Handlebar grips play a major role in your bike’s comfort and handling. After all, they are one of only three places that your body makes contact with the bike. Your grips affect your ability to steer, shift, and brake. Riding with the wrong grips can lead to hand numbness, blistering, cramping, and fatigue. This guide outlines all of the types of bike grips to help you chose the best and most comfortable style for your hands.
In this guide, I’ll talk about grip types, materials, attachment systems, sizes, shapes, and more. The second half of this guide outlines another handlebar grip option: bar tape. We’ll also look at cycling gloves and bar ends.
Bike Grip Styles and Designs
When it comes to choosing grips for your bike, the most important consideration is the grip design. Grips come in a wide range of shapes, thicknesses, and textures. This section outlines the various styles of handlebar grips you have to choose from.
These non-round grips feature a ‘wing’ or flat rounded section that sticks out to provide additional support for your hand and wrist. The goal of the design is to encourage you to hold your wrist in a natural and healthy position.
This comfortable hand position reduces wrist pain and hand numbness. Without ergonomic grips, you tend to twist your wrist back as your hands tire out. This can cause discomfort. The position also promotes good posture which can reduce back and neck pain.
When installing ergonomic grips, position them in a way that the wing sits slightly lower than where your wrists naturally rest while riding. When you tire out and relax your wrists, the wing holds them up in the ideal ergonomic position.
Plain Gauge Grips (Also Called Standard or Traditional Grips)
These are the most basic and common style of grip. Plain gauge grips have the same thickness throughout their entire length. They are shaped like a cylinder. They usually slip on and are made of rubber, silicone, or foam. Some models have ridges or bulges that sit between your fingers.
Grips with Integrated Bar Ends
Some grips integrate bar ends into the design. Bar ends are short bars that point forward from the ends of your grips. The purpose of bar ends is to give you a second-hand position on flat bars. This can improve comfort and reduce fatigue on long rides. Bar ends are great for touring. Many ergonomic grips have bar ends. I’ll talk more in-depth about bar ends later on.
Dual Compound Grips
Dual compound grips are made from two different types of materials. Usually different types of rubber. A harder material forms the base layer of the grip. A softer material forms the top layer where your hands hold the grip.
The idea is that the harder base layer grips the bar to prevent the grip from slipping around or twisting. The softer layer is more comfortable to hold. The design works well but there is one drawback. Generally, dual compound grips are on the thicker side. Riders who prefer thinner grips may want to stay away from dual compound grips. This comes down to personal preference and your hand size.
Flanged / Flangeless grips
Flanges are rubber disks near the opening or inside of the grip. They are mostly a personal preference. They give the bike a classic kind of look.
The function of flanges is to prevent your hand from sliding off the grip. They are common on BMX bikes and some mountain bikes. Most grips are flangeless.
Lock-on grips have metal collars on the ends that lock on to the handlebar with Allen bolts. They bolt in place. The benefit of this design is that the grips don’t slide around or ‘throttle’ on the bars. These are gaining in popularity across all categories of cycling that use grips including mountain biking, bicycle touring, and commuting. I’ll talk more about lock-on grips later on.
Grips come in a variety of thicknesses. Riders with large hands may find a thicker grip more comfortable. Riders with smaller hands may find thinner grips more comfortable. This choice comes down to personal preference and your hand anatomy. To find which grip thickness suits you best, you’ll just need to try out a few different sizes.
Generally, thicker grips are preferred across all categories of mountain biking. Thicker grips also offer better vibration dampening because there is more material for shock absorption. Some riders feel that thick grips remove some ‘trail feel.’ You can’t get as much feedback from the tires and ground as you can with thinner grips.
Grip Texture or Pattern
A number of different patterns are used on the grip surface. Some grips are smooth. Others have a waffle pattern. Some have ridges between the fingers or palm bulges.
The pattern plays a role in the comfort of the grip. It also acts as a kind of tread to give your hand traction so it doesn’t slide around on the grip when it gets wet or sweaty. Generally, a grip with a more aggressive tread works better in wet weather. Some grips are designed to be used with gloves and some are designed for bare hands. You’ll want to try a few grips to find which texture suits you best.
Bike Handlebar Grip Materials
The material plays a major role in the durability, comfort, cost, aesthetics, and overall feel of the grip. Some materials feel great on the hand but break down or tear easily. Others last forever but cause blisters if used without gloves. Some materials look beautiful but are too slippery. You get the idea. There are trade-offs.
When it comes to choosing a grip material, a few things to consider include whether you ride with gloves or bare hands, the climate you ride in, and your budget. The most popular bike handlebar grip materials include:
- Rubber grips- This is the most common grip material. The main reason is that rubber grips are cheap. They are also durable and long-lasting. Rubber grips require basically zero maintenance. The material does not degrade when exposed to UV light. Additionally, rubber grips absorb a good amount of shock and vibration from the road or trail. They also provide a bit of insulation which can keep your hands warmer during the winter. The main drawback of rubber grips is that they aren’t breathable. They don’t allow your sweat to vent or absorb. For this reason, blisters develop more easily when you use rubber grips.
- Silicone grips- These grips are lightweight, provide grip in all weather conditions, and have excellent vibration absorption properties. Another benefit is that they are UV resistant so they don’t get hard or degrade when they get exposed to sunlight. The main drawback of silicone grips is that they are pretty fragile. If you have an accident or lean your bike up against an abrasive surface, they may tear. Bar ends or end caps can help to prevent this. Silicone grips are incredibly popular among mountain bikers these days. They are very comfortable.
- Cork grips- Performance-wise, cork is probably the best grip material. The main benefit is that cork dries quickly. Sweat doesn’t stick around and make your hands slippery. The quick-drying property also reduces your likelihood of developing blisters. Cork is also durable and long-lasting. One interesting property of cork is that it is environmentally friendly because it is completely natural. The main drawback of cork grips is the cost. Cork is one of the most expensive grip options.
- Gel grips- These are some of the most comfortable grips on the market. Often times manufacturers combine gel with rubber to improve durability. Price-wise, gel grips are pretty affordable as well. One drawback is that gel does not vent or absorb sweat so blisters are common if you don’t ride with gloves.
- Leather grips- The main draw for leather grips is looks. Leather is a classic and natural material that looks great on cruisers and old school bikes. This material is more expensive than most other grip materials. Leather also gets slippery when it’s wet. This can harm your handling.
- Foam grips- These grips are inexpensive and lightweight. They also absorb sweat which helps to reduce blisters. The main drawback of foam is the fact that it breaks down pretty quickly when it’s exposed to UV light. It can also easily tear if you drop the bike or lean it against something abrasive. This means you’ll have to replace your grips more often. These were popular among mountain bikers until silicone grips took over around 10 years ago.
- Aluminum- Oftentimes bar ends or locking collars are made of an aluminum alloy. A few companies also make anodized aluminum grips. These are sometimes wrapped in leather or rubber. Some are textured for grip. This material is lightweight, durable, and it doesn’t corrode. The drawback is that metal grips can get slippery when they’re wet if they don’t have any kind of coating, cover, or texture for additional grip. The material also gets cold during the winter.
- Wood or bamboo- A handful of companies make grips out of non-traditional natural materials like wood and bamboo. These grips are pretty much only for looks. They give the bike an interesting natural look. They don’t provide much in the way of vibration dampening or durability.
Some bike grips use a combination of materials. For example, cork grips might have rubber sections. This can reduce the cost and increase durability. Gel grips might have a rubber layer to make them feel a bit more firm. Grips made from two materials are called dual compound grips.
Bike Grip Attachment Systems: Slip-On Vs Lock-On Grips
Grips attach to your handlebars in one of two ways:
Lock-on grips secure in place with a small Allen bolt. They have metal collars or clamps attached on one or both ends of the grips. A bolt goes through the collars. When you tighten the bolt, the collars squeeze the handlebars. This locks the grips firmly in place so they don’t move around.
The main benefit to lock on grips is that they are easy to install and remove. This allows you to swap out your grips easily if you like to try different styles. This is possible because the grips are slightly larger than the handlebars. They slide on and off easily when the bolts aren’t tightened.
Lock-on grips also stay in place better than slip-on grips. They don’t move around once they are tightened because they are basically clamped in place. This is great if you ride technical terrain. You don’t have to worry about your grips slipping around on you at the wrong time.
Lock on grips also have end caps. These protect the ends of the handlebars from damage in the event of an accident. You don’t have to worry about the ends of your grips getting ripped off. They also protect you. A handlebar end can do some serious damage to your skin if they hit your leg or body during a crash.
The main drawback to lock-on grips is that they are heavier and more expensive than slip-on grips. The weight penalty is pretty minimal for most riders. The metal collars probably only add an ounce or two. Cost wise, lock on grips are about 20% more expensive than comparable slip on grips.
Slip-on grips work just like their name sounds. They slide onto the handlebar ends and rely on friction to stay in place. The inside grip diameter is slightly smaller than the handlebar diameter so the grip fits tight. This way, it won’t slide around while you ride.
Because slip-on grips fit so tight, they can be a challenge to install. You may need some type of lubricant to get them on. Rubbing alcohol works well because it evaporates quickly and leaves no residue. Dish soap also works but leaves a residue between the grip and handlebars.
When you want to remove slip-on grips, you can use a lubricant or compressed air to help you get them off. You can also simply cut them off when they wear out.
The main benefits of slip-on grips are that they are cheap, lightweight, and simple. There are not metal clamps or screws. Just a single piece of material. This is the most common grip design.
The main drawback to slip-on grips is that they can slide around under certain conditions. As the grips wear, they may stretch and loosen. Heat or UV light can also cause the grips to loosen over time. Water or dirt can also get under the grips and cause them to slip. Whether or not slippage occurs depends on the grip material and the design. If your grips slip, it’s time to replace them.
Another drawback is that slip-on grips are a hassle to install and remove because they fit so tight. Once you get them on, you’ll want to leave them there until you’re ready to replace them. These are not a good choice for those who like to experiment with different types of bike grips.
For more info, check out my slip on vs lock on grip pros and cons guide.
A Few Bike Grip Recommendations
There are so many different types of bike grips on the market that it can be overwhelming to choose. Below, I’ll outline a few popular options to consider.
These high-end German-made ergonomic grips are ideal for touring, commuting, or mountain biking. They are made of a high-quality rubber compound and feature a forged aluminum clamp that locks the grips on securely so they don’t slip around. I installed a pair of these on my touring bike and find them to be the most comfortable grips I’ve ever used.
The Ergon GP1 Grips are the original model of ergonomic grips. Ergon also offers a cork version of the GP1 that is made from suitably sourced cork from Portugal. If you’re looking for grips with built-in bar ends, check out the Ergon GP5 Grips.
Plenty of other brands make similar ergonomic grips. I like Ergon because they are the originals. They got the ergonomic shape just right. The build quality is also incredibly high. Other brands of ergonomic grips are basically just copies. The only drawback is the cost. These grips are a bit pricey but you get what you pay for.
ESI Silicon MTB Grips
These silicone grips offer excellent shock and vibration absorption. Many riders report that they reduce hand numbness and cramping. They work great for riding on rough terrain. These grips are designed for mountain bike use but also work well for touring or commuting when paired with flat bars. ESI grips come in a range of sizes and colors. Riders with larger hands may prefer a thicker and wider grip.
These mountain bike grips from Ergon feature a less aggressive ergonomic design than some other models from Ergon. The wing is slightly smaller than some of their other models. This design increases trail feedback while still keeping your hand in a natural ergonomic position, making them a great choice for mountain biking and bikepacking.
The grips are made out of high-quality UV stable rubber compound. An aluminum clamp holds the grips in place so they don’t slip. They are compatible with carbon handlebars as well.
These mountain bike grips feature a low profile design and grippy rubber compound, making them a perfect choice for those with smaller hands or those who like to ride with their bare hands. They are lightweight at just 92 grams and come in 9 different colors.
These affordable ergonomic grips feature a comfortable rubber grip surface and aluminum locking rings to keep them mounted tightly to the handlebars. They fit bars between 20-23 mm in diameter and include end caps. These would be a great choice if you want an ergonomic shape but you’re on a tight budget.
Regardless of the grip type, many riders like to mount bar ends. These hand-width bars extend forward from the ends of flat handlebars. They look kind of like horns. Some riders angle them up slightly.
Most bar ends simply bolt on to the handlebars bar next to the grips. When installing them, you may need to move your trip in a bit to make room. Sometimes bar ends are integrated into handlebar grips. They are usually made of aluminum.
Benefits of bar ends include:
- Bar ends create a second-hand position- One of the biggest drawbacks of riding flat or riser bars is that you have to hold your hands in the same position at all times. There is only one place to grip. After a couple of hours of riding, your muscles get fatigued and your hands can begin to cramp up or lose grip. After enough time, your nerves can even get damaged. This can lead to irreversible numbness. Bar ends add a second-hand position. This allows you to move your hands so you use a different set of muscles and give your nerves a break. This greatly improves comfort on long rides. It’s also healthy for your hands to vary your grip from time to time.
- They give you more leverage for climbing- When you’re climbing a hill or riding out of the saddle, you need extra leverage to push down on the pedals. Bar ends allow you to rotate your hands 90° and widen your grip. This riding position also allows you to lean your body forward over the handlebars. This gives you more leverage to put some serious power into the pedals.
- Bar ends protect your grips and your hands- When you’re riding a narrow trail, sometimes brush or tree branches can rub against your hands, scratching them up. Bar ends prevent the brush from hitting your hands. They act as a shield. As mentioned earlier, some grip materials, like foam and silicon, are fragile. Bar ends prevent them from getting torn if you lay the bike down or lean it against a rough wall.
Of course, bar ends do have some drawbacks. The main issue is that they add weight. Some riders want to keep their bike as light as possible. Bar ends add a few ounces.
Another problem is that bar ends can get caught on obstacles and cause you to crash. After all, they’re basically little hooks that extend from the ends of your handlebars. Imagine hooking a low hanging tree branch while cruising down a trail. If this happens, your wheel immediately turns and you get thrown off the bike.
Bar End Recommendation- I like these ORIGIN8 Compe Lite Bar Ends. They are made of a lightweight aluminum alloy and clamp firmly with a simple bolt. They are available in long and short versions.
Another Grip Option: Handlebar Tape
Bar tape performs the same function as bar grips. It provides grip and absorbs shocks and sweat. The only difference is that bar tape is usually used on road handlebars that have multiple hand positions. Examples include drop bars, trekking bars, mustache bars, and bullhorn bars.
Some bicycle tourists and mountain bikers apply bar tape to their bar ends for more comfort. Some riders use handlebar grips on the bar ends and bar tape on the rest of the bars. This is common on trekking bars and H bars.
Bar tape comes in a roll like regular tape. To apply it, you simply wrap the tape around the part of the handlebars that you want to grip. It stays in place with either an adhesive backing or friction if the tape is non-adhesive.
Types of Bar Tape Include
- Cork- This is one of the most comfortable bar tape materials. Cork absorbs shocks and dries quickly. The drawback is that it’s not the most durable material. It can split and crack as it ages. Most cork tape these days is blended or backed with a synthetic material to improve durability.
- Synthetic bar tape- This is the most common type of bar tape. It is made of silicone, polyurethane, or nylon. Synthetic tape is durable and lightweight. Some varieties include a gel or foam layer for additional vibration dampening.
- Leather bar tape- Leather is a classic bar tape material. It gives the bike a vintage look. It is usually perforated for extra grip and faster drying. Leather tape takes some time to break in and soften up before it becomes comfortable.
- Foam- This isn’t really tape, rather a long foam tube. These work just like foam grips but they cover more of the bar. The material is comfortable but breaks down quickly in UV light. It also tears easily.
- Low profile bar tape- Some riders prefer a thinner tape. This tape measures 1.5-1.8 mm thick. Low profile tape can improve road feel. The drawback is that more vibrations can reach the rider’s hands
- Thick bar tape- This tape measures 3+mm thick. It is comfortable because there is more material to absorb vibrations and road noise. Off-road riders and those with large hands may prefer thick bar tape.
Adhesive vs Non-Adhesive Bar Tape
Bar tape is available in both adhesive and non-adhesive options. This choice really comes down to personal preference. When buying tape make sure you check whether it’s adhesive or not so you don’t get a surprise.
Non-adhesive bar tape stays in place with friction when properly wrapped. The ends are wrapped in some type of adhesive tape like electrical tape so they don’t unravel.
The main benefit of non-adhesive bar tape is that it is easier to install. It also doesn’t leave a residue when you remove it.
Adhesive bar stays in place with a layer of adhesive on the back of the tape. The problem with adhesive bar tape is that it makes it hard to apply the tape around bends in the handlebars. It tends to bunch up, making it difficult and annoying to install. The adhesive also sticks to your handlebars and leaves a mess when you remove it.
I like this Cinelli Cork Gel Ribbon Handlebar Tape. This non-adhesive cork bar tape has a thin layer of gel, which increases the shock absorption properties. It’s comfortable to grip and easy to install.
Many cyclists choose to ride with gloves, even if the handlebar grips are comfortable on their own. A few benefits that cycling gloves offer include:
- Improved comfort- Gloves can provide some additional vibration dampening by absorbing shocks that traveled through your grips. They achieve this with padding in the palm and fingers. Cycling gloves can also minimize cramping and numbness in your hands. Gel gloves work well.
- Gloves provide warmth- On cold days, the windchill can freeze your hands. When your fingers get too cold, you lose dexterity and it becomes harder to shift and brake accurately. An insulated pair of cycling gloves can provide some much-needed warmth for your fingers so you can keep riding safely and comfortably.
- Gloves provide protection- If you have an accident and come off the bike, gloves can protect your hands from getting road rash. They can also protect the back of your hands from scratches from bushes and tree branches as you ride through a narrow trail.
- Reduced blisters- When your hands get sweaty, the friction between your hands and the grips can cause blisters. Some grip materials are harder on your hands than others. This is a major problem with rubber grips. Gloves form a barrier between your hands and the grips to reduce the abrasion. They also wick sweat away from your palms. This helps to prevent blisters from forming.
- Increase grip- Some handlebar materials get slippery when they‘re wet. This is the case with leather and smooth rubber grips. Cycling gloves have built-in grip material on the palm and fingers increase grip, which helps you control the bike better.
Final Thoughts About the Different Types of Bike Grips
Even though handlebar grips are simple and inexpensive, they are one of the most important components on your bike. The grips play a major role in your comfort as well as the bike’s handling. Your steering, braking, and shifting all suffer if you use the wrong grips.
Remember that you’ll be holding onto the grips every time you ride. Maybe for hours at a time. They need to be comfortable. Good grips don’t necessarily have to be expensive. You can find some excellent rubber, silicon, or gel grips in the $10-$25 price range.
When choosing grips, consider the anatomy of your hand, whether or not you wear gloves, the climate you cycle in, and the type of cycling you do. Hopefully, this guide makes your grip choice a bit easier.
What types of bike grips do you prefer? Share your experience in the comments below!
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