All You Need Is Gloves (or maybe not…)

I fell for it, just like everyone else.

When I was shopping for my first road bike – which was also my first new bike for well over ten years – and I was preparing to drop some considerable wedge, the salesman, Jason, took the opportunity to pad his commission by suggesting I invest in a few peripherals: cycling shorts (no argument there), a water bottle and cage (no thanks, I’ll take care of that myself), and gloves.

Gloves, he advised me, would make a huge difference to my riding experience. Gloves of the padded, fingerless variety would absorb road noise. Gloves would protect my hands if I fell. Gloves would make my naked paws feel complete. How about these ones? Made by Trek, $37. Sure, why not? The credit card is taking a beating this afternoon, so I might as well give it an extra kick (or slap) and leave the bike shop a better-equipped cyclist.

The problem is, I never liked wearing them. Never. I wore them all summer, sweating into the cheap, poorly stitched leather. When I washed them, they went crispy and had to be teased back into suppleness over the course of the next three rides. After a month or two, the padding which covered the meat of my hand shifted into an uncomfortable lump. But worst of all, wearing gloves in the Sacramento summertime meant that I developed tan lines; Caspar-white mitts on the end of my chestnut brown arms.

But I continued to wear them, out of habit more than necessity, through the winter months, even though they provided no relief against numb fingers. They became tatty, ragged and unbearably stinky despite my attempts to soak, bleach and perfume them. They would leave my hands smelling like roadkill for hours after a ride. I hated them, and yet I somehow considered them necessary to my riding experience.

Then I saw the Bontrager gloves. Sleek, un-padded and slimline, I had to have them, despite the $49 price tag. The lack of padding was a bonus – I had developed a deep dislike for the spongy feel of padded riding gloves. The new gloves were a good fit, looked great and I didn’t miss the rank odor of my old Trek mittens, but my joy didn’t last long. Within six months, after a couple of necessary washes, the Bontrager gloves started to come apart. Finally, during Gran Fondo 2010, around mile 80, I pulled the damned things off my poor hands and threw them into the rest-stop garbage can. They barely lasted a year.

Since then, I’ve ridden without gloves. At first it was a stop-gap until my sister bought me the Rapha Goatskin Grand Tour gloves for my birthday, but as the weeks trickled past, I began to realise that I actually preferred riding in the nude. Without gloves, I could feel the road better, every nick and pebble, the tension on a steep bend, the resonance of a fast descent. More importantly, on a stiff climb, where every item of clothing becomes an extraordinary irritation, from goggles to helmet to socks, not having to feel the gloves on your hands is an enormous blessing. Trust me, next time you approach a tough hill, take off your gloves and see how much more you enjoy the climb.

So even though I still rather covet the Rapha gauntlets, I’ll figure I’m happier riding with the wind careening off the flesh of my hands. I’ve never had so much as a hint of a blister or a sore, and I don’t even know what fatigue would feel like in the palms of my hands. I have fallen out of love with gloves, if indeed I was ever in love at all.

  1. #1 by Sera on February 15, 2011 - 10:30 pm

    When did I buy you Rapha gloves? I wouldn’t mind a pair except they don’t make them for women. You must have some leathery hands, I get really sore palms on a ride of more than an hour without gloves, but I too despise the ones with palm padding, my bar tape is padding enough.

  2. #2 by Sam on February 16, 2011 - 10:14 am

    You didn’t! My point was that rather than buying new gloves, I’d drop some hints around birthday time, but as the time passed, I realised I wasn’t interested in a new pair of gloves.

    And yes, I have very leathery hands. Changing nappies and washing up for hours every day for seven years will do that to a person.

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