That glovely feeling
Gloves are incredibly important protection when riding a motorcycle. Here’s the good oil on what to look for when choosing a pair.
What’s the first thing you do when you fall? You put out your hands to cushion yourself from the impact.
So why is it that we see so many riders fooling around with bare hands? Anyone who has ever seen what a crash does to unprotected hands would never, ever ride without a decent pair of gloves. It must be the uninitiated riding around as if having their hands amputated is no big deal.
For the rest of us, choosing the right gloves can vary from a perplexing choice to (with the right advice) an enjoyable bit of shopping. So here goes.
The first thing to determine is the type of glove you need. Something ideal for a hot summer’s day isn’t what you need riding over Arthur’s Pass in winter rain.
Some gloves are billed as ‘365’, supposedly offering year-round usability. But the reality will be a compromise. Usually, they’ll have a breathable lining for waterproofing and a tiny bit of extra insulation. And that could be all you need. If you’re riding long distances in the cold and rain, however, you’ll want a purpose-designed winter glove. Usually, these will major on textiles rather than leather, so abrasion resistance will be less.
One good thing about gloves is that they usually last, especially the leather variety. The tell-tale signs that suggest the need for replacement are pretty obvious: any area that looks like it’s wearing thin or any loose threads. Leather gloves that have ‘dried out’ can sometimes be resurrected with dubbin.
Pretty much any glove is better than no glove if it provides a vestige of abrasion resistance. But how much different gloves protect your hands varies enormously.
The best source of advice on protective ability is M masterminded by our good friend Dr Chris Hurren of Deakin University. Dr Hurren’s lab tests provide objective measurement of everything from impact protection and the burst-resistance of seams through to how well every part of a glove handles abrasion.
What the glove tests show is the vital importance of some features, as well as the fact that price is not much of a guide to how well a glove will perform.
MotoCAP’s tests show how important armour is in protecting your hand and wrist from impacts. Almost without exception, when armour is fitted to a glove it performs well in shielding the underlying area from impact. However, don’t think a padded bulge offers anything like the protection of hard plastic or titanium
More armour is basically better. So, unsurprisingly, long, gauntlet-style gloves with armour for the wrist, lower-radius and ulna offer much more protection.
One area not specifically tested in the MotoCAP test is scaphoid protection. Armour placed in the vicinity of the palm is tested, and usually performs fine, but scaphoid sliders are designed for a slightly different job. With forward momentum, as the heel of the hand touches down the friction can cause an impact on the scaphoid bone in the wrist, fracturing it. Scaphoid sliders reduce the friction, letting the heel of your palm slide, potentially reducing the forces on the scaphoid.
Another feature to look for is a ‘bridge’ between the pinky and ring finger. Usually, a short piece of leather stitched to the back of both fingers on the glove, ensuring the small finger remains connected. Reason being, the small finger often touches down first and can get dragged away from the rest of your hand, leaving it very exposed to damage. Look around a race paddock and chances are you’ll see at least one rider missing their pinky. So a bridge is a useful feature.
Any motorcycle glove should have a secure wrist closure, gauntlet styles will also have one on the lower-arm. But as a look through the MotoCAP results will show, some of the shortie-style gloves are pretty hopeless at resisting being dragged off your hand.
If you are getting on and off your 'bike a lot, you’ll want a fastening system that’s quick and easy. Neoprene under-cuffs and nylon over-cuffs can be good at keeping out water but are a faff to do up and undo all the time.
You can do all the homework you like, but you will only be able to tell if a glove is right for you by trying it on. The manufacturer’s sizing isn’t even half the story: different makes are often shaped completely differently. A glove might need to be longer in the palm to fit your hand. Or it might fit your palm but be too long or short in the fingers.
Getting glove fit right is essential. You manipulate all the most important controls with your hands, requiring comfort and dexterity. So don’t compromise. As you ride your hands will get warmer and expand, so allow just enough room to cope. And remember a leather glove will ‘give’ a fraction with wear while a textile one is either correct right away or not.
So, check on MotoCAP, draw up your shortlist and be sure to ask your dealer for advice when you shop around.