Handlebar grips serve two main functions: comfort and control. Both functions are closely related to each other.
A well-designed handlebar grip provides sufficient friction to prevent your hand from slipping. The surface should also allow for easy changes in position. This also allows your forearm and finger muscles to be in a more relaxed and restful state thus reducing muscle fatigue. Less fatigue also means better control, especially on longer rides.
The ideal grip also accommodates for moisture whether it is perspiration or water. A slippery when wet grip is obviously not good. Most grips are made of some sort of rubber or rubber like material. Like tires, most have some sort of texture or pattern added to enhance the grip when wet.
A grip should also provide sufficient padding for comfort. The padding will provide some damping that can help dissipate vibration that can lead to numbness.
How much padding is subjective as some will prefer firm versus plush. For what it is worth, over the years of riding, I’ve yet to find a too plush grip. Some that claim to be plush but are merely soft and will quickly compress and offer little effective padding.
The shape of a grip also affects comfort and control. While traditional grips are round, some designers have considered the anatomy and ergonomics of your hand to influence the shape of the grip. You can find hexagonal grips as well as multi-shaped grips (like Ergon) intended to fit your hand more naturally.
Personal preferences along with the terrain and riding style will ultimately dictate which grip that works best for you.
In the search for the perfect mountain bike grip we test four different grips: Oury Lock-On, Ergon GP1, and ESI Chunky and ESI Extra Chunky.
ESI Chunky and ESI Extra Chunky
ESI grips are made from silicone. While I couldn’t find anything on the ESI website claiming silicone to be better than other rubber materials, they are indeed lightweight and have a very good texture and feel.
They performed well in both wet and dry conditions. Once installed, they stayed firmly in place on the bar. I did not experience any slippage or creep.
Installation is best done with either rubbing alcohol or Windex. Like most other non-locking grips, they are more difficult to remove and may be damaged if not careful.
My only complaint with either of these two models is that they simply did not offer much padding. The chunky model felt very hard after only a few minutes of riding. I switched to the Extra Chunky and again, they offered little comfort after about 30 minutes. The material seemingly just compresses too easily to offer any substantial support.
Oury is a well-established brand that is popular in BMX, motocross, and watersports. The Lock-On features a rectangular pad design with deep channels. They use locking collars on each end to securely fasten the grip to the handlebar. The lock-on feature makes it easy to remove the grips when you are working on your bike.
The Oury grips proved to be very good in technical situations as well as under hard braking. It was easy to grip the bar while braking as well as re-adjusting positions on the grip. The surface is grippy when wet or dry. They mate very well with my Castelli Lightness 2 gloves. After two hours or so, the outer edge of my palm however developed a pressure spot. On longer rides this became more noticeable although not unbearable.
It’s hard to find fault with the Oury grips. Sure, I’d like more padding, especially for the outer heel of my hand but this has been a problem spot for me over the years. Update - After spending time making several minor, yet important, adjustments to my bar width and angle, I've eliminated the hot spot issue. These have now become my favorite grips.
Ergon makes a multitude of grips. I picked these up from my local bike shop without any previous knowledge of the company. They felt good in my hand and the design seemed to make sense.
Because of their ergonomic shape, fine tuning their position on the handlebar can greatly impact the comfort and performance. You will need to align the grip in a way that will align your wrist in a neutral position. Also be mindful that trigger shifters may need to be re-positioned for proper clearance. The GP1 secures to the bar using one clamp on the outboard side.
The Ergon GP1 has an additional “wing” that creates a broader, flatter section to support the outer palm. This has proven to eliminate the pressure point in this area that I experience with any other grip. Two to four-hour rides are much more comfortable!
The Ergon GP1 is billed as a touring grip as opposed to cross-country. My suspicion is that the inner portion of the grip is shaped differently than the cross-country specific GS1. Gripping the bar under hard braking on technical or downhill sections was less secure feeling than either the Oury or ESI grips. I prefer to brake with my middle fingers while using my index finger to hold onto the bar (along with the fourth and fifth fingers). This method felt less secure with these grips and I found myself relying more on my index finger for braking. I will probably try either the GA2 or perhaps the GA3 and see if they work any better with my braking method.
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