HOW TO CHOOSE BICYCLE GRIPS – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George Bike Fit, BOTS Guides, Commute, E-commerce, Racing, Women

Let’s face it. Comfort is everything on a bicycle. Whether you’re riding 200kms a day or cycling to the office, comfort is key. Manufacturers know this and that is why they invest a lot on the 3 key touchpoints on your bike. The saddle, handlebars, and pedals. One particular brand that pays super close attention to this on their bikes is Specialized.

More recently even other manufacturers have realized this and have started offering more comfortable touchpoints on their bikes. This however, isn’t always possible because every rider is different. This is why many brands these days offer additional saddles, handlebar grips, and shoes for cycling. Today we’re going to find out why handlebar grips are so important and how to choose the right one for yourself.

ESI grips
ESI foam grips

Grips are one of the most underrated touchpoints on the entire bike – everyone overlooks it but ends up complaining about numb hands and a lack of grip. It’s time to look at your grips and see if they’re in need of a change – if so, don’t delay it.

WHY GOOD GRIPS ARE IMPORTANT

The humble handlebar grips seem so simple and unimportant that nobody really realizes how important a part they play in your daily riding comfort. Grip choice and positioning will affect braking control and gear shifting as well as hand and arm positioning.

Quality grips that suit your physical dimensions, riding style, and riding discipline will add comfort and control to your ride – poor, ill-fitting grips will lead to hand discomfort and possibly even long-term pain.

WHAT DO I NEED?

Grips are for gripping and comfort. Rubber and rubber-like grips can offer varying degrees of stickiness or “plushness,” which is not to be confused with padding. Softer rubber surfaces tend to grip better, even without gloves, but will wear out more quickly than a harder, less sticky rubber. This is super helpful for aggressive mountain biking but not so much for the average Joe getting groceries from the next block.

Some super aggressive MTB grips feature knobby patterns along the surface, while others are completely smooth. These patterns are designed with both no-slip performance and comfort in mind. While a bike grip that appears very knobby might seem to offer better no-slip performance, keep in mind that a smooth grip with sticky rubber might perform just as well. It’s all up to preferences. Recently, the foam grips have caught on and many mountain bikers and even some casual riders seem to be liking it.

WHEN DO I KNOW I NEED NEW GRIPS?

Over time, all bike grips tend to lose their gripping power as the surface is worn away. On bike grips with a pattern, it’s easy to spot smooth parts where the surface has been worn away. This offers a good indication of when it is time to replace the grip. Here are some visual indicators to look out for:

  • Sticky surface – attracts dust and can mess up your gloves.
  • Worn down tread. Indicative of hard usage – best to replace these.
  • Grips sliding around – usually because they’ve worn down from the inside. This doesn’t happen to lock-on grips.
  • Cracking surface – the grips were probably exposed to some chemicals or were simply of poor quality.

TYPES OF GRIPS

1. TRADITIONAL GRIPS – Simple rubber sleeved grips that slide on to the end of the bars. These can be a bit of a pain to get off -over time they tend to slip in wet conditions and a lack of end plugs is a disadvantage. They are however cheap as chips and you can’t have a simpler bike grip.

2. ERGONOMIC/COMFORT GRIPS – Ergonomic grips offer a flatter, wider surface on the outside of the grip and taper back to a more circular shape at the thumb area. An ovalized grip profile offers a balance between a full-on ergonomic grip and a perfectly round one.

You’re usually going to see these on hybrids/commuter bikes. These grips are shaped in ways that offer more hand comfort on longer rides. Sometimes they also feature integrated bar ends for multiple positioning options. These may work for you, they may not. Worth trying if your stock grips are giving you hand pain.

3. LOCK-ON GRIPS – These types of grips feature a metallic collar on either end which ‘lock’ the grip to the bar by means of small Allen bolts. Increasingly becoming the standard on most MTB bikes – especially used by hardcore mountain bikers due to their stability even when things get rough.

MATERIALS

Like with most components, grips offer various material choices along with varying levels of padding, each with their own unique properties. Some riders prefer the feel of a gel grip, while others like cork or leather. It’s quite personal when it comes to these options.

SIZES

Sizing isn’t a concern for people with hybrids, MTBs, BMXs, Beach cruiser, etc. They all have one standard dimension at the handlebar grip area – 22.2mm. What’s the significance of 22.2 you ask? It’s actually the same as 7/8″, which was how they started out being measured.

Grips themselves come in different sizes. Outer grip diameters range from about 27mm up to 35mm. Riders with larger hands should choose grips with a larger diameter, while riders with smaller hands should go with a smaller grip. If a grip is too large, it can lead to hand slippage and control issues. If a grip is too small, it could result in increased pain, particularly in the palm region.

Grips are available in various lengths as well. Riders won’t find a big variation in lengths: most grips fall between 130mm and 140mm in length. However, shorter 90mm grips are designed to work with grip shift systems (now extinct). Riders with smaller hands simply leave more of the grip unused.

WEIGHT

This isn’t something most riders bother with but for some of you folks, it makes all the difference. Grip weights can vary pretty wildly, depending on the amount of padding, clamp configuration, and the ergonomic profile.  The lightest grips are generally friction-style foam grips – such as the famous ESI Grips, while lock-on ergonomic grips can add significant weight and heft to your bars – this isn’t a bad thing. You’d want some kind of protection at the edge or at least a bar-end cap to protect your handlebar from the occasional knock.


Grips serve three important functions: control, comfort, and protection. With dozens of designs, colors on the market today, your grips can also make a style statement for you and your bike. It’s easy to find a quality pair of grips that does all three for a reasonable price – if you know how and where to look; hopefully now you do.

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