No need for mitts yet… ???

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.

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.


  1. PhilGE

    Pogies plus Smartwool glove liners under standard biking gloves. Nice!

  2. Elizabeth (Post author)

    Oh… I would love to try that set-up on my commuter… Anyone know of any pogies that will fit on bullhorn bars?

  3. willzager

    Andy hasn’t made these for sale yet that I know of but here are some mittens made in Mpls…

  4. Deb

    I never have issues with my hands, I assume because I have hills and hand temps are tightly tied to core body temps, and even on my coldest days I have to unzip to release extra heat after my hills. So even on my coldest ride last year (8 degrees) my regular winter gloves were fine.

    My feet are a different story, and I have struggled with them a lot. Last year I gave up on finding any kind of real solution (I’ve tried vapor barrier, wind foil, many sock layers, few sock layers, etc etc, all this with regular winter boots (one pair rated down to -20F) nothing worked) and just used hand warmers on top of my feet. It was comfortable, but still sort of bothered me that I couldn’t find a different solution.

    This year a friend saw these “toasty insoles” and asked if I’d tried them. I hadn’t. I tried them, and so far they are doing the trick. We’ve had a warm winter so far, so I’ve only had 2 days that were below freezing, and so I’ve only warn these down to 24 degrees at this point…and my toes got chilly, but not freezing, and I could warm them up while riding, which I never could before. So, tentatively, I am inclined to recommend them to other cyclists who struggle to keep their feet warm.

  5. Matthew

    On your note about rubber overshoes: I had an idea recently and have wondered if anyone else has tried it. Take a pair of Tingly over shoes ( and either just wear them over your riding shoes, or make a cut out for your cleats. With the cutout they wouldn’t be waterproof, but would still keep in the warm.

  6. Ghost Rider

    The problem with any vapor barriers over hands or feet (I’ve heard of many winter cyclists using plastic bread bags for the feet) is that if you really start to warm up, things get clammy fast.

    My hands and feet are very thin and get cold no matter what I wear on them. For me, a pair of Duluth Trading Co. “Frogman” neoprene gloves under lobster mitts (I’m currently testing the Planet Bike Borealis lobsters) is the closest I come to keeping my hands warm…but after an hour or so I still get numb fingertips.

    Deb’s onto something with her “core temp” idea…if your core (and head) is warm, the extremities are supposed to follow. Have you tried another insulating layer like a fleece vest under your jacket?

  7. Elizabeth (Post author)

    My core temp seems fine… In fact, I have a chest protection that helps with that (the Warmfront).
    I think I need to start with warm hands to keep them warm and my stop mid-commute yesterday did not help, because then my fingers just couldn’t warm up.

    @willzager – those mitts look warm and I like the soft thumb.

  8. Cezar

    It has been a light winter in Chicago this year. \o/

    I got a pair of sealskin gloves over Christmas and I’m excited to see if they work well. I have mittens I got a few years ago. They work great, but the inconvenience of them is very annoying. They are also thick enough to catch my shifter and get stuck under my breaks sometimes.

  9. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @Cezar – I hear ya on the mitts getting stuck — mine often get caught in the brake lever… But they are warm!
    Good luck with the sealskins.

  10. Rob

    I did a bike commute yesterday (being unable to eat much, I really shouldn’t have) but I tried out wool socks for the first time, and I’m not sure how I went so long without trying them. I wore them underneath some New Balance hiking shoes, and my feet never got cold. Not once in 9.6 miles. I was impressed.

    The gloves… different story. Still looking for a good winter commuting glove. But I think I’m willing to try something that’s also 85% wool, based on how well my socks did.

  11. PhilGE

    @Ghost Rider and other w/cold hands – I don’t ride long distances, so I can’t claim to be an expert at this. I do know that Pogies (mine are CliMitts, not sure they’re made anymore) act as a wind barrier for your hands and allow your hands to retain heat much more easily than when exposed to the wind. They made all the difference in comfort during my cold winter commutes. Looking at Elizabeth’s handle bar and brake set up, it would be difficult to find Pogies that would work. If she’d be willing to change to flat or drop bars, she could find Pogies that could work. The CliMitts I have include a fleece/fuzzy lining that helps somewhat. Plugging up any holes (like where the cables exit the Pogies) with scraps of fleece also helps keep the pocket of air intact.

  12. Elizabeth (Post author)

    I have a pair of BarMitts for use on my road bike’s drop bars, but I don’t really have a desire to ride my road bike much once the mercury dips to the 40s and below, so I have not tested them much.

    I have tried CliMitts once on a pair of flat bars a few years ago but found them difficult to get my hands into and out of (if necessary, esp for signaling).

    I’m always open to new ideas. One of our Facebook readers suggested DIY pogies made of Ziplock bags.

  13. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @Rob – Have you tried Smartwool or Ibex wool gloves?
    I have a pair of wool glove liners from a local Army-Navy Surplus that have served me well. You still need a windproof barrier, though.

  14. Elizabeth (Post author)
  15. Rob

    @Elizabeth – I have not, but I considered getting a pair at REI the next time I was there. The wife gave me a gift card for Christmas, and I was considering these… 😀

  16. Elizabeth (Post author)

    @Rob – I gave these as a gift for Christmas to a friend – Ibex Knitty Gritty.
    These Smartwool gloves you’re eyeing look thicker and got a good review by a bike commuter from Seattle. 🙂
    Hope whatever you go with works out for you.

  17. PhilGE

    @Elizabeth – CliMitts are now made by Bratwear.

    The openings are wide enough to allow easy in and out. Yes, you need to get used to the action, but compared to the other Pogies I’ve seen linked here, the openings look huge. There’s no narrowing at all. These are, I believe, endorsed by bike riding police. My pair was made by a SideTrak, apparently now out of business.

    These Smartwool liners do the trick for me.


  18. db

    My core does not keep my extremities warm enough. After years of experimenting, I’ve got a system that keeps my easily frozen fingers and toes warm into the low single digits:

    For hands: Bar Mitts over Pearl Izumi lobster gloves

    For feet: Wool socks, a pair of Goretex lined trail shoes, and Neos overshoes.

    Add a good jacket over a baselayer and a balaclava, and I’m good.

    I haven’t ridden in anything cold enough to make this system fail (8 degrees F this year).

  19. Steven S

    I use “shell mittens”. There are REI brand and Outdoor research models that I know of. They are simply taped mittens and are meant to be large. Use the fingered gloves that you use slightly above freezing and you get easily 20 degrees more utility by putting the wind-blocking taped mitten over your regular glove.

    My glove routine is something like: over 60°F – fingerless; between 45 and 60 – full fingered, non insulated; between 30 and 45 – full fingered insulated; between 20 and 30 – shell mitten and non-insultaed full-fingered; 5-20 – Shell mitten and insulated full fingered. It doesn’t get colder than that here in the PNW.

    For keeping feet warm, the trick is going up a half to full size in your shoes so that you can fit a thicker sock layer in there without restricting circulation. Simply cramming more sock into the same shoe one normally wears compresses the insulation of the sock and doesn’t do any good. I have summer shoes and winter shoes.

  20. Minimumwage!

    For my hands I use either a pair of Duluth Trading Co. “Glommits” which are fingerless gloves with a fold over mitten part for your fingers, which are made from a wetsuit type material. And for the REALLY cold rides I have a pair of full finger insulated gloves that have a space built-in near the wrist that allows you to blow warm air into them to help heat up your fingers. Works okay, but not as well as i had hoped. I don’t really do much different for my footwear, i will trade my asics shoes which have some sort of breathable waffle top in for my newbalance shoes that have a solid leather toe and upper. I also use the newbalance when its raining. I always wear a wool blend sock that seems to keep me warm, but my commute is no longer than 4 miles each way so not a lot of time to get cold. But I ride year round in all weather and have learned to appreciate arriving at my destination warm, dry and comfortable.

  21. Bernard

    Hi all!
    I like this website alot, I read it often but this will be my first comment/contribution. here in Val d’Or, Quebec, we have what we like to call “real winter” with alot of snow and cold temperature (-20 to -40 are the norm.) and I still see people on bike almost every day.
    I made a video of this morning commute, I took a detour because I only have 0,25km to do, but since it was only -15 celcius, I made it longer.

    for my hand what I wear most of the time is the lizardskin winter glove, for short ride (less than 20mins, when it’s not so cold.
    when it’s colder for short ride I like tick wool glove in insulated leather work glove.
    but for long ride in the cold I like to wear skidoo mitten
    for my feet I usually use a good wool sock in my regular shoes but when it’s very cold I wear the big boots, baffin expedition rated at -100 so it’s all good.

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