In the beginning, there was no such thing as a mountain bike grip; the first “clunkers” used the molded hard-rubber handles found on every kid’s newspaper-delivery special. By 1995, the industry had largely settled on flangeless variants of BMX grips, often impregnated with some sort of gel. In the years since there, there’s been a technological explosion in what was traditionally a very simple product. Today’s grips are often specialized for an individual type of mountain biking and can be found in several thicknesses.
The majority of grips are made from a rubber or foam compound. After being slid on with some sort of lubricant (hairspray is popular, but there are also “grip glues” available), they will generally stay put. Riders who expect frequent airtime or rugged terrain will often opt for lock-on grips instead. These stay-put grips generally feature an inner alloy or plastic liner beneath the rubberized material, and the entire system mounts to your bar ends via metal lock rings that you screw tight. Once on, they don’t budge. They’re also easy to remove and replace by simply loosening the screws.
When it comes to grip thickness, the rule of thumb is, “Get the thickest grip you can comfortably hold.” This will reduce hand fatigue and impact soreness. Prone to wrist injuries or hand pain? Consider a suspension grip, a new technology that allows the grip to imperceptibly move on the bar, reducing the harshness of shocks to the body.
How We Selected
We solicited recommendations from the mountain bikers on Bicycling’s staff, then tested several variants on a variety of punishing terrain, from the black-diamond slate of Windrock Park in Tennessee to Boreal Mountain’s sandy slopes in Tahoe. The following recommendations should be appropriate for a variety of disciplines spanning cross-country to UCI-style downhill riding.
―Sounds Gimmicky, Works Like a Dream―
RevGrips Pro Series
If you’re tired of the complexity addiction that has defined mountain biking recently, this won’t cleanse your palate. The RevGrips system is made up of twenty pieces, several of which can be mixed and matched. The idea sounds suspect, as well: A rigid, rubber-covered tube is mounted into rubber shock mounts, which then clamp to the handlebar. Totally ridiculous, except for one thing: It works like a dream. The USA-made RevGrip drastically reduced arm pump and wrist pain at speeds of 30mph and up on sections like AngelFire’s iconic Hungry Hippo trail. There are five thicknesses available—Jenson USA has size small in stock—so peruse RevGrip’s sizing guide thoroughly before purchase.
―DH Grip With XC Potential―
ODI AG-2 Aaron Gwin Lock-On Grips
If you want a high-quality, USA-made, high-impact grip, but don’t care for the complexity of RevGrips, ODI’s AG-2 might be for you. Designed in conjunction with the famous mountain biker, the AG-2 uses the new single-ended ODI Lock-On system for worry-free descents. The end caps are metal-reinforced, while the relatively thick center section is made from a new softer compound. Like most ODI grips, these should have high durability and a long life.
―Best Value, With Plenty of Trail Cred―
Deity Components Knuckleduster Grips
A solid and well-liked lower-cost alternative to ODI grips, the Deity Knuckleduster is suitable for all mountain-biking applications. The heavily ridged surface, along with a tapered inner sleeve, ensures a rock solid, no-slip grip on the bar. They feature a single-lock design for maximum grip surface. Bonus: They come in seven colors.
―More Comfort Than Control―
Deity Components Supracush Grips
Deity also has a comfort-oriented option for riders who don’t need the precise control offered by the Knuckleduster. The Supracush is “squeezable” and can offer some much-needed pain relief both on big-hit downhills and long cross-country rides with a lot of weight over the hands.
―Casual Grip With Retro Appeal―
Specialized Body Geometry Neutralizer Locking Grip
Unlike the rest of the grips on this list, the Body Geometry needs to be precisely angled for the position you’ll most often use while riding. This adjustment is made easy with a locking collar, and once you’re set up you can expect additional support for delicate areas of the hand. Great for long casual rides and groomed trails, but not our first choice for any trail that includes “road gap” or “mandatory drops” in the description.
―Best for Fussy Carbon Bars―
Lizard Skins DSP Grip
The ultralight, impact-reducing, carbon-fiber handlebars on modern mountain bikes can be a little bit intolerant of the stresses introduced by conventional locking rings. Lizard Skins has another idea: a unique tape that goes between the bar and grip. The polymer construction of the grips is optimized for comfort. These are likely best used on weight-conscious cross-country bikes.
―Old-School and Casual―
ESI Grips Extra Chunky Mountain Bike Grips
No lock-on feature, considerable diameter, and an unpatterned 100 percent silicone construction? You won’t find the Extra Chunkys on Red Bull Rampage courses any time soon. Which is fine, because these high-comfort options can add plenty of miles to your endurance over chattering trails or even bumpy sidewalks. Best for larger hands and a casual approach, the Extra Chunkys also offer a nice touch of retro appeal for your next “clunker” build.
―Top Choice for Wet Weather―
PNW Components Loam Grips
PNW Components, well-known for its dropper seatposts, offers an affordable grip option with its Loam line. As you’d expect from a company based in the Pacific Northwest, the Loam has an unusual amount of wet-weather usability thanks to deep cuts and patterns in the grip surface. A modest flange, rare in this category, helps keep your hands indexed. Lock-on capability completes the picture for a great rain-or-shine option.
―Great for Young Riders or Anyone With Small Hands―
ODI Ruffian Lock-On Grips
Need to make absolutely certain your grips aren’t going anywhere? The long-serving ODI Ruffian, which has lock-on rings on both ends, has your back. The extra-soft grip surface makes holding on easy, while the small diameter makes the Ruffian a good choice for smaller hands or younger riders. If you’re ready to “Hold On for Dear Life,” try the Ruffian. Be aware: This is probably the fastest-wearing grip on the list.
―Best for 19mm Bars―
SDG Components Slater Jr Lock-On Grips
The Slater Jr. is the only grip here that probably won’t just slide on to your existing bar. It’s designed for the 19mm-diameter handlebar standard that is making waves among the “groms.” Adult riders with special needs, or unusually small hands, will also want to give the Slater Jr. a try. This is a soft grip with a very efficient pattern and a strong lock-on collar. Like the idea, but don’t like the size? SDG’s standard Slater is the same thing in traditional dimensions.
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