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Why Are My Hands So Sore? A Bike Grips Buyer’s Guide

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Mountain bike grips are a seemingly simple item, one that many riders tend to overlook. But mountain bike grips serve three important functions that should not be overlooked:

  • Provide a non-slip surface for handlebars
  • Create a comfortable interface for the rider
  • Protect bar ends

For riders experiencing issues with sore hands, or for those who are wondering what else is out there beyond stock grips, this guide will explain how to find the best mountain bike grips for you.

Grips Are for Gripping

Obviously grips are for gripping, ensuring that hands stay firmly attached to handlebars even when the bike gets wet from sweat or rain. Most grips utilize rubber or a rubber-like material, but grips with foam, leather, and even cork surfaces are available. Synthetic materials generally manage moisture by repelling it, while natural materials and foam tend to absorb moisture.

Rubber and rubber-like grips can offer varying degrees of stickiness or “softness,” 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.

Some 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.

Over time, all mountain 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.

Grips Are for Comfort

Gripping a bare mountain bike handlebar through rough singletrack would be painful indeed! Mountain bike grips are designed to provide padding and vibration damping to keep hands comfortable, even on extremely long or bumpy rides. Hand position is also a consideration in grip design: a good grip minimizes the potential for hand cramps.

Various levels of padding are available in mountain bike grips, and again, there are many different materials to choose from, each with their own unique properties. Some riders prefer the feel of a gel grip, while others like cork or leather.

Foam grips are lightweight and offer excellent padding as well.

Hands come in various shapes and sizes, and fortunately so do bike grips. 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.

photo: Syd Patricio

Not all mountain bike grips are perfectly round. In fact, many are tapered from left to right and/or around the circumference. Ergonomic grips offer a flatter, wider surface on the outside of the grip and taper back to a more circular shape at the thumb. An ovalized grip profile offers a balance between a full-on ergonomic grip and a perfectly round one. For riders who are experiencing discomfort in the hands or even shoulders, a specially-shaped mountain bike grip might be a good choice.

Other Considerations

There are two basic ways bike grips can be attached to a set of handlebars: friction or lock rings. Friction grips are simply slid (or more often, forced) onto the bars and are held in place by friction between the inside of the grip and the handlebar. These grips are never fully secured, and therefore tend to rotate in wet conditions or when the rider places a lot of torque on them.

Lock-on grips are very popular with mountain bikers because they eliminate the twisting associated with friction grips. The grips are secured to the bars with either a single clamp on one end of the grip or more often, clamps on both ends of the grips. A bolt is used to tighten and release the clamp, generally making them easier to install and remove than friction grips.

Shorter grips are available for use with twist shifters.

Mountain bike 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. Riders with smaller hands simply leave more of the grip unused, though if bar space is at a premium a shorter grip may be in order.

Aside from grip and comfort, grips also serve to protect handlebar ends. Bikes are constantly being laid down on their sides, and close calls with trees and rocks can grind away at bar ends. Look for grips with thick, solid end caps to protect bars, especially carbon bars which are particularly susceptible to damage.

These grips from Fabric are very lightweight.

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, while lock-on ergonomic grips can add significant weight.

Pricing for mountain bike grips generally falls in a pretty tight range, with inexpensive friction grips available for less than $10 for a pair and ergonomic grips topping out around $60. Leather grips can sell for even more.

Finally, mountain bike grips should not be overlooked as an avenue for making a statement. Most companies offer several color choices for their most popular grips, and various clamp finishes, surface patterns, and profiles make it possible to truly customize a bike build.

Mountain bike grips serve three important functions: control, comfort, and protection. With dozens of designs on the market today, it’s easy to find a quality mountain bike grip that does all three for a reasonable price.