Riding a bicycle should be fun and healthy. Unfortunately there are a few things that can interfere with both of those goals. If you asked non-bike riding people what they think are the vulnerable parts of the body when doing bicycle touring you would likely get varying answers. Some people think that you might hurt your knees by putting too much strain on them, or by falling. Others might say it is too much of a strain on the back. And some might cite the ankles as a common weak point. Few, if any would point at the hands. There are ways to avoid strained knees such as the proper seat to pedal height, which can also help you avoid ankle strain. Damage to your knees from a fall can only be avoided one way – don’t fall. However, to avoid strain on your hands during any bicycle tour padded gloves are essential.
Another reason for using gloves while riding is that your hands can become quite wet due to sweating. That can make it more difficult to grip the handlebars and steer safely.
On my first tour, my riding partner Sam Ryan did not bring riding gloves. He noticed a tingling in his fingers at first and then after three or four days of 60-70 mile rides his hands became numb. It’s hard to properly steer a bicycle with numb hands and it sure took the joy out of riding. Plus, we were concerned that he had done some possibly permanent damage to his hands. We later learned that pressure on your hands during a long ride while gripping the bars affects a nerve that creates problems similar to carpel tunnel syndrome. It took Sam about a week to get feeling back in his hands. You can bet he’ll never take on a bicycle tour again without the proper padded gloves.
You’ll notice I said the proper padded gloves. Not all gloves are created equal to the task and they must be the best ones for you to help you avoid injury.
Here is a way for you to determine which gloves are best for you.
1. Size/Fit: You should always try on gloves before you buy. Make sure they fit your hand comfortably. Saying, “Don't use gloves that are too big or too small” seems logical, but how you determine that is important. If there is loose leather at the tips of the fingers they are too big. If there is loose leather in the palm they are too big. If the hem rides up into the palm they are too small. Too tight of a glove can cut circulation off in your fingers, giving you a very uncomfortable tingling feeling. Manufacturers’ sizes can vary so, try on different styles and makes until the glove fits you like a second layer of skin.
2. Full finger vs short finger gloves: Full finger gloves will protect your whole hand. Full finger gloves are normally used for mountain biking or for winter riding. For mountain bike riding your grip is going to be tighter and use more of your fingers. Because a touring bicyclist doesn’t usually traverse rough terrain he/she doesn’t need to grip the bars as tightly as mountain bikers do. Short finger gloves, the type where the tips are removed, also known as mitts, are best for touring in warm weather. They help to make sure your hands don't overheat.
3. Padding: Some gloves have padding built in and others allow for inserts. I find that lots of gel padding works the best for my comfort level, but everyone is different. Try on the different types and grip the handlebars of a bike to really get a sense of what works for you. Then, buy whatever you prefer.
4. Backside Material: You’ll notice the many gloves have cloth on the thumb and/or on the back side of the glove. This isn’t there to reduce the cost or to look ultra stylish, it actually has a purpose. It is to wipe sweat off your face and out of your eyes when you are really doing a workout or when it is exceedingly hot outside. The amount of back side cloth and the material it is made from will vary, and that could influence your choice of glove.
5. Color: Color in a riding glove isn’t just a fashion statement. There are beneficial reasons for color. I prefer light colors that will not absorb heat during the day, and are more visible at night. A glove with reflective material included is a plus. The more you can be seen at night, by cars both coming and going, the safer you are.