This dim-witted development joins the usual suspects: scolding moms, nail-filers, lunch-munchers, cell-phone blabbers, GPS watchers, iPod twiddlers, note-scribblers, CD-changers, U-turning cabbies, and loose change-off-the-floor picker-uppers. We'll save java-wired commuters, stoners and cerveza-guzzlers for another rant.
Collectively, these dangers are enough to have you screaming, "Whoa tiger!" These external calamities-in-waiting aside, one should also take stock of the ol' riding gear. I did, and concluded a bit of up-armoring was needed. Hand protection is a good place to start. I mean, when suddenly faced with Moronus Americanus, if your digits are half-frozen in your dad's old ski mittens, your reaction time will be sloooow. The results are sure to hurt more than tumbling over that mogul. Hence these kewl "icebreakers" from Held.
The `Breakers covered some wide climatological turf. Credit the bizarre winter of '07. Here in the Northeast, temps swayed dizzily from single wind-chill digits to the 70s and back again. Often within a couple of weeks. Global warming one day, permafrost conditions the next. How did these hi-zoot gauntlets do? Calm down. Fitment first. So detailed are these impressive mitts, it's like you're preparing for a space flight. So much to look at! So hard to... get into. The put-on was, frankly, a trial. The gloves wanted to relocate my thumbs palm-ward, and breathing room seemed nil (even winter gloves need an air gap). Grrr.
We soldiered on. The trick was closing, opening and stretching the fingers about two-dozen times, on-and-off of the hands. Then, five minutes pulling, prodding, pushing and hurling epithets. That did the trick. Especially the yelling. Now they're perfect. Not that surprising, really, given the German firm's decades-long mission of protecting riders' hands and bodies (among other achievements, they claim the first road race glove using carbon fiber).
Still, Held goes out on a promotional limb with these heavy-duty mitts. "Ice Breakers" is a proud boast. The `Breakers use cowhide in the palms, with more exotic materials sandwiched into or on top of the most critical areas, such as DuPont Cordura, Gore-Tex, and 3-M Thinsulate. The base of the thumbs get Schoeller of Switzerland's proprietary Keprotek; it's got Kevlar and other secret ingredients. Palms are likewise reinforced. Stitching looks robust enough, which is to say, the handsome `Breakers reek of build quality. As with many similar styles, hook-and-loop straps offer wide adjustment latitude. And I reckon the adjustable "flare" behind the wrists will cover plenty of jacket types (I encountered no problems with my Aerostich Darien Light).
Okay, you won't see carbon fiber knuckle pucks, "skid plates" rivets, or finger armor on this model (though, Held's ten-model winter range does include one with faux carbon fiber knuckpucks.) Still, from the looks of these German Handschue, you won't need every last bell-n-whistle. These are the Panther tanks of the winter gloves. Compared to them, my last pair of Olympia gauntlets are like those pre-war German cars dressed up like tanks. Another nice touch is the mini-squeegee on top of the left forefinger to clear your faceshield. As an added bonus, it actually works as intended. Granted, I've heard of no crash-tested `Breakers. Yet, it seems a safe bet they'd keep your ten little Indians not only snuggly-n-warm -- as they did mine -- but pretty well protected in a winter go-down (and immeasurably better than dad's ol' skiers' mitts).
"They have an excellent catalog offering a large assortment of rider wear..."
Right. So much for the eyeball, ooh-ahh and yank-n-tug. For real-world performance, consider my experience: One day had me leaving Annapolis, MD at the edge of the vast Chesapeake Bay on a Saturday night. Shades of " 'Tis an ill wind that blows no good!" Sweeping inland from across the Bay was a mini-typhoon; one that had tractor-trailers veering scarily from the straight and narrow (and me lurching like a drunken Annapolis Midshipman.) Well, body English can do just so much. Drifting one lane to the next was more than I was up for. Screw it! Tomorrow morning will be better. Wrong again. Winds were still massive and icy. Temps had dropped to about 27. Call it 18 or so with the wind-chill. The weather guys do (and that's without the wind chill).
In short, I'd be riding, drifting, sluicing, body-Englishing my way for an hour plus. Hey, are we not men(and nuts!)? Opening the face shield once almost filled my nose with icicles. Anyhow, it was truly freezy. But my hands were cozened in comfort; not warmth, exactly, but not cold, either. And equally as important, my hands were able to move freely. My guess is that for excursions of two to three hours in these conditions, they'll work like champs. Of course, if you're moving at 80 mph for a good long while all bets are off. Ditto if your other gear is crummy. Any winter glove is badly compromised if your body's core sheds too much heat. In serious cold, mister, you had better have a stout jacket and warm pants.
"I'd call these guys just fine for anything from about the low 20s to about 55 degrees."
Will the folks in Antarctica, I mean International Falls, MN -- the coldest place in the U.S. -- need more than these `Breakers? Uh, yeh. Electric Gerbings or such other wired hand wear is emphatically urged. Held (based in Germany and in business for 50 years) is making inroads in the U.S. market. They have an excellent catalog offering a large assortment of rider wear, including but not limited to: about three dozen different pair of street and road race gloves, leather and fabric jackets, full race and street rider suits, back protectors and other armor, rain suits, pro road race gear, tank bags, special cleaner/restorers, "waterproofers" and loads more drool-worthy paraphernalia. And yes, there are special ranges of quality goods for the tender gender. Are these Ice Breakers the dog's danglies? Of that I'm not certain.
Owing to various delays I couldn't do a Gerbing's `lectrically-heated gauntlet-vs-Icebreaker comparo as I'd hoped. But given the temperature disparities this winter, I'd call these guys just fine for anything from about the low 20s to about 55 degrees (ambient temperatures). It depends on how long the jaunt, how fast the speeds, your metabolism, vascular system and other factors. That's a great range in my opinion.
In any case, I'd call three hours or so plenty in the Real Cold no matter what you're wearing. You might be hard as nails; it's just that hypothermia, like rust, never sleeps. Ignoring its telltale signs may send you to the Big Sleep. In sum, I love these Ice Breakers. Now, all Held needs do is put clips on them. Great pairings like these should never part.
Held Ice Breakers retail for US$119.99