By September 5, 2010

What I Look For In a Motorcycle Glove

When it comes to motorcycle safety gear, I wear “All The Gear, All The Time” (ATGATT). That means protective gear meant especially for motorsports: helmet, jacket, pants, boots, and gloves. Folks ask me all the time what they should get for their own gear, and I always reply “it depends.” There’s no one ultimate helmet, or jacket, or boot. Everyone rides motorcycles for different reasons and in different climates. One glove may be perfect for one person and at the same time be the last choice for someone else.

Here’s what I look for in my motorcycle gloves, and why.

My Riding Style and Environment

I use my motorcycle as my primary mode of transportation. I commute almost fifty miles a day, and I mostly ride on the highway at highway speeds. Thanks to the wonderful weather of Virginia, I can ride about eleven months out of the year. Temperatures range from single digits Fahrenheit to 120° F adjusted for heat index. We get a lot of rain here (more by volume than Seattle), but not a lot of snow or ice.

Due to my commute and a few vacation rides, I am in the saddle about 10,000 – 12,000 miles a year.

This all adds up for a glove (or set of gloves) that is versatile and offers a lot of protection.

Style / length

I want as much protection out of my gloves as possible. As such, I only wear full gauntlet style gloves. Gauntlet gloves are long enough to cover the wrist. Wrists don’t get a lot of protection in motorcycle gear. Jackets won’t protect them (other than abrasion resistance), so the gloves have to pick up the slack.

The downside of a full gauntlet glove is that they are hotter than wrist-length gloves. However, if you’re tough enough to ride a motorcycle, you should be tough enough for hot hands.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/4996-2/IMG_7840.JPG
My Teknic Speedstars are full-length gauntlet, racing style gloves.

Material

The vast, vast majority of motorcycle gloves are made out of leather. Some summer time gloves are made out of textile mesh, and some winter gloves are made out of thick textile. However, most of your choices will be leather. Once you settle on leather, you have a few options:

  • Cowhide: thicker, harder to break in, more common and less expensive. Does not do as well as other types of leather in wet conditions.
  • Kangaroo hide: very supple, tough leather. Used in very high-end racing gloves. Very expensive compared to other leather types.
  • Goat hide: thinner than cowhide but about the same strength. Is often used as a cheaper alternative to kangaroo hide, but is not as soft.
  • Lamb skin: mostly found on “outlaw” biker gear, this is more fashion leather than it is protective leather. Still, you might see this from time to time.

For my needs and my budget, I planned on staying with cowhide or goat hide. Most of the kangaroo-based gloves were around $200. Luckily I got a pair of kangaroo Teknic Speedstar gloves (my review) for $99 before shipping.

Armor and Padding

Protection comes in two forms: impact protection and abrasion resistance. Impacts come in the form of falls or object striking the hand (bugs are the most common, minivans hopefully are not). Abrasion is from sliding. The material makes up the majority of your abrasion resistance, but armor may play a part as well, especially on my Speedstar gloves.

I believe that armor on the main knuckles is a must-have, and I wouldn’t consider any gloves without armor here. Ideally you want knuckle armor that “floats” on a piece of foam and/or leather. This allows the armor to move with your hand. Less expensive gloves have knuckle armor anchored in place. This means the armor may not protect you (and may possible cause injury) should your hand shift inside your glove during a crash.

I prefer to have armor in the wrist and the palms. Wrist armor protects an area otherwise completely vulnerable to impact. Palm armor allows your hands to slide on impact should you hit the ground with your hands first, which seems likely.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/4998-2/IMG_7841.JPG
The Teknic Speedstar glove has armor on the wrists. Few other gloves go this far and often have padding instead. Beware gloves with no padding or armor on the wrists at all.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/4994-2/IMG_7839.JPG
The Teknic Speedstars have Knox armor on the palms, which may reduce wrist injury during a crash.

Armor on other parts of the glove, such as the middle and last knuckles of the hand, are rare. Look for padding there instead.

I also prefer gloves that have padding and/or extra material along the edge of the hand. This is another high-impact, high-slide area, and I want as much protection as possible. Bonus points for additional protection on the edge of the pinky finger.

The palm area should have thicker leather than the rest of the glove — but not so much that it impedes feedback from the handlebars. I also expect to have a secondary, thinner piece of material that covers where I grip the handlebars. This is a wear point, and I’d hate to reduce my crash protection through normal wear and tear of operating my bike.

Ventilation

Depending on your climate and personal tolerances, you may want a glove with more or less ventilation. My advice is to not pay extra for any ventilation claims. The “airblades” on my Speedstars are totally rubbish for me. I ride motorcycles with full fairings or with handguards, and the air never reaches the airblade.

Some gloves may be partially or full perforated, with tiny holes in them that allow your hands to breathe, and possible take some cooler air in. Don’t count on this to make a big difference.

Glove Stability and Security

You want to keep your gloves in place as much as possible. This means getting as good a fit as possible, and this also means having at least two ways to keep the gloves on your hand. Good gloves will have a wrist strap and a cuff strap. WebBike World advocates ratcheting your gloves down so tightly that you can’t pull them off. I found that this cuts off circulation in my right hand, so my wrist strap is slightly more loose. Regardless, you want two straps.

Stitching

The style of stitches may be important to you. Motorcycle gloves either use “box” or “hidden” stitches. Box stitches are on the outside of the glove and are considered more comfortable since the seams don’t rub on the fingers inside of the glove. Gloves made in the box stitch style also tend to fit larger fingers better. Hidden stitches are on the inside of the gloves. They are considered to offer better protection, as they are less prone to bursting open in a crash.

Some gloves use a Kevlar-blended thread for stitching. The claim is that Kevlar threads are more resistant to bursting (Kevlar has a high sheer strength), and that Kevlar-blended threads are less likely to rot under damp conditions. I’d consider Kevlar threads as a “favored option,” but I wouldn’t turn down a glove that met the rest of my requirements.

Stitches didn’t factor into my decision, but all things being equal I’m a safety over comfort guy and would choose hidden stitches. My Speedstar has hidden stitches, but that was a happy accident.

Cost

Let’s be honest. You probably didn’t budget enough money for top-shelf gear. Most motorcyclists spend their budget on a bike and a helmet, with little money left over. The next piece of gear is usually a jacket, then either gloves or boots, then pants last. If you can save $50 or $100 on gloves, you can put that towards pants or something else. Remember, the saying is ALL The Gear, All the Time.

Ideally, I’d like to spend about $100 – $150 on gloves. Unless you buy something on sale, $100 – $150 gets you the best range of options and features. Spending more than $150 will get you a lot of creature comforts, but probably not a lot of additional protection. Spending less than $100 will make you compromise somehow: material, length, protection, or a combination thereof.

Think of it this way: paying $50 less for a helmet, jacket, gloves, and boots adds up to $200, which will buy you a nice set of protective pants. It’s not only less expensive, it helps you become fully protected faster.

Conclusion

If I were to hand someone a list of attributes in my perfect motorcycle glove, it would look like this:

  • Full-length gauntlet
  • Full or partially made of kangaroo hide leather
  • Armor in the top knuckles, wrist, and palms
  • Extra padding and material on the middle knuckles, side of the hand, pinky finger, palm, and throttle area
  • Under $150

That’s a tall order. The Speedstars are hovering about $170USD right now, and that puts it in range with a lot of other top-tier gloves from other manufacturers. At $100 they were an absolute bargain and I wish I had bought a second pair. After about 30,000 miles, mine are starting to look a little long in the tooth.

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Posted in: motorcycling

2 Comments on "What I Look For In a Motorcycle Glove"

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  1. Brice says:

    Olympia used to make the most awesome gloves. Great gaunlet, carbon fiber over the knuckles, super comfortable, and only cost about $100. Haven’t seen them in years.

  2. Andrew says:

    New Enough has the Tour Master Injector gloves marked down to $40. It seems like a really substantial glove, although they don’t tell you exactly what kind of leather is used in the construction. At that price, I just sprung for a pair on impulse.

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