Let’s face it, mountain biking can be a pretty expensive pastime to get into. The bike alone—even a decent used one—is going to cost you several hundred dollars, and that’s for an entry-level hardtail. It’s tempting for a newbie mountain biker to attempt to go cheap on the associated accessories necessary for a proper trail riding experience, or to consider not spending money on some of those accessories at all. Despite this temptation, there’s a pretty long list of items you shouldn’t skip out on—and bike gloves are near the top of that list. Here’s why.
Simply put, physical activity is sweaty, and mountain biking is no exception. Ride your bike on a hot, humid day and your palms will quickly start sweating, turning even the knobbiest grips slick. Try riding a gnarly, rocky downhill and maintain as much control as you want with slippery grips. You’ll only make that mistake once before you head to the nearest bike shop and buy a pair of gloves.
And it’s not even sweat. Despite staying off trails when they’re wet, many trails will open with a few sloppy spots that are prone to fling water and mud. It’s even more likely you’ll encounter wet creek crossings. A good pair of gloves will keep you moving forward with a solid grip and confident brake and shifter control.
As your rides get longer and the trail conditions you can handle get more difficult, you’ll notice how hard the rides can be on your hands. Periodically bearing your weight on your palms, along with steering, braking, and shifting add up over time. Even with a pair of gloves, you’ll be developing calluses but hopefully prevent blisters.
A major added bonus is protection during a crash. Most people instinctually try to catch themselves with their hands as their body gets tossed to the ground. While cycling gloves won’t necessarily prevent a sprain or break, they will prevent abrasions and cuts. Falling without a pair of gloves on could keep you off of your bike for weeks, while a good pair of gloves will help you get back in the saddle and finish the ride you’re on.
And gloves don’t simply protect during a crash, but even during near-crashes caused by bad line choices. When you’re riding hard through the trees it’s not uncommon to scrape your hands along the bark of a tree, or even clip a tree trunk. Gloves protect you not only from getting scraped up in such an encounter, but even keep your skin from getting whipped to shreds by foliage that’s overgrown and encroaching the trail.
When you head to the store to buy a pair of gloves you’ll notice they come in all different sizes, colors, and styles. You’ll also notice some gloves come with gel padding built into the palms. This gel is added to provide extra cushioning from the pressure on your palms, and to absorb some of the shock transferred up your front fork from all the bumps along the trail.
Having said that, we encourage you to try a variety of gloves over time until you find what’s best for you. Some MTBers love padded gloves while others can’t stand them. For many riders, they feel the extra padding reduces their control over the bike and would rather wear skin-tight gloves with no padding whatsoever. Others swear by the padding, believing it prevents fatigue and helps them better maintain control over their bike.
Note from admin Jeff: “I started with some Fox gloves that had padding built into the palms and got along fine. I recently purchased a pair of gloves from Handup Gloves with no padding at all and prefer them much more. Not only do I feel more connected to my bike, but some lingering numbness I experienced on longer rides is no longer an issue.”
A final benefit to mountain bike gloves is the ability to ride comfortably as the temperature begins to drop. Many riders have a pair of summer gloves—either fingerless or full finger gloves constructed of thin material—and some heavier gloves meant for cold weather riding. You’ll probably find that a decent pair of full finger gloves will suffice down into the mid 50°s F, or lower. As the temperatures drop you can buy a pair of thermal gloves that will keep your hands warm, and even a pair of lobster claw gloves when conditions get extremely cold.
A decent pair of gloves is only going to cost you about $25-30, and will last you several months to a year. Their benefits far outweigh the low cost, so our advice is to get a pair and go a little harder knowing your hands are covered.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!