November 22, 2005

REVIEW: Descente Wombat gloves

Fingers are often the hardest things to keep warm while riding in wintry weather, and as a result I have amassed more pairs of gloves than any other piece of winter gear in my clothing arsenal. I have a pair, quite literally, for almost every 5-degree step from 50 degrees and down. Finding something that is durable, and versitile enough for a wide-range of temps has been difficult, and in this transitional time of year, I often have more than one pair of gloves in the bag - one for the morning, and one for the ride home in the evening. If it rains, I have glove shells to improve water-proofness -- those same glove shells are good for adding a few degrees to an otherwise thin glove, for finger layering. It's complicated, and each year I forget which gloves do what for me! This year, however, I tihnk I may have found a worthy replacement for a few pair.

The Descente "Wombat" glove, at $44.00, is not cheap, but compared to many cycling specific gloves of this type, it's on par with most price-points. First impressions are that it's well-made, well-stitched, and had a lot of thought put into it, likely from real riders. It's a combination of many materials, including what's widely referred to as "Windshear" or "Windtex" fabric, which is a high-polymer weave of material that blocks nearly 90% of outside air from circulating within the fabric. This material makes up the back of the palm, and the cuff, and extends to the fingers, but is layered underneath some insulating material.

All the fingers are articulated at the first knuckle for flexibility without stressing the fabric, which has become a problem in some of my older gloves without that addition. The fingers are reinforced and boxed for a good tactile feel, and look to last longer than glove fingers that are simply pinch-stitched. The thumbs are also articulated, and lined with an absorbent material for snot-collection - this material seems to be insulated from the rest of the thumb box, so as that material gets saturated on a long ride, your thumbs stays dry and warm - a big plus, since it's off by itself and can't garner warmth from the other fingers.

Getting the gloves on and off is a breeze, as Descente went with a flared, open gauntlet-style cuff, with no velcro, no elastic, no binding. This aids in wrist circulation, provides a little venting to prevent overheating and sweaty hands, and makes getting them on over bulky jacket sleeves easy. The connection to the rest of the glove is well stitched, so pulling them on likely won't rip out this critical seam, as I've seen other gloves do over time. Grip is exceptional, which would also make this a great wet-weather glove. The palm, middle and fore-finger are lined with a knobby silicone grip surface, which helps with braking, and general non-slip behavior on the handlebars. When wet, it's doubtful this glove would cause any grip issues. Although the box fingers don't allow enough dexterity to pass the 'dime' test, the grippy fingers did help it pass the 'quarter' test, when it comes to loose change. Anything smaller, you might have to remove them first.

The best, and probably premier feature of the "Wombat" glove is the convertible mitt. If the temperature drops, it begins to rain, or you turn into a stiff, cold headwind, simply reach into the integrated pocket on the back of each glove, and pull out the barrier mitt, which simply slips over the tops of your fingers, and seals them off from wind & moisture. If conditions improve, simply slip the mitt back off, and tuck it away. While this makes the back of the glove a little bulky, that bulk actually improves insulation while the mitt is stowed, so it doesn't feel like a hinderance at all. While this is not the first glove of this type to come along, it's certainly an improvement on previous designs, and I get the impression this will end up being my go-to glove this season.

So far, the coldest I've ridden this glove was 35ºF, which is a good test as many of my other 'winter' glove start to get chilly at this point. Riding with it below freezing will defintely tell me for sure if this glove will hold it's own when it gets REALLY cold -- but if it doesn't, that's okay. For a glove that really isn't terribly bulky, it insulates very well, and still offers enough dexterity to operate STI levers, if you happen to run them, helped largely by the aforementioned grippy palm and fingers. All in all, a very good buy, and very versatile. Will update when the temp really drops, but I'm thinking that anything below 20ºF might warrant a thicker glove, perhaps a lobster-claw style. In a world of gloves for the 'casual' off-season rider (read: 40º to 50º), the Wombat stands out as a real glove for 40º and colder, perhaps down to 20ºF or so. Time will tell, but I'm impressed!

I'm giving it 4 out of 5 lock-rings, as it gives very solid initial impressions, and gives little to balk at -- but it's still not a do-everything glove, so I can't give it a full five. Some might have issue with the bulk of the mitt when it's stowed, but that's small trade-off for the extra protection it adds. For anything above 50º, it might be too much glove, and still not sure how cold it will go -- but as my own glove collection attests, very few gloves can do it all -- and this glove has a much wider temperature range than anything else I own, which is notable.

UPDATE: I'm tempted after a few weeks of use to upgrade the rating on this glove to a solid 5-for-5: as the coldest temperatures of the season approach, this glove continues to impress, but I have found it's "unassisted bottom-end" -- which is about 20ºF -- very impressive, especially considering many winter gloves can only boast a 5-10 degree window of use. These Wombats have proven a range of nearly 4-times that, being not-too-warm in the mid-40's, and with glove liners being comfy for up to an hour at 11ºF! I have no doubts they might go lower, depending on the liners used (Hind Thermastat, in this case), but even un-assisted they are good for a good 20-degree spread. Very impressed -- buy slightly larger than needed, to use liners effectively, and you have a glove that will practically do it all.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, very useful. And your comments about the never-ending search struck a chord with me...I have more pairs of gloves than anything else in my cycling wardrobe. Need them for chilly Canberra winters.
Cheers from the land downunder.

Anonymous said...

Thank you kindly for the review - I'm on the fence about purchasing these from Nashbar...sounds like, if needed, I could use a glove liner. I'm looking to commute all winter long and will see temps below 20 by the time Jan rolls around.