Cold hands can not only make riding a miserable experience but, if they interfere with your ability to shift gear, brake or grip your bars, they can affect your riding safety and performance too.
Why do my hands get so cold on the bike?
If it’s cold and your core temperature starts to drop, the blood vessels in your extremities, your hands and feet, constrict in an effort to divert warming blood back to your core. Combine this reduced blood flow with the wind chill your forward speed is creating, the exposed position of your hands on the bars and it is no wonder your fingers can easily become icicles.
Here are our top ten tips to avoid frozen fingers:
1) Pre-ride ritual
If you start a ride with cold hands, you’ll be fighting a losing battle from your first pedal strokes. Pre-warm your gloves on a radiator, give the insides a warming blast with a hair drier or clasp a steaming mug of tea or coffee before you head out.
2) Warm head, warm hands
It sounds like something a parent would say but, if you can keep your head and ears warm, it makes a big difference to your overall comfort, and therefore your hands too. Go for a windproof skull-cap, Merino beanie or a traditional Belgian style winter cap under your helmet. Maybe also get an aero-styled helmet with fewer vents for the winter. It’ll keep your head warmer and help a little when battling into Arctic headwinds.
3) Layer your gloves
Adopting a layering approach to your gloves increases flexibility if conditions change while you’re out and, as there is warm air between each layer, they will be warmer. Choose thin silk or Merino wool line gloves next to your skin, an insulating mid-layer and then a wind or waterproof outer shell. Here is more advice on buying gloves.
4) Not too tight
Make sure that your gloves aren’t too tight as this will further restrict blood flow and increase chilling. There should be room at your fingertips and you should be able to clench and open your hands without any sensations of tightness or restriction.
5) Seal the cuffs
Make sure the cuffs of your jersey or jacket go outside of the cuffs of your gloves and that you tighten any velcro or drawstring closures they may have. This will stop warm air getting out and cold air and water getting in.
6) Spare pair
If conditions are really cold and wet, a spare pair of gloves, or at least liners, stashed in a zip-lock bag in your jersey pockets can make the second half of a ride far more bearable. Don’t forget to give them a blast with the hand-drier if you’ve stopped in a café.
7) Double wrap tape
This is a marginal warmth gain, maybe even purely psychological, but plenty of riders swear that a double wrap of bar-tape helps to keep their hands warmer. It makes some sense as it’ll provide extra insulation from the cold metal of the bars and it will certainly help keep vibrations at bay from rough winter roads.
8) Move your hands
Moving your hands around on your bars will encourage circulation and prevent one part of your hands taking the brunt of all the wind-chill. Squeeze and relax your hands on the bars and occasionally give your hands a good shake.
9) Hand warmers
Disposable hand warmers can provide a welcome hit of warmth and, if it’s really cold, you put them inside your gloves.
10) Eat and drink
Keeping your energy levels up and maintaining optimum hydration levels are essential for staying warm. If you let yourself run out of fuel, you won’t be able to maintain a warming pace, your body will expend more energy to try to warm you up and it’ll divert even more warming blood flow away from your hands. You might not feel like drinking much in the cold but, if you don’t hydrate properly, your pace and ability to stay warm will decrease. If you allow yourself to become dehydrated, this will also thicken your blood and reduce circulation. Try using an insulated bottle with a hot drink in. Tea with honey works really well.