By Ed Pavelka
I wore Pearl Izumi’s top winter gloves on 16 rides in temperatures ranging from the mid 40s (7C) down to 18 (-8C). At the higher temps they were warmer than required and my hands got damp inside. At the lowest temps my fingers sometimes felt cool or cold.
Stiff tests came on 3 rides. One was for 3 hours that started at 18 degrees and ended at 26 (-8 to -3C). Twenty minutes after starting, both hands became more than cold — fingers felt numb. Then began a gradual thaw with mild pain. That took about 20-25 minutes. By the end of that first hour my hands felt fine and they stayed that way for the remaining 2 hours, even though the temperature was still a few degrees below freezing.
I also did a night ride of 4:40 that started at the freezing mark and ended at 23 degrees (-5C). The main purpose was to test a headlight that I’ll be reviewing soon. The light had my attention, which wasn’t diverted by hands feeling cold. Only in the last hour did I notice a couple of fingertips getting chilly.
The final exam was a ride of 5:20, again at night. I started at 29 degrees and ended at 25 (-2C to -4C) but went through some pockets of air that were definitely colder. My bottles froze but my fingers didn’t, although they did spend a few moments on the cold side of comfortable. It depended on whether I was climbing (warm hands) or ending a long descent (cold).
For long, below-freezing rides, lobster-style gloves that pool hand warmth are probably still a better choice, and Pearl Izumi makes a 3-compartment version of the Barrier with materials identical to those used in this 5-finger model. Of course, lobsters don’t allow as much dexterity for road bike operation, and that’s a significant trade-off.
The gloves I tested worked very well in the 30s (0 to 4C). Their $70 price buys lots of features. I was attracted to them because of their tall elasticized cuffs, an essential attribute for preventing cold air leaks. If wrists aren’t sealed it doesn’t matter how insulated hands are. They’ll still get cold.
Other features include soft nose-wiping fabric on the back of the thumbs, tough-but-flexible palm material and reflective piping and logos to add some visibility in headlights.
These gloves aren’t heavy or bulky even in the size XXL I ordered. I don’t have large hands (can’t quite palm a basketball) but XXL wasn’t too large except for the length of the pinky fingers. (Like many Pearl Izumi products, these gloves are on the small side of the listed size.) I wanted enough room inside to wear short-finger cycling gloves for more padding, but it wasn’t necessary. Although the palms aren’t padded with anything but the polyester fleece liner, cushioning was fine when combined with cork bar tape.
That internal fleece makes a cozy environment. It’s soft and seamless. If hands get too warm, it does a very good job of wicking condensation so skin barely feels damp, not wet. Without cold air leaking in, dampness wasn’t a comfort problem. In fact, the main time I noticed it was when I removed the gloves for a minute during a pit stop and slipped them back on. I was surprised sometimes how damp the fleece felt as I worked my hands inside. But they were almost instantly warm again.
It’s hard to find a shortcoming in these gloves. Perhaps one flaw is the design of the closure at the top of the cuff. A short hook-and-loop tab is pulled across to snug the cuff around the wrist, but the material isn’t easy to fold over and get just right, particularly with the hand already wearing a glove. (Maybe I’m stretching things here, but nothing’s perfect — if you don’t count Samuel Adams lager.) Anyway, better would be a longer strap that goes through a nylon loop, then comes back on itself. That would be easier to cinch and adjust.
Shimano Dual-Control shifting can be difficult while wearing some insulated winter gloves because fat fingers make it hard to pinpoint the small, inner lever. The Barrier gloves’ trim design should lessen the difficulty. It wasn’t an issue on my winter bike, which has Campy Ergopower-style Shimano Sora shifters with a thumb tab for rear upshifts.
After almost 60 hours of riding in these gloves and even some snow shoveling, they show absolutely no wear. A second layer of Pittard’s material runs from the heel of the palm to between the thumb and index finger, adding wear protection where cycling gloves need it most.
After a machine washing and drying, the gloves came out looking brand new.
Dubious Waterproof Claim
I wasn’t able to wear the Barrier gloves on a rainy ride. Pearl Izumi says they’re waterproof, a bold claim. Looking at the outer material (primarily nylon) and construction, I could buy water resistant, but I’d be stunned if they absolutely prevent water from soaking through and reaching hands.
Then, shortly after this review was published on Jan.14, 2010, we heard from RBR reader Christine Newman. Turns out she had worn her Barrier gloves in wet conditions and e-mailed her experience to Pearl Izumi:
“This past weekend I rode in a light but steady rain and the ‘waterproof’ [Barrier] gloves were waterlogged after approximately 3 hours. Since the ride was 200K long (124 miles), this was quite a problem. Not only did the gloves soak all the way through but they weighed considerably more when wet. It got to the point where I had to take them off and wring them out every 35 miles or so.
“I bought these gloves solely because they were advertised as being waterproof. I am very disappointed with my purchase and I think your advertising is misleading to say the least.”
To Pearl Izumi’s credit, a product manager quickly replied, telling Christine:
“The gloves you purchased do have a waterproof barrier, but as you’ve experienced it is several layers into the glove. This will keep your hand dry, but not the outer layers of the glove. Current glove construction techniques have limited us to placing that waterproof barrier where it is.
“Although we’ve made this glove to great reviews for several years now, we are more than aware of the need to improve this construction and get that waterproof barrier to the outside of the glove.”
There’s one thing wrong with that, Christine told RBR: “My hands were wet. The inside of the gloves were soaked. Once the gloves failed, I had to wear vinyl exam gloves as my base layer to make it through the day.”
She is returning the gloves to Pearl, which says it wants to test the waterproof barrier, indicating that it thinks her pair is defective.
Christine says she weighed her gloves and found that one absorbed enough water to go from 90 grams dry to 210 grams wet. Being that soggy, it’s hard to imagine water wouldn’t reach the hands, which is what “waterproof” promises. As Christine notes, it’s such an important attribute that cyclists will base their buying decision on it.
I’ll wear my Barrier gloves on the next rainy ride and update this review with my findings as well as anything Pearl Izumi tells Christine after checking her gloves. Meanwhile, we’ve lowered the gloves’ rating because of her rainy ride experience. In cold but dry conditions, my 65 hours of testing found that the gloves do perform well.
The Pearl Izumi Barrier gloves look good, fit well, and so far they’re wearing like iron. Their best temperature range in my experience is from the high 20s to around 40 (-3 to 4C). Colder and my fingers got chilly at times. Warmer and I could feel more internal dampness. But the soft polyester liner did a good job of wicking moisture to help comfort. All bets appear to be off, however, during a rainy ride.