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I’m in denial that winter is here. We’ve had minimal snow fall in Chicago so far this fall/winter and fairly mild temps – mostly hovering in the 40s and high 30s. We’ve even asked our Facebook readers to post photos of any snow commutes since we here at Bike Commuters haven’t seen much – if any – snow yet… not that I’m complaining. Then I woke up to today’s arctic weather — to temps only in the 20s when I left my house this morning – BRR!

Yet, I refused to bust out the mittens and admit that cold weather had finally arrived. No siree!!! I left the mittens at home, put on my fleece gloves with lobster outer shell combo and set out. (And I probably would have been just fine if I hadn’t made a stop along the way that required me to take the hand coverings off entirely to lock my bike.) By the time I arrived at work, however, my fingertips were getting blue and hurting. Never a good sign.

Then I had a discussion with a fellow bike commuter who told me that her feet were really cold on her ride in to work today. We shared our stories of woe and wondered how it is that we still can’t get our clothing and gear right to stay warm – after years of Chicago riding. We also mused about how effective mittens seem to be over gloves…. and wondered “do cycling-specific mittens exist?” She claims to have seen a pair years ago, but I have never seen such a wonderment.

In my random searches for newer and better tips to keep my hands warm, I stumbled upon some tips posted on an Instructables page:

The easiest way to keep your feet warm is to wear rubber boots over your shoes. For the hands, rubber gloves over some knit gloves. Sometimes insulated rubber gloves are good enough.
(source http://www.instructables.com/id/Warm-Feet-and-Hands-for-Winter-Cycling/)

Now I don’t have insulated rubber gloves (yet!) but I can say that waterproof overshoes do help keep the feet warm and dry. Even my Bogs boots are great (though provide minimal traction on the sole to grip anything, especially wet pedals).

As I continued in my quest for hand protection, I even found the Exhale gloves that allow you to blow warm air into them to keep your digits toasty (and these newer models are tech savvy enough so you can use them with your smartphone!).

In my accessory arsenal at home I do have a pair of BarMitts for road dropbars, but my faithful commuter – Toro – is equipped with bullhorn bars and I have yet to find any such mitts/pogies that will fit the bullhorn handlebar setup. :-(

For the ride home I decided to not be so stubborn and to try out the mittens a co-worker had gifted to me after his wife didn’t want them; I’d been keeping them in a drawer and had almost forgotten I had them. Although they seemed a bit snug (fingertips and thumbs both at the end of the mitt with no additional room), I figured the evening bike commute home would be a good test to compare them to the warmth of my glove/lobster shell combo.

The verdict? Technically it’s not a fair test — since the temperatures were about 5-degrees warmer for the ride home and wind was at my back. Overall, though, I’d say the mittens won – even this slightly snug pair.

Mittens – for me at least – pose a slight inconvenience. Though much warmer, when I wear mittens while riding my commuter, the mitt part seems to always remain draped over my brake lever, since all that material seems to be too much to easily fold my hand back in around the handlebar. Since my fingers have plenty of freedom within the mitt, I usually end up curling my fingers within the mitten to grip the bar. It’s not the most secure grip, but it seems to work on my flat bar brake set-up.

mittened hand properly gripping handlebar - not an easy task in bulky mitts!

PLUS – even with the mittens, I suffer from cold thumbs! Tucking the thumbs behind the handlebar for warmth does help to block them from the wind but they still get cold.

I better figure out if there is a better solution to my cold hand woes, because the worst of winter may still come in 2012, if this Chicago weather forecast holds any truth! At least I know my trusty oversized REI mittens will keep me warm… I had just been hoping for a solution that allows me greater dexterity and protects my thumbs too.

For more about cycling in mittens, see Noah’s post about mittens from last December.