I stop in to say hello to Mike at the Bicycle Station around six.
“So you’re riding in the cold weather! How are you holding up?”
Fine, I say, only my hands are cold; I need to get better gloves. I show him my arrangement: a pair of glove liners stuffed inside leather gloves. Riding that morning, it had taken only 15 minutes for my fingers to go from numb to smarting, the second stage of frostbite.
“Wait a second,” Mike disappears into the back of the shop and comes back a minute later pulling the tags off a pair of gloves that would not look out of place in a jousting match between Martians. “Take these, they’re too small for me.”
The next morning my phone says it’s 23 degrees Fahrenheit when I leave the house, but the wind has died down so it doesn’t feel as cold as it had the day before. I pull on Mike’s gloves and start off. When I stop for the light six blocks later, my hands hurt just as much as they had with my previous four-glove arrangement. Waiting for the light to change I pass the time pounding my hands together to stimulate the circulation. I’m thinking that the new gloves, for all their appearance of high-tech invulnerability, provide a mostly cosmetic improvement
But as I turn onto Flushing Avenue my fingers start to warm up inside the gloves. By the time I turn on to the Manhattan Bridge I’m wondering what similar arrangements there might be for my feet…
That night, on my way home, I stop in to thank Mike for the gloves, and I tell him about the strange getting cold and warming up again experience. He grins and says, “You have to make sure you stay warm, if you’re going to ride in winter. You don’t want to get frostbite. Racers use BenGay on their hands, on their legs, on their feet, to warm up their muscles.”
” That last snowstorm, I rode in it. I had hybrid 700×38 tires which still gives you some stability, but even so I was concentrating on main streets that were plowed. When you hear of icy conditions, you shouldn’t ride. You could break your body up pretty badly. They make studded tires for mountain bikes, but even so.
“I’ve been to Bear Mountain on the 1st of January several times. The Century Club used to have an annual ride. ”It went from a ride to a race!”
“We started at Central Park, 25 of us. By the time we got to the George Washington Bridge, only seven of us decided to continue. We were dehydrated because the water bottles froze within 15 minutes. We spent like two hours in a diner, we were so frostbitten.”
I was curious about the way my hands had warmed up in Mike’s gloves, so I went to REI in Soho to ask them about it. A guy in the bicycle department, he sent me to the glove department. There I met Jay and Hotek, standing in the midst of more gloves I had ever imagined could exist, hanging on hooks on one wall from floor to ceiling and both sides of two aisles of chest-high racks.
What is the warmest glove?
Jay said, “People will argue this a lot. You need something with wind protection, and insulation. Lots of companies say their gloves are windproof, but they’re not.
She turns to the rack, scanning the gloves for a good example.
“Which part of your hand gets hit by the wind first, knuckles or fingers? A lot depends on how you ride. If your handlebars are drop-down or t-shaped, your hands are facing the wind in different positions.”
She takes a pair of gloves from the wall.
“See? Mittens like these are really insulated at the tips, but on the knuckles they’re pretty thin. So you have to think about that.
“Then, mittens or gloves? There’s a lot of discussion about which is better. People tend to prefer one or the other. Scientifically, it seems like it makes more sense that mittens would keep your hands warmer.”
She returns the gloves to the rack and takes down a pair of fleece mittens.
“One pouch to hold the combined heat of your fingers–and your whole hand– rather than isolated fingers trying to keep warm separately.
“Then, there are three kinds of insulation: Triplex, Primaloft and Comfortmax. Primaloft is considered the best because it has a higher warmth to weight ratio than down. ”
Hotek, who has been talking to another customer, comes over just in time to hear this.
“Well, that depends on what kind of down you’re talking about,” he says.
A rapid-fire. discussion ensues about fill power vs. quality of down, and whether “fill power” and “quality” mean the same thing.
A disagreement about feather weight turns into an argument about how fill power is determined and Hotek starts explaining something having to do with filling a tube with feathers and ratios of feathers to air in the tube.
Trying to drag the conversation back to the difference between fill power and down quality Jay says, “Some down is just chopped up feathers.”
Hotek shoots back “That would just be false advertising which is a separate problem.
“Now if you want to talk about what kind type of birds it comes from, that’s another question.”
I discreetly collect my lower jaw from the floor to say, Can we get back to mittens vs gloves?
A nearby customer overhears this and says, “You can’t wear mittens when you’re riding a bike; you need your fingers to be able to switch gears.”
Jay looks at Hotek. He shrugs as if to say, that’s a good point. “A lobster claw would be probably be good.”
I show them the gloves Mike gave me.
“Oh, Thinsulate,” Hotek says. “Thinsulate was the first microfibre, built in 1979 by 3M. It has good things and bad things about it. ”
“The good thing,” says Jay, “is it’s incredibly warm. I have a Thinsulate hat that belonged to my grandmother. It’s so old, and it’s my warmest hat.”
“The problem with Thinsulate, ” Hotek goes on, “is it doesn’t breathe very well.”
“Then you get into sweat and wicking,” agrees Jay.
“The premier synthetic is Primaloft.”
So what’s the warmest glove?
“That would be these Black Diamond gloves over here,” says Hotek walking over to a pair of green nylon gloves with leather palms hanging in the center aisle.
I try them on; they seem very warm, but they’re so thick I can hardly close my hand.
You could never a bike with these, I say.
He nods. “They’re made for skiing.”
“Wait a second.” He squints, looking at the ceiling. “There was a guy in here a while ago…” he walks around to the other side of the rack, “looking for warm biking gloves, and we gave him a Manzella windproof liner underneath a Pearl Izumi lobster for insulation.
”That’s got to be the warmest, most windproof glove.”