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Cyclist’s gloved hand on the handlebars of a bike

The Biggest Reason To Wear Cycling Gloves May Not Be What You Think

Few cyclists need to be convinced to wear gloves. They’re just an assumed part of the uniform.

“Other than the required jersey and shorts, no clothing is more commonly worn by cyclists,” says Darryl MacKenzie, longtime cyclist and veteran cycling coach of 35-plus years.

Despite their ubiquity, many riders give little thought to why they wear their cycling gloves. And there are, in fact, many reasons to make sure you’ve got them on hand (literally) when you go out for a ride. The most important reason may be especially surprising, though — and it will definitely make you think twice about riding glove-free. Read on to learn more. 

Common Reasons Cyclists Wear Gloves

Before we get to the most important factor, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons to wear cycling gloves:

  • Padding: All cycling gloves include some type of padding, and this is essential for a comfortable ride. As we’ll see below, the ideal glove padding differs depending on your riding style.
  • Grip: Gloves add friction and strengthen your grip, especially in warmer weather when you may have sweat dripping down your arms onto your hands. Your gloves absorb that moisture and help you maintain a steady grip, especially on bumps in the road where your hand might easily slip off the handlebars.
  • Shock reduction: “As a bike fitter, the most common discomfort cyclists bring to me is sore or numb hands,” says Coach Darryl, adding that this would be far worse without cycling gloves.
  • Cycling aesthetic: Many cyclists want to ride in style, and matching gloves and kit will help you stand out just a little bit more. Many cycling clubs even provide gloves to go with their annual kit releases.
  • Cold protection: In colder climates, you’ll want a pair of long-fingered gloves handy. Darryl often keeps both short- and long-fingered gloves with him for winter rides so he can change as needed.
  • Cleanup: For a cyclist, there’s no shortage of sweat and — on cold rides — snot to deal with. Gloves are a much better option for a quick cleanup than, say, your bare, sweaty hands. 

Different Gloves for Different Riding Styles 

Considering the above factors will help you determine the right kind of gloves for your ride. But, before you land on the right pair, you also need to factor in your riding style, as road biking and mountain biking call for different kinds of gloves.

“People just don’t know this,” says Darryl. “A cyclist could be riding for years with the wrong gloves and not even realize it.” 

It comes down to the difference in how handlebars are shaped for mountain and road bikes. On a mountain bike, your hands rest on top of the handlebars, meaning your wrists are rolled inward and your knuckles face out. That means the pressure point — where your palms meet the handlebars — runs straight across your palm right underneath your fingers. 

On a road bike, however, your hands are usually on the hoods. Here, your knuckles and palms face inward, and the pressure point runs diagonally from the base of your forefinger, near your thumb, to the opposite base of your palm. These different pressure points call for different padding — mountain biking across the top of the hand and road biking more spread along the lower and central parts of the palm.

Ultimately, Coach Darryl says the best way to ensure you get the right gloves is to bring your bike with you when you shop for them. That way, you can actually stand over your bike, try on the gloves, and make sure the padding is where you need it to be when you grip the handlebars. 

The Most Important Reason: Crash Protection 

Regardless of the type of riding you do, the biggest reason to wear cycling gloves is the same. As important as all the above factors are, they don’t compare to cycling gloves’ hidden benefit: crash protection.

Think about it. When you fall off the bike, you most often fall straight ahead, over the handlebars. And what’s the first part of your body to hit the ground? Your hands. Without gloves, the road rash from that contact can be brutal. Your palms will slide across the pavement (or the rocky trail), ripping the skin right off. 

With gloves on, though, you’re protected from the worst of this. You might ruin your gloves, but your hands will be safe underneath that extra layer, saving you from weeks of pain and blistering.

That extra protection in a crash is so valuable that Darryl likes to rely on a simple saying that pretty much anyone can understand. It comes from a European cycling pro who spoke very little English, but the point is clear: 

“No gloves? You stupid!”

How To Keep Your Cycling Gloves in Good Shape

Because cycling gloves are such a valuable piece of equipment, it’s important to keep several pairs on hand and take good care of them. When you wash them in the washing machine, be sure to stick the Velcro down fully — this keeps the Velcro on one glove from pulling on the fabric of another glove, which can cause unsightly pilling on the fabric. After washing, hang the gloves to dry to better preserve the fabric. 

Finally, store your gloves with the Velcro of the left glove attached to the Velcro of the right glove so you always keep each pair together. That way, you’ll always have both gloves with you when you set out for a ride. Now that you’ve read this, we’re sure you won’t ever want to leave home without them.


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Image by Lauren Hudgins from Pixabay