MTB Grips: A Quick Guide

guide to MTB grips

Your handlebars are literally your body’s connection to the bike.

Yes, your legs are doing a lot of the work, but you feel the way the bike’s direction and course changes from your hands and arms. The handlebars matter a lot, but sadly, many manufacturers are still sticking to basic, stock handlebar grips.

MTB grips provide tons of benefits, from increased handling, better grip, and even help with numbness that tends to strike some of our hands when we’re receiving all those vibrations from the mountain trails.

We’re going to show you why MTB grips are an absolute must, and why they should be your next upgrade for your mountain bike.

What are MTB Grips?

MTB stands for mountain biking, which basically just means that these grips are designed for mountain bikes. Simple, right?

Well, not quite. MTB grips, or mountain biking grips, actually have different features and are designed to fit specific handles. You may notice that your mountain bike handles are different from street bikes with their primarily vertical design. You’d use handlebar tape for street bikes, but with mountain bikes, having a solid and sturdy grip is usually the best replacement.

With quality MTB grips, you can have better handling on your mountain bike, better traction with your gloves or bare hands on the grips themselves, and overall more dexterity if you play your cards right.

With better features designed to help you conquer the rugged roads ahead, they’re definitely different from just about every other type of handlebar grip you can find.

What are Different Types of Grips?

Well when it comes to mountain bikes, there are really only two types of grips.

You have slide-on and lock-on grips, and the names pretty much hit the nail on the head. Let’s talk about what they do and what they don’t do so you can pick the best one for your mountain bike.

Slide-On Grips

different type of grips

As the name suggests, these just come out of the package and slide right on to your handlebars. These are more common in recreational bikes, such as cruisers, and are sometimes even seen in BMX bikes.

When it comes to mountain bikes, the last thing you want is for your handlebar to slip off, so let’s talk about why slide-ons aren’t the ideal pick for mountain bikes.

Pros

  • Inexpensive: Slide-on grips don’t cost a lot. The materials are generally weaker than lock-on grips, but because they also don’t include hardware and fittings, you’re not paying for those additional materials.
  • Easy Installation: You just have to slide them on the handlebars, as you might have guessed. They can be out of the package and fitted onto your bicycle handles in about ten seconds if you do it fast, or thirty seconds if you’re picky about it. Not a bad time at all for a bike upgrade.
  • Grippy: The plush material of slide-on grips are usually nice and grippy, although this does tend to fade after a short while, so you should be cautious in the meantime.

Cons

  • No Bar Traction: The traction between your gloves and the grips are important, but you also have to keep in mind that they’re not being held to the handlebars apart from a tiny bit of force from your hands. They can slide off just as easy as they slide on.
  • Shorter Life: Compared to lock-on grips, slide-on grips have a much shorter life span. You could run into a few issues with the material tearing and other problems. It’s one of the reasons that lock-on grips are generally more expensive as a whole.

Lock-On Grips

locking mtb grip

These are fitted in place and don’t come off for any reason short of completely totaling your bike (and even then, they may still stay on). Lock-on grips are the preferred grip choice for just about all mountain bikers, and this is why.

Pros

  • Enhanced Traction: Simply because of the way that they are stuck to the handlebars, you get increased traction. You don’t compensate for loose or slippery grips because of how they’re gliding against the metal underneath the top layer. Instead, you only squeeze the grip by the amount of pressure that you need throughout your entire cycling expedition.
  • Stuck to the Handlebars: You have to use screws in the metal of the handlebars, and then a latch system is installed. These are basically little metal rings that stick around the screws and are fastened within the interior of the lock-on grip, so it’s really stuck on there. You would have to pull on weak spots of the grips with enough force to snap metal. That’s not going to happen because, well, you’re not pulling on the grips. You’re applying downward or forward pressure, so you won’t have these break on you anytime soon.
  • Stronger Materials: Lock-on grips are made with excessive durability in mind. The manufacturers know that if you have to constantly swap them out in a detailed manner, you may stop buying their brand. Mountain bikers want longevity in the products that they buy. Stronger materials mean better duration for the product, it’s as simple as that.

Cons

  • Lengthy Installation Process: Your handlebars probably don’t have screw holes already built into them. If they do, the MTB grip manufacturer might have chosen different screw sizes than what is already installed in your bike. You’ll either have to drill new holes through metal, or replace the current lock-on grips.
  • More Expensive: It’s true that you’re looking at a higher price point for lock-on grips compared to slide-on grips, but you’re also getting so much more out of your purchase, making it completely worth it in every way imaginable. You just have to be able to bite that higher cost from the start.

How to Choose the Perfect Grip?

bontrager grip

Part of it comes down to user preference.

The grips that I enjoy on my Trek might not be the same that you enjoy on your Santa Cruz. Not just because they’re different bikes, but because we’re all built differently. We all have various strengths and weaknesses.

My friend can ride his mountain bike off of jumps and land while no-handsing, and meanwhile I can barely pull one hand off the mountain bike to unscrew the cap on my stainless steel water bottle without being worried about jiggling on the rocky road below.

Our skill sets, equilibriums, and ability to maneuver with what we have available to us is how you’re going to find the best bike grips. That, and a few attributes you can look for in the reviews of new grips.

  • Time Rating: More often than not, to stand out from the other MTB grip brands on the market, you’re going to run into brands stating that their grips conveniently last for one or two years more than the other guys. Yeah, the materials matter and how they’re stitched together matter, but MTB grips are a fairly simple and straightforward concept. It’s easy to do it right, so it’s going to come down to how hard you are on them more than anything else. Don’t fall into the gimmicks.
  • Tactile Grip: Feel the grip. Is it going to grab onto your gloves or hands, and not let go? That’s what you want. You want the grip to be strong even when you have dirt on your gloves, sweat on your hands, and less than ideal conditions /(such as when it’s raining), and this cannot be overstated. This is where build quality and branding is really going to make MTB grips look and feel different.
  • Fit: It’s not really about whether or not it will fit on your mountain bike, because if a manufacturer is bothering to produce them then they’d better fit the bike. It’s about how well it handles all the usage you put it through, and how it stays on afterwards. If it’s a good fit, it will stay put and continue to be valuable to you. If not, kick it to the curb.
  • Material: There are plenty of cheap MTB grips out there that frankly do next to nothing for you. The materials suck, they’re simply not tactile to the touch, and whatever the outer shell is made of withers away in no time. The materials matter. Generally, you’re not going to see things like faux leather being used in MTB grips, but it does happen. Whatever you like and whatever lasts is what you should use.

The Right Grip for You

The right grip for me might not be the right grip for you, but one thing’s for certain: upgrading your grip is loads better than the stock ones that manufacturers give you.

I don’t think there’s a living person who could contest that fact. Upgrade your grips, try out a few, and indulge in the increased comfort and handling capabilities that are waiting in store.

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