SealSkinz Handlebar Mittens are really well made and they provide lots of warmth for winter riding.
The last couple of winters have given paws for thought (sorry) to many riders who habitually suffer from chilly hands. It's hard to enjoy a ride when you can't feel your fingers. In mittens, your fingers keep each other warm, and there's more warm air trapped around them than with gloves. There's less constriction of the blood in your digits too. This is why mountaineers and skiers often favour mitts over fingered gloves. But traditional mittens have their own problems for cyclists, for whom manual dexterity is a much bigger deal than for other outdoor people. It's hard to operate a bike's controls effectively with mittens on.
Sealskinz have long been known for their waterproof technology, and have a few pairs of cycle-specific gloves in their portfolio. The Handlebar Mittens are their response to a need for the ultimate in cycling warmth, coupled with as much dexterity as is possible in a mitten. The pattern they have used is not a new one – it is the lobster claw design with two fingers in each claw and the thumb on its ownsome. This is intended to allow for effective braking and changing of gear.
The breathable, windproof and fully waterproof fabric outer, coupled with Primaloft insulation, works towards keeping your hands warm no matter how far the temperature plummets. A reflective strip across the back, grippy synthetic palms, a full-thumb towelling nose wipe and a generous Velcro-fastened neoprene cuff complete the package.
I suffer from cold hands to the point that I wear gloves a season in advance of anyone else... and I still feel chilly. I've long been a convert to Primaloft mittens for winter hillwalking and even skiing, so the possibility of there being a pair that might work on the bike was encouraging.
Slipping these on is like getting a little hug for your hands. Primaloft is a superbly soft and silky-feeling insulation, light but incredibly warm for its thickness, resulting in a less bulky glove than some of the other synthetic insulations currently being used. The cuffs go well up your wrists and they tuck either under a jacket sleeve or over the top. The fit of the claws is roomy without being over baggy.
Dexterity is clearly the main concern with this style of mitten. I tried them with a singlespeed, a Rohloff hub-equipped touring bike (with a twist shifter), a hybrid with MTB-style trigger shift and a Shimano STI-equipped road bike – just to cover all bases.
The gloves suited singlespeed riding very well, because there's little dexterity required. The twist shift was relatively straightforward with no real problem in gear changing . The only issue was the slightly unusual feel of the palm fabric gripping the shifter, while the insulation and outer fabric twisted above it. This didn't cause any major problems, it just took a bit of getting used to. There were absolutely no issues with using the trigger shift, the claws allowing sufficient independent movement of the pairs of fingers.
It was no real surprise, though, that the efficacy of the Handlebar Mittens came a cropper with the STI shifters. You just don't get the feel you need at the ends of the fingers for any kind of shifting at all. It's difficult to handle zips and fastenings in these too, so it's wise to take care of any clothing adjustment before putting the mitts on, and minimise adjustments on the fly.
The only other niggle I had with these gloves was nerve pressure from the palms, which is a problem I often get with winter gloves. This might be where thin gloves or mitts with gel pads might be of use underneath, although that's probably only necessary on really long rides.
These are definitely the warmest cycling gloves I've ever tried. My fingers stayed toasty throughout the coldest rides and they didn't get over-sweaty when the temperature was a bit warmer. These would make ideal winter commuter gloves and they'd please hardcore tourists too.
£45 isn't cheap for a pair of gloves, but it's about average for a pair of top-end winter ones. You're getting top notch insulation, full weather protection and a good build quality for your money.
The wearing of these gloves unfortunately does have a side effect; it radically diminishes your repertoire of abusive hand gestures.
Warm and waterproof mittens that allow a surprising level of dexterity but they're not the best for use with STI levers
road.cc test report
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Make and model: SealSkinz Handlebar Mittens
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Aimed at cold weather cyclists, these are great for all but drop bar roadies. It's difficult to get the lever-feel you need on STI-equipped bikes.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Waterproof Breathable Fabric outer
Primaloft synthetic insulation inside
Neoprene and Velcro cuff
Available in S, M, L, XL
Really well made, and top notch fabrics and insulation.
Did just what they were supposed to, in great comfort.
They should last well and they're machine washable at 30°C.
For the level of warmth you're getting these are really very light and not at all bulky.
Apart from the minor problem with the lack of nerve-specific padding, these were incredibly comfortable.
If they keep you riding in the kind of cold we've had the last few years, these are worth every penny.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Performed very well indeed.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Warmth, softness of insulation, comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Some tingling due to lack of padding in palm.
Did you enjoy using the product? Definitely.
Would you consider buying the product? Absolutely.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Great for those who really suffer in the cold, but they don't give you the lever-feel you need for STI shifters.
About the tester
Age: 37 Height: 1.65m Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, general fitness riding, mtb
Lara has been riding bikes for longer than she'd care to admit, and writing about them nearly as long. Since 2009 she has been working as part of the road.cc review team whilst championing women's cycling on the side, most notably via two years as editor of the, sadly now defunct, UK's first and only women's cycling mag, erm, Women's Cycling.
Believing fervently that cycling will save the world, she wishes that more people would just ride a bike and be pleasant to each other.
She will ride anything with two wheels, occasionally likes to go fast, definitely likes to go far and is always up for a bit of exploring somewhere new and exciting.