Grips are hardly the most exciting part of a bike, but they’re perhaps the most overlooked source of (dis)comfort. The best grips will:
- Install easily and lock into place to avoid twisting
- Provide a secure grip, especially when wet
- Reduce pressure points my matching the natural shape of your hand
- Dampen road vibrations thanks to compressible inserts like rubber, gel, or foam
- Optionally provide multiple hand positions with bar ends
The more weight your hands support, the more grip design will matter. Everyone will benefit from the right pair, but you’ll notice a bigger difference on forward-leaning hybrid and flat-bar road bikes than on, say, a bolt-upright Dutch bike.
As one of the few bike parts that actually contact your body, grips deserve a bit of time and money to find the right ones. I’ll cover my hands-down favorite pair, then dive into exactly what to look for.
Ergon's GP grips offer five bar end styles, two lengths, two sizes, and one terrific design. I believe the BioKork dampens road vibrations slightly better than the all-rubber version, but both give a comfortable and secure grip in all weather.
Cheap? No. Worth it? I won't buy anything else! If the price isn't an issue, then stop your search right here.
Here’s what to look for in hybrid / commuter grips
Bicycle grips aren’t normally glued, so they rely on a snug fit to stay in place.
The cheap way to do this is to make the grip tacky inside and very tight. Just how tight? We’re talking can’t-get-it-off-without-turning-the-air-purple-so-you-just-slice-it-open tight…or perhaps that’s just me. And despite the headache, they still manage to twist a bit while you ride.
The more expensive but far, far better way is with a locking ring. This way, the lock provides all the pressure needed to hold it in place, so the rest of the interior surface is basically a slip plastic tube that’s a breeze to install or remove. What’s more, they simply don’t budge during use.
All-weather grip (with durability)
The softer and tackier the exterior, the better you can grip it. That’s a potential life-saver on a rainy day, so err toward tacky if you’re in doubt. However, an overly soft grip will wear down quickly and require frequent replacement.
Roughly speaking, I find that more expensive grips outlast cheaper ones. They all have a finite lifespan, but I’ve gone years on a pair of Ergons while barely making it 12 months on generic stock grips.
Pressure points occur when a small part of your hands bear a disproportionate amount of your weight. Perfect weight distribution isn’t possible, but you can maximize it with grips that match your hands’ natural contours. After all, your fist doesn’t form a cylinder, so why should your grips?
If you’re prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, then you’re all too familiar with risks of keeping your wrists in an over-extended position. Ergonomic grips encourages a straighter, more natural wrist angle thanks to their characteristic paddle-like shape.
It’s true that non-contoured grips make sense for aggressive riding, due to frequent hand position changes. But if you’re not catching air or plowing over boulders, then ergonomic grips are the way to go. Bonus: ergonomic grips almost always have more surface area, which means more room to subtly rotate or move your hands to alleviate pressure.
Handlebar & shifter compatibility
Handlebars taper from a thicker stem area to thinner grip areas. These days, the grip diameter (sometimes called brake lever diameter) is one of two sizes:
- 22.2 mm on practically all flat and swept-back handlebars. This is almost certainly what you’ll need.
- 23.8 mm on road bikes and some alternative bars (like the terrific Nitto Albastache and Velo Orange Porteur) designed to accept road levers. Soft 22.2 mm grips may stretch to fit, but 22.2 mm lock-ons will not.
The second factor is whether you need to accommodate grip shifters. Many brands—including the recommend Ergon line—offer your choice of:
- Full-length left + right (for trigger shifters and single-speed bikes).
- Full-length left + short right (for 1x drivetrains and certain hub gears with only a rear grip shifter).
- Short left + short right (for 2x or 3x drivetrains with grip shifters front and rear).
Bar end options
Even the best hybrid bike grips won’t totally prevent fatigue or numbness, so bar ends are a nice way to change up your hand position completely. They may also provide a little more leverage for tough climbs or sprints.
They protrude very little (if at all) to the sides, so they shouldn’t affect your ability to store or carry your bike. (The one exception is on folding bikes, where bar ends may obstruct the fold.)
Can I use mountain bike grips on my hybrid or commuter?
Yes, but they’re not ideal. MTB grips are compatible since they use the same 22.2 mm diameter standard as hybrids, commuters, city bikes, etc. But they generally lack ergonomic support and vibration dampening, so they won’t be as comfortable.
Ergonomic designs work best when you can leave your hands in basically the same position. Mountain biking requires repositioning your hands continually, so MTB grips tend to be straight and cylindrical with no terrible hand position. Unfortunately, that means no great hand position, either.
How do I set up ergonomic grips?
You only have one adjustment: rotation. Fortunately, lock-on grips—you did buy lock-on grips, right?—make that breeze. Here’s how to dial it in.
- Dial in your stem height and handlebar rotation for proper posture.
- Loosen the grips’ lock ring just enough to rotate them. (It’s not safe to ride with loose grips, so don’t roll off just yet.)
- Get on the bike and lean against a wall for balance. Rotate the grips a few millimeters at a time until pressure is evenly distributed in your normal riding position.
- Gently tighten the lock, taking care not to strip the screw.
- If necessary, move your shifters and brake levers so they’re accessible without moving your hands significantly.
- Take a spin around the block, and adjust from there as needed.
You’ll probably need to adjust them over time, especially if you make further handlebar adjustments. What feels right during a quick test ride won’t necessarily feel right for several hours.
Are leather grips any good?
I’m all about classic, time-tested materials, but leather grips are a bigger hassle than they’re worth. They get somewhat slick over time, some require extra care, and none will dampen vibrations as well as rubber ones. If you must, then look for leather over a rubber/silicone layer, such as the Ergon-inspired Brooks GP1.