If you’re planning on cycling throughout winter, (and why shouldn’t you – there are some great, bright days to be had throughout the winter) then you are almost certainly going to need to think about keeping your hands warm.
Not only do you have to deal with the general temperature of the air, you also have to take in to account any extra Windchill factor created by cycling at a reasonable speed with only minimal clothing to protect you from the elements.
No matter how short the distance, cycling with cold hands is absolutely no fun at all. However by taking a few simple precautions you can get those winter miles in without turning your hands in to blocks of ice.
Keep your body warm
Your hands get cold because your body diverts blood flow from your extremities to your core in an effort to protect your major organs. Making sure you have enough layers on to keep your body warm will prevent too much blood being diverted away from your extremities.
Keep your head warm
Along with your body, keeping your head (and ears) warm will reduce the amount of blood being diverted away from your hands. There is plenty of choice when it comes to caps, beanies, snoods etc that you can wear under or in conjunction with your helmet to keep you warm. If you really want to splash out then a non-vented cycling helmet similar to that used by time triallists will let less air through to your noggin.
Pre-warm your gloves
Unless you’re cycling in good weather your hands aren’t going to get warmer while you ride, so why start out with cold hands? While you’re getting the rest of your kit ready to ride or having breakfast (or whatever you do pre-ride), leaving your gloves on a radiator while you get ready will pay dividends when you leave the house with toasty fingers. Similarly, if you stop at a café along the way, take your gloves in and either put them on a radiator if you can or keep them warm in your jersey pocket – don’t leave them out on the bike to get even colder than they already are.
As with other parts of your body layering up will help you to keep warm. If you can go for three layers then that’s ideal, with a merino wool base layer, an insulating mid layer, and a wind proof outer layer you wont go wrong. The layering approach also has the advantage that should the day warm up and your hands do get too hot you can always discard a layer for comfort. Wind is the worst culprit for cold hands, and in a pinch a pair of latex gloves (from your emergency toolkit) under your other gloves will keep wind out. They’ll make your hands sweat, but given a choice between warm and sweaty, or cold and dry we’d go for the warmer option every time.
Keep them loose
We said above that blood flow is important so it makes no sense to have your gloves so tight that they cut off the supply of blood – you don’t want them so loose your hands are flapping about in them, but a little bit of ‘give’ will keep that nice warm blood flowing around your hands.
Eat and Drink
Keeping properly fed and hydrated when cycling in the cold weather will help to keep the blood flowing properly – when it’s cold there’s less of a tendency to want to drink, but getting de-hydrated will cause your blood to thicken with inevitable circulation problems. Not fuelling properly will also cause the body to keep the blood in the core rather than pumping it out to extremities.
Whilst you don’t want to overdo it (see above), keeping the cuffs on your gloves secured will help to retain the warm air between your layers of gloves, and if you put your cuffs under the sleeves of your jersey or windproof it will also stop and rain etc from running down in to your gloves.
If there’s any question as to you getting your gloves wet then carry a spare pair – If possible put them in an inside pocket of your jersey etc so that they are at least at body temperature should you have to put them on.
Move Your Hands
Real simple one this – keeping your hands moving will increase the flow of that lovely warm blood – periodically taking one (or both if you’re brave) hand of the bars and doing some simple flexing and stretching of the hand will be sufficient. If you’re really brave you could move your entire arm at the shoulder.
Small chemical hand warmers are cheap and easy to obtain – if you really suffer with cold hands then using one of these will certainly give you some relief.