The Sturmfist 4 glove, as well as other apparel from 45Nrth, is making an important step in the development of fatbiking. While the bikes themselves are seeing technology progress rapidly – so much so that we are already entering the realm full suspension bikes with nicely refined kinematics – it is still commonplace to see riders with booties over their mid-weather cycling shoes, drilling out Sorel boots to fit SPDs, tossing on countless layers of proclaimed “cold weather” riding tops, and using re-purposed snowboard or snowmobile gloves. Fatbiking has redefining what constitutes true “cold weather” cycling gear.
For the most part, a typical cyclist will spare any day below -10°C in favour of the trainer or the coffee shop. Many commuters will brave these kinds of temperatures, but few will do so for more than 15-30 minutes at a time. For most fatbike owners, however, the fun doesn’t even begin until the mercury gets into the negative, and some of the best fatbiking weather can come when it gets into the double-digit region. On a standard mountain bike ride, a basic polyester shirt, some cheap board shorts and generic skate/SPD shoes will make the cut. Without luxury, of course, but still generally acceptable. However, when you are riding for hours in the negative teens, cheap kit simply will not suffice. There is of course high end outerwear that can fill the void, but 45Nrth has been quick acknowledge that cycling presents its own unique challenges on rider gear. A few years back 45Nrth splashed a high water mark on winter cycling footwear with the Wolvhammer boot, and have opted to follow that up with an attempt at fighting cold on the second-most complained about extremity.
The Sturmfist glove comes in two models and on hand we have the most extreme offering of the two, the Sturmfist 4, while the Sturmfist 4 is meant for less severe temperatures nearer the freezing mark. Each is named as such for the apparent number of fingers the glove has, and perhaps also somewhat in reference to a hardcore punk or obscure black metal band (a quick bit of research on 45Nrth product names reveals and interesting theme of inspiration behind their product titles, though if you’re a Hüsker Dü fan you probably already know this).
The Sturmfist 5 has an all-star team of performance materials for its composition. The glove is backed with 300g Polartec Alpha insulation, a very lightweight and compressible insulation with a high warmth to breathability ratio. The shell is Polartec’s Neoshell fabric for a solid balance of water resistance and breathability. One of the key features of the glove lies in the NASA-developed Aerogel insulation stuffed into the palm. This is a very light layer of fabric that provides extreme resistance to thermal conductivity. This means the palm of the gloves has great resilience against conductive heat loss through the handlebars and brake levers. The outer palm material is Pittard’s Goat Leather for high abrasion and water resistance, the back of the thumb has a soft suede nose wipe and the lining of the glove is 100% merino wool for excellent moisture wicking. The gloves even include a separate 250g merino liner glove for additional warmth and moisture control, which can be swapped for another dry pair mid-ride, and helps keep your hands warm when the outer gloves need to be taken off to make a repair, have a snack, etc.
45Nrth bills these as being for temperatures between 0° and 15°F, which equates to about -18° to -9°C for the metric crowd. However, for the sake of the review, I decided to exceed those temperatures as much as the weather would allow me, which involved a week of fatbiking in Northern Ontario, in temperatures generally between -24° and -14°C. While cold weather is indeed the most daunting task that the gloves will have to deal with, I also made a point to evaluate the Sturmfist 4 in temperatures closer to freezing to see how adaptable they were to slightly warmer temperatures.
The most challenging task I was able to put the gloves through was a five hour ride for which is was -21°C when I rolled out. Despite many hours below 45Nrth’s recommended temperature range, I can say with absolute conviction that I had zero issues with cold hands. They were so warm in fact, I had the glove liners damp with sweat by the end of the ride, though the heavy dose of merino lining did a great job of keeping the moisture from being bothersome. In calm winter conditions I would have no reservations about using these gloves down towards the -30°C mark. That being said, I did take the gloves on some short commutes in heavy winds (30-45 km/h) around -20°C, and did get a bit of a chill on the hands. Though, the discomfort was pretty minor, and I would never be out for an actual bike ride in that weather.
It is worth pointing out that while the gloves have some wind and water resistant fabrics, those don’t seem to be a priority. The reality is that water resistance is not much of a concern when the gloves are design for use well below the freezing point of water, and even the most resilient winter cyclist will likely stay home if there are solid 30km/h winds below -15°C. Despite this, swapping the merino liner glove for a windproof liner would surely give great results for those who dare take on the worst winter can give.
On the warmer end of the scale, I found as long as I kept the merino liner glove in I didn’t have issues with sweat management, though obviously my hands would get a bit hot approaching the freezing point. If I removed the liner glove there was a fairly comfortable temperature window above 45Nrth’s recommended range, but my hands would get a bit clammy on the warmer end of that. With the stock 45Nrth merino liner glove on, I found the gloves to work admirably within and below the recommended temperature range, but I think a thinner merino liner glove would manage sweat enough to make these a comfortable choice when temperatures are above -10°C. I plan on getting a thinner set of liners soon for such conditions.
Fit and Function
It’s impossible to work around the fact that these gloves are going to be a bit bulky. There is no avoiding the fact that they will feel a little different than a mid-weather glove. However, the feel on the controls is still better than many other full winter cycling gloves I’ve ridden that don’t deal with the cold half as well as these. The trim of the fingers works very well. Shifting with the thumb takes a few minutes to adapt, but is generally quite favourable. I don’t recall ever mis-shifting due to the gloves. Using the brakes always felt very routine. The firm and tacky leather palm combined with silicone grippers on the liner glove makes for a surprisingly firm connection between your hand and the bar, avoiding the squirm and slippage that often occurs with other thick winter gloves.
The two layers of gloves really helps keep wind and snow from getting through the cuff. If you use an alternating over/under technique with the two gloves and your base/outer layer of clothing, you can create a good labyrinth for the weather to fight through. On top of this, the draw/release cord on the gauntlet is a good feature, and extremely easy to use even when trying to pull with the full outer glove on. This seems like a simple consideration, but one that I have found is often overlooked.
One issue that deserves mention is the fact that my pair of Sturmfist 4s had a bulky, shifting, misshapen chunks of Aerogel in each of the middle fingers. To me this seemed like an obvious oddball manufacturing defect, and they were swiftly warrantied without question. I by no means consider this to be a fault with the Sturmfist on the whole, nor should it deter anyone from the product. But since it happened, I have to mention it.
Otherwise, I really feel there not to be any complaints with these gloves. One might want a bit different of a liner glove, or perhaps my rain/wind protection. But for it’s intended purpose, I really think 45Nrth has struck the perfect middle-ground, and still left the extremists with lots of opportunity to tailor the glove to their needs.
Despite myself being a thick blooded Northern Ontario native who rides daily year-round, and generally has one less layer of clothes on than anyone else nearby, I can wholeheartedly say that these gloves can outlast me in the cold. Whether it just be the bitter cold, or harsh winds, I was able to easily stay warm in these gloves in conditions as miserable as I would willingly ride a bike in. Even, beyond that, a simple upgrade to the glove liner can expand the limits for those who venture beyond.
I can’t deny that these gloves cost a good dollar. Definitely in the highest tier of pricing for any cycling glove. However, for a premium ski or snowboard glove you can easily pay more than this. It’s hard to say these are an outstanding deal, but they are certainly worth every penny. What it comes down to in the end is that I am positive my hands will not be cold anymore. The most miserable conditions I’m willing to ride a bike in can be dealt with by these gloves which are functionally perfect for my needs, and I value that peace of mind very much.