Like many modern action sports, if you look back a few decades to the early days of mountain biking there were some trends that we laugh at now. Suspension stems (I actually owned one of these strange contraptions in the ‘90s) were a great way to gain suspension travel at the same time as taking an express trip over the handlebars. Bar ends - as ridiculous as they looked - actually did work for when you needed to climb out of the saddle but soon became obsolete as rear suspension became more affordable and mountain bikers needed to keep their asses on their seats for traction.
But one thing we didn’t do was ride off road without gloves.
Sure, cruising down the street on a box store special didn’t require gloves; few kids (or their parents) could barely afford the bike and helmet let alone the accessories. But hitting the trails - or in some cases, fire roads - meant you needed to keep your hands shielded from gravel getting embedded in your palms. Full finger gloves were one of the many useful items mountain biking inherited from motocross.
Then some time around the late 2000s, New Zealand World Cup downhill rider Sam Blenkinsop began racing without gloves, only wearing them when regulations in certain countries dictated that he do so. A few years later, riding with unprotected hands seems to have morphed into some sort of misplaced core-rider signature. Like wearing enduro socks halfway up your calves with a visible brand logo.
Blenkinsop hasn’t really gone on the record much about the whole “no gloves” thing, with most riders at his level simply putting it down to “works for him.” But the new generation of mountain bikers seem to have the impression that you’re not a real rider unless your hands are free from gloved prisons.
I’ve asked plenty of mountain bikers why they choose to ride without gloves and I’ve received all kinds of answers from “you feel like you’re one with your bike” to “it’s like having sex without a condom.” I’m not sure which reply sounds more ridiculous. But the few times I’ve forgotten my gloves on a ride and ended up with drenched hands from sweat or rain, I did wish I had them on my hands.
From the depths of the Pinkbike forums I gathered that riding without gloves requires a set of quality grips. But even so, with gloves built so thin for breathability these days, the argument that gloves are too hot or somehow impede braking finger dexterity doesn’t really hold water.
At the end of the day, it’s each to their own and many glove-less riders make that decision because they’re confident they won’t crash. But just last week I saw a father and son team lining up in the corral for the Whistler Bike Park, obviously beginners with their rental bikes and body armour. And on their hands? No gloves. That means that when they were getting kitted up, one of them must have made a point of refusing gloves from rental staff or otherwise didn’t deem them a necessary purchase. It’s not Sam Blenkinsop’s fault, but chalk up another two novice riders learning about mountain biking and the importance of protective equipment the hard way.
Vince Shuley owns three sets of biking gloves in various states of disrepair. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @vinceshuley