by Wil Barrett
January 6, 2017
The ION Neo is a waterproof mountain bike glove that's built with stretchy Neoprene. Wil puts them to the test in his first season of proper British winter riding.
Up until a couple of months ago, the concept of a waterproof mountain bike glove was somewhat lost on me. Not that I didn’t understand the reasoning behind such a garment, but that for most of my off-road riding life, I hadn’t really been privy to the need for such a garment.
You see, in the town where I grew up in in Australia, on average there are more than 300 sunny days per year. Anymore than that would just be greedy. Located a couple of hours drive north from Melbourne, Bendigo is basically an inland desert. So in summer, it gets really hot, and in winter it’s less hot. While it does get rain, like many parts of Australia, it doesn’t get a whole lot of it. And if it does rain and you’re planning on going for a ride, you change your plans and don’t go riding. Instead, you wait until the next day when statistically, there’s a 99.99% chance it won’t be raining again. Here in West Yorkshire however, things are a little different…
To equip me for my first winter season of riding in the UK, I was dished out a pair of ION Neo Waterproof gloves to review. For me, this would involve many rides in much rain. And it has. Because as I’ve learnt very quickly, if you decide it’s too wet and that you’ll wait for the next day it’s dry, you’ll be waiting a long time…
“Yes, we’re wetsuits specialists. That’s why we developed this neoprene glove for the cold and wet days. We know how to do it. For example with the waterproof TATEX seams. Or the Long John Sleeve. Or…” – From ION.
ION Neo Gloves Features:
- Fully waterproof riding gloves
- 58% Neoprene, 42% Nylon
- Tatex waterproof seam sealing
- Long John Sleeve: Extra long cuffs
- Textured silicone detailing on palms
- Sizes: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
Fit & Feel
Available in five different sizes, I went with a Small sized Neo glove as per my typical glove size. The fit of the Neo is super-snug. That comes down to its stretchy Neoprene/Nylon fabric, which is much the same as what you’d find on a wetsuit. That’s no surprise, because as well as producing kit for mountain bikers, ION also specialises in producing wetsuits – so they know a thing or two about working with Neoprene.
The Neo gloves are quite tight to slip on initially, and you’ll need the help of tabs on the inside of each cuff to help ease them over your digits. Once on though, they feel really, really nice.
The other aspect I really like about them is the long cuffs that extend a good few inches up your wrist so they sit inside your jacket sleeves. The cuffs are stretchy enough that you can tuck the sleeves of your baselayer into them, which helps with wind-proofing when you’re battling to plug any external gaps from icy blasts. This is something that I see as a problem with a lot of other cold-weather riding gloves that are too short in the cuff, and leave you with a gaping hole between the inside of your sleeves and the cold, cruel British winter. The ION Neo’s get a big tick in this regard.
One thing I have found with the snug fit, is that I do get some pressure around my wedding ring, which the Neo glove presses in to my hand somewhat. This isn’t something I’ve encountered with any other riding gloves. It’s only light pressure, but it is noticeable and it’s worth noting for the Johnny Depp jewellery enthusiasts out there.
While ION isn’t the first brand to use this style of fabric for waterproof riding gloves (the concept has been around for years), its execution with the Neo glove is excellent. All of the seams are sealed to block any potential leaks, and not once did I experience wet hands on a ride. I even dunked my gloved hands into buckets full of cold water, and despite being fully submerged for an incredibly dull 15 minutes of my life, my hands remained bone dry on the inside. Excellent.
With the addition of sticky silicone detailing on the inside of each palm, the Neo gloves offer plenty of traction and control on your bike’s grips. This is aided by the slightly squishy nature of the Neoprene fabric, which provides additional grip and effective damping. There are no big gel pads or added foam padding compared to conventional gloves, but it’s surprising how much support that comes from the Neoprene fabric itself, and I never felt like I wanted any more padding with any of the different grips I’ve been using. That said, the relatively thin Neo gloves will suit riders who typically prefer thin grips minimalist-style gloves in summer. Those wanting a thickly-padded glove for their upright bikepacking or cruiser bike will want to look elsewhere.
Compared to bulkier cold-weather gloves, the slim fit of the Neo’s provides excellent tactility on shift levers, dropper triggers and brake levers. This, along with the dexterity offered by the slim and snug fit, makes them ideal for fast-paced trail riding duties. The difference in ergonomics is even more pronounced when using night lights or playing around with the buttons on a GPS computer or a POV camera. These kinds of tasks are near-impossible to perform accurately when you’ve got half an inch worth of fleece between your index finger and a shallow button, but that’s a problem the Neo gloves don’t have to deal with.
Despite my glowing praise of the fit and finish of the ION Neo gloves, I wouldn’t say they are the perfect winter riding glove. For a start, they aren’t super warm. While the Neo’s provide sufficient insulation in colder riding conditions, I’ve found that their optimal operating window is relatively narrow. For me, I found that anything colder than 6-7°C pushed past the limit for the Neo gloves, and my fingers would start to chill too much for comfort. Everyone is different when it comes to suffering from cold hands, so your results may vary, and I guess it depends on what your definition of ‘winter riding’ is too.
Oh, and if you pull them off mid-ride for whatever reason, don’t expect them to magically warm up your hands again. Any sweat residue inside them gets cold very quickly, which I found out the hard way multiple times.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Neo gloves are pretty tolerable when it gets too warm. Though by ‘warm’, I am talking about British conditions. One thing to note is that as heat builds up in the glove, you get moisture accumulation – or ‘sweat’ as it’s referred to on earth. It’s not really a noticeable problem until you pull the gloves off, and then try to put them back on – just like a wet wetsuit (ha!), it can be a bit of a sticky faff.
The other aspect to sweaty hands that I’ve experienced with the Neo gloves is the smell. It is quite pronounced, with my hands emitting a cheesy-groin type aroma following anything from more than half an hour’s worth of ride time. This repulsive scent lingers on the surface of your skin long after the end of the ride, so you’ll have to ensure that all of your group rides finish at a pub so that you can use the washroom afterwards. Otherwise your friends will question where your hands have been.
For me, my journey with the ION Neo gloves has been quite the learning experience. I’ve discovered the joys and true value of a properly waterproof glove, and I’ve also discovered that riding in temperatures lower than what a glove is designed for is sub-optimal. What I can say about the ION Neo gloves is that they are indeed waterproof (while many gloves that say they are, actually aren’t) and they have a beautifully snug fit that offers excellent feel and tactility on the bars.
In essence, the Neo’s are minimalist winter gloves. They’re not hugely padded, and they’re not super warm when the mercury really decides to plummet. But for intermediate winter riding in wet or just splashy riding conditions, they’re ace, and hard-charging trail rider that values dexterity and ‘feel’ on your grips and controls. Just be prepared for the smell.