and helps compensate for a road bike’s lack of suspension.

Pro tip: Many cross-country mountain bike riders (myself included) wear fingerless gloves during the warmer months to minimize heat buildup, so there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to gloves. This is a theme we’ll frequently revisit in this article.

Road bike gloves are the lightest and least bulky of the bunch, with fingerless designs, mesh on the top to promote ventilation and moisture transfer, and thicker padding to help compensate for a lack of suspension. ©TreadBikely

Here are some top-rated road bike gloves on Amazon:

Mountain Bike Gloves

In general, mountain bike gloves feature full-fingered designs that help protect cyclists from trees, rocks, and other debris often encountered on the trail. They also normally feature heavier-gauge material to withstand added abuse.

Padding might be non-existent on the palm, or there could be a thin layer present for added comfort. Compared to road-oriented models, mountain bike gloves feature padding in different areas, such as toward the outside of the palm and on the top for added protection against contact.

Textured grips are also common on modern MTB gloves, which also typically feature electrically conducting materials at the fingertip so you can still use your smartphone or other touchscreen-enabled fitness devices.

As mentioned above, many cross-country mountain bike riders (myself included) often use fingerless, padded gloves to maximize coolness during warmer months. There’s seldom a one-size-fits-all solution, and it will almost certainly take some trial and error to find your perfect pair of gloves.

As we can see, this pair of POC mountain bike gloves features no padding on the palm, although some manufacturers include thin cushioning on for comfort. Many also boast padding on the top—such as around knuckles—to maximize impact protection. ©TreadBikely

Here are a couple of the top results on Amazon, as rated by cyclists:

Winter Bike Gloves

Although winter bike gloves feature full-fingered designs like their MTB brethren, they come with thicker overall designs, since there’s a generous layer of fleece lining and other insulating materials between your skin and the cold air.

In some instances, manufacturers include a thin inner liner to accompany the thicker outer shell. Sometimes, these are waterproof and windproof in their own right and can be used during times of the year when warmth isn’t a priority, but keeping dry is. 

As with mountain bike gloves, the palms are often treated with a special material that improves friction with your brake levers, especially in slick environments.

Winter cycling gloves typically also feature longer cuffs and waterproof exteriors, with different lofts (fill thicknesses) based on the temperatures in which you plan to cycle.

Winter bike gloves typically feature maximum fill for warmth, waterproof shells, and longer cuffs to prevent the intrusion of cold air. ©TreadBikely

In addition to standard 5-finger models like the above (most popular), there are also three additional winter bike glove categories:

  • Mittens – Here, your thumb fits into one pocket and your remaining four fingers fit inside another pocket. While these pockets can help retain warm air better than some other glove designs, they can also make for unnatural brake lever engagement.
  • Lobster Claws – If you take a mitten glove and sew a seam between the middle and ring fingers, this creates a “lobster claw” bike glove. This can offer many of the same benefits as a mitten, but with added brake lever dexterity.
  • Handlebar Mitts – These large alternatives fit over the top of your handlebars and are designed to help maintain warmth in some of the coldest environments. You can also use them in combination with traditional gloves.
Traditional winter gloves (left), “lobster claws” (center) with a seam between the middle and ring fingers, and full-on mitts (right) for maximum protection against the cold.

Again, here are a couple of top-rated results on Amazon:

Bottom line: The right pair of bike gloves starts with the type of riding you’ll enjoy, as well as the weather and terrain conditions.

And many of these features and benefits are directly related to the materials used by each manufacturer, which we’ll talk more about next.

Common Materials Found in Bike Gloves

To maximize your comfort and enjoyability, bike glove manufacturers strategically implement a blend of materials, depending on the conditions for which they’re designed.

Here are some common materials you’ll encounter, as well as their cycling-related benefits:

Pro tip: These are many of the same materials you’ll also find in cycling socks.

Material Cycling-Related Benefits
Polyester A sturdy, durable fabric that withstands the elements and resists wear caused by frequent use and repeated movements.
Leather (Real or Synthetic) Adds durability and grip on the palm, which is often ventilated with small holes to promote airflow.
Polyurethane A coating that helps fabrics remain soft and breathable while boosting durability and abrasion resistance.
Nylon Another synthetic fiber found in a variety of clothing, including bike gloves, which is durable and water-resistant.
Spandex / Elastane A type of polyurethane fabric that can stretch a great deal and return to its normal shape, without distortion.
Mesh A material that can be made from many different fabrics, which are woven into an interlaced structure for improved airflow. “Micromesh” features smaller interlaced structures than standard mesh.
Gel / Foam Strategically placed in the palm of cycling gloves to improve shock absorption.
Rubber Often found in winter gloves, where it’s used to prevent water intrusion.
Primaloft A waterproof synthetic insulator that mimics natural down and is typically found in winter gloves.
Neoprene A synthetic rubber that remains stable and flexible in a wide variety of conditions and temperatures.

What’s the next question you need to answer?

Once you decide where you’ll primarily ride, you’ll need to address fit.

Question 2: How Should Your Cycling Gloves Fit?

As a general rule, you’ll want to make sure that your bike gloves fit snugly enough that they don’t scrunch up and cause chafing, but not so tightly that the webbing between your fingers is taut—something that will only increase when you grab your handlebars.

Pro tip: If you can’t make a fist, your gloves are too tight. On the other hand, if your gloves bunch up in the palms, they could be too loose.

While each manufacturer boasts slightly different sizing, figuring out the right one for you is easy: With your dominant hand on a flat surface, measure your palm’s circumference just below the knuckles (don’t include your thumb). Then, use the table below as a high-level guide:

Note: If you’re between sizes, most professionals recommend choosing the larger size.

Glove Size X-Small Small Medium Large X-Large XX-Large
Width (inches) 7–8” 8–9” 9–10” 10–11” 11–12” 12”+

Bonus: How Should You Care for Your New Bike Gloves?

It’s important to wash your bike gloves regularly. Why? Because salt and body oils can accumulate and cause the fabric to break down—not to mention act as a harbinger for bacteria and other yuckiness that can lead to unwanted odors.

The good news is that washing your gloves is as easy as tossing them in with your other clothes—but, always on a cold setting with mild detergent!

Also, make sure that you close the Velcro straps (if any), which can quickly clog with lint and other debris, rendering them useless. Many online cyclists explain that they add their gloves a small laundry bag since they’re easy to damage in the washing machine.

As always, make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which are usually located on an interior tag.

Along these same lines, most manufacturers point out that you should only air dry their gloves, as machine drying can shrink or otherwise distort the material, leading to a less-than-stellar fit. Too much heat can also dry out the leather and elastane, and even melt the gel padding in the palms.

With this said, you’ll find plenty of online cyclists who report they treat their bike gloves just like any other garment and wash them on cold cycles, followed by machine drying on low.

Pro tip: Adding ¼ cup of white vinegar via the fabric softener slot of your washing machine can help remove stubborn odors, while baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and borax can act as particularly useful—and natural—stain-removers.

Some even simply throw their gloves in the dishwasher.

Coming to a Conclusion: The Bottom Line About Choosing Your Best Pair of Bike Gloves

Choosing a pair of cycling gloves isn’t necessarily difficult, but finding a pair that suits your riding style, common conditions you encounter, your specific needs, and personal preferences can take some trial and error.

The good news is that as long as you perform a bit of research up front (which you’re obviously doing since you’re on TreadBikely) and monitor online customer feedback, it’s difficult to go too wrong with a pair of bike gloves.

Still, you might want to consider purchasing from a retailer who offers at least 30-day refund policies—even on used items outside of their original packaging—as well as manufacturers that stand behind their products with at least 6-month warranties.

After all, if you’re new to cycling, you might be surprised at just how much wear and tear your gloves will be subjected to—as well as how much each company can differ in their design and overall feel.

Keep rolling: The Best, Must-Have Bike Accessories: Your Checklist for Getting Started

Derek is an avid cyclist with more than two decades of experience in the sport, and currently resides in Denver, Colorado. He enjoys all types, including road, MTB, cyclocross/gravel, commuting, and touring. When he's not writing reviews and guides related to bike accessories, parts, and gear for TreadBikely.com, he's riding, talking about cycling, or thinking about bikes he can't afford. #rolloutblissout
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