I was wearing my new recumbent cycling shorts, which are awesome. It’s like wearing conventional lycra thigh-length riding shorts, only without the chamois padding between your legs, and with a loose overshort over it. Very comfy.
Nevertheless, something didn’t seem right. The fenders weren’t rubbing. The panniers weren’t causing any problems. I checked to make sure I had put both sets of brakes back together again. There was nothing I could see or feel, nevertheless something was definitely wrong.
Then it hit me. I had hurried out without my gloves. I had often joked that I would rather ride without a helmet than without my gloves, and was disturbed to realize just how true that was.
When I was a kid, and I started riding a 10-speed, I had to get cycling gloves. Wearing cycling gloves was a statement. It said you were a serious bicyclist, like Eddie Merckx, or like Dave Stoller, the bike-obsessed ‘cutter’ from “Breaking Away”. Cycling gloves said ‘I spend so much time in the saddle that I need padded gloves to protect my hands’.
Of course, as soon as I started wearing them, I realized that cycling gloves served a completely practical purpose. The first time I did a header over the handlebars and saw how much gravel was embedded in the triple-thick palms of those gloves, I got downright attached to the idea of wearing them whenever I was on a bike.
Tan calfskin fingerless gloves, with white crocheted backs. It was the classic bike glove. As you sweated, the leather turned your hands orange. If you wore a pair long enough, they stiffened into the shape of your hands, standing empty with fingers curled in a half-clench, like the Invisible Man was wearing them. And they had a characteristic smell, too. Leather, and sweat, and cotton, and effort. But the best part was the oval patch of tan skin they left on the back of your hands. That was the mark of a serious cyclist.
I never got on a bike without a pair of gloves. It was like wearing a seatbelt in a car, completely automatic.
When I started riding again as an adult, the aches and pains of cycling meant I couldn’t just use any old cycling gear any more. I started buying lycra gloves, with gel pads in the palms, hoping to stave off finger numbness and tingling. These were gloves you could throw in the washing machine. They didn’t have the character of the old tan classics, but they were more comfortable.
Then I got my recumbent. Some folks say recumbent riders don’t need gloves at all, because you don’t have weight on your palms when you ride a ‘bent. I couldn’t imagine being on a bike, of any design, without wearing gloves. I got a pair of Specialized gloves with only a thin pad in the palm, that are very comfortable. But I still wore gloves.
And I bought gloves for my kids. They didn’t always wear them, but I made sure they had them. My daughter tried to do a trick on her Razor scooter the other day, and ended up flying through the air and skidding to a stop on the asphalt on the palms of her hands. Fortunately, she was wearing her cycling gloves, and just dusted herself off and got back on her scooter. ‘Remember that,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s why you wear those things.’
And here I was, in traffic, riding bare-handed. I felt completely naked without gloves. The cold morning breeze blew across the backs of my hands, and the unfamiliar grooves of the rubber handgrips pressed against my palms. My hands grew damp with sweat, and I could feel the dampness, slick, against the grips. It was…very uncomfortable.
All drama aside, even riding barehanded I made it to work just fine. I still need to get home without my gloves, but I assume the ride home will be similarly uneventful. Then I can start working on going another twenty-five years without forgetting them again.