Monday, December 14, 2009

A failed experiment

Today, it was about 45 degrees, which is when I begin to have problems with my fingers going numb from the cold and turning white after anything longer than a 10-mile ride, even with heavy, insulated leather gauntlet-style motorcycle gloves (which I paid $50 for last year).

After doing some research online, I learned about a few options:
  • Become a fair-weather rider (not really an option for me, as I love to ride);
  • Get some heated gloves (again, not a viable option, since the electrical/charging system on my 20-plus-year-old bike is marginal);
  • Install an accessory called "Hippo Hands" (basically, these are small fairings that mount around your handgrips that are supposed to shield your hands from the wind); or
  • Try mittens instead of gloves.
A motorcyclist from Massachusetts recommended Air Force "extreme cold weather mitts" from an Army/Navy surplus store, worn over some lightweight wool gloves. "I wear this setup to scoot from Mass. to Daytona each year in February/March," he wrote.

I've been wanting to try this recommendation, and there happens to be an Army/Navy surplus store near me. I got home around 2:00 this afternoon, so I took my bike out and rode to the store. The college-aged kid behind the counter wasn't the most knowledgeable clerk, and he called another store, which had something supposedly similar for about $40. I didn't want to ride (or drive) that far, so I took a chance and spent $10 on a pair of insulated mittens (like basic ski mittens) and $5 on some lightweight wool gloves. I reasoned that if these mittens didn't fit the bill for cold-weather motorcycle riding, I could always use them to shovel snow.

I wore the mittens over the wool gloves and it was bulky, but I was able to operate the brake and clutch levers okay, although with less precision than leather gloves. I use a throttle rocker (a/k/a cramp buster), so I don't really need to grip the throttle. I hit Route 108 in Narragansett, one of my favorite local roads, and stopped for gas. As I was leaving the gas station, a guy wearing a full face helmet rode by - the only motorcycle I encountered this afternoon - and gave me a fist pump, as if to say, "Rock on, bro - we ain't no fair-weather riders!"

At first, the wool glove/Thinsulate mitten combo felt very warm, as I pushed my bike through some twisties around Galilee, Point Judith and Scarborough Beach. It was great to have the roads practically to myself. But, eventually, after about 17 miles, the cold began to invade my fingers like needles and pins.

My experiment with the new "gear" wasn't a total failure. I was able to ride a bit longer before the cold bit my fingers, and it didn't bite as severely as with the leather gloves. They were red and painful, but they hadn't turned white or blue yet (there is a name for this - it's called Raynaud's phenomenon, I discovered during my research). At home, I did my usual cold weather post-ride routine of holding my fingers under lukewarm water to thaw them out, and they returned to normal more quickly.

So, it was an improvement, but only a slight improvement. I don't know if the "extreme cold weather mitts" or "artic mitts" would be a further improvement, but I'm not sure I'm willing to spend $40 to find out.


  1. Hey Ken...I finally got my ass over here. It was good to meet you at Precision, though as I said because we had the kids I didn't really have time to chat much. You are doing good with your blog. The more you comment on other's blogs, the more likely people will start to check your blog out and comment on your posts. It takes a while to build up a following.

    As far as the cold hands go, a good solution for you would be heated gloves...but not the kind you plug into your bike's electrical system. They have battery operated ones out now that I've heard are pretty good. Of course, they're also not cheap, but it is what it is.

    Before I had my heated grips, I used to use the "hot hands" packs you can get for like a buck a pair at Walmart. The only bad part is you can't control the heat - and those suckers get pretty hot when you first mix them up. Still, they're dirt cheap and better than nothing. Another tip...they also sell a bigger one (I used to use them hunting) that you can put inside your jacket over your chest. It makes a h-u-g-e difference on a very cold day, and again, they are cheap. Just my two cents from my own experiences.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I will try the "hot hands" heat packs inside mittens next ... they didn't work with my gloves, couldn't get them close enough to my fingers to do any good. Someone also advised trying neoprene glove liners (thin, stretchy material). Of course, with about a foot of snow that fell last night, it will be a while before I venture out again ...

  3. No solution for you Ken - I HATE riding with mitts - too little control for my liking. Then again, I don't ride much below 10C (45'ish F) so it's not usually a problem. But the best gloves I have are about 30 years old and lined. Very warm. If they don't keep my hands warm, the rest of me is too cold to ride anyway.