If you suffer from sore hands or wrists when mountain biking, the fix might be as simple as a new set of grips. We tested several innovative products aimed at relieving hand pain and asked the experts for quick and easy remedies.
A little discomfort on the bike is a good thing as long as it’s in your legs and lungs. That’s the reward for a hard workout. But tingling fingers and aching wrists are not fun.
The cause is often associated with pressure or constriction of the nerves in the hand and wrist. Restricted blood flow doesn’t help, and vibrations and hard impacts play their part as well. The grips detailed below address these and other factors, potentially making your rides pain free.
The GA3 builds on Ergon’s award-winning grip design first introduced with the popular GP1. The enlarged wing on the outer edge provides two primary benefits. First, it disperses pressure under the outer palm to protect the ulnar nerve. Second, it guides the rider’s wrist into a neutral position to align the median nerve. If you’ve ever suffered carpal tunnel syndrome, you know that nerve all too well.
On the trail, the GA3 feels like any other soft, grippy grip. The rubber compound sticks to a glove-like glue and helps to reduce the force required to stay connected to the bars. Although the wing is extremely pliable, it prevents bending the wrist and constricting the median nerve. Unlike the original GP1 with its rigid wing, the soft GA3 wing allows for a full range of motion. That one attribute is a critical consideration for aggressive riding. They’re also well priced at just $30.
If your hands tend to wander on the bars, there is a distinct sweet spot on Ergon’s grip that is easy to locate. Overall, it offers a nice balance between hard-charging performance and ergonomically proven protection.
Revolution Suspension Grips, Pro Series
At first glance, Revolution Suspension Grips don’t look out of the ordinary. It’s only when you grab one and give it a twist you realize something unique is afoot. Housed within each aluminum clamp, a series of rubber dampers allows the center sleeve to gently rotate forward and back. The range of movement is minimal but sufficient to take the sting out of hard impacts.
Each set of grips includes two damper kits, one slightly softer than the other, for a more fluid range of motion. Mixing the various damper inserts fine-tunes the degree of rotational damping. Even when not actively moving, the rubber inserts help attenuate vibrations.
The idea of a loosey-goosey grip sounds terrible, but the rotation is predictable and feels surprisingly natural after just a few rides. Most riders notice a tendency to relax their hands on Revolution grips. That in itself helps relieve aches and pains. In that regard, they act like training aids, encouraging more efficient hand placement.
The traditional round shape won’t do much to alleviate pressure on the ulnar nerve or hold your wrists in a neutral position. But there’s no question they reduce vibration and soften shock forces — just not the hard impact of the $89 price tag.
A relative newcomer to North America, Germany’s SQlab produces a large selection of ergonomically engineered grips ranging from highly sculpted touring models to products like the 70X. Specifically designed to meet the demands of all-mountain and enduro riders, it looks much like any other grip.
One issue compounding hand pain is the need to tenaciously grab the bars to maintain control. Some grips are slick and don’t provide tactile engagement. Making matters worse, most grips are round. SQlab’s experts believe round is incompatible with our jointed fingers.
If you squeeze a lump of clay, the resulting shape is anything but round. By creating contact points tuned to the biomechanics of the human hand, the brand’s grips allow for better contact with less grip force.
Wrapping your fingers around the SQlab 70X quickly reveals the anatomical shaping. Heavy but soft lugs on the outer edge gently pad the ulnar nerve and provide a small, flat surface to disperse pressure. Our fingers are not all the same length and don’t curl around the grip evenly. So, the inner portion of the sleeve contains thicker blocks to increase the diameter.
On the trail, the subtle flats and enlarged lugs fit nicely in hand. Despite the lack of a defined ulnar wing, the grip sleeve feels best with the wrist in a neutral position. It’s a great option for rowdy riders.
Wolf Tooth Components Fat Paw Grips
The most basic in the bunch, Fat Paws, from Wolf Tooth Components, are the least expensive at $24. Made of dense silicone foam, they are extremely light. And they’re pretty fat, a new riff on the silicone grip with an added thickness of 9.5 mm.
Grip diameter is typically determined by hand size, but some riders find larger grips offer relief for tingly fingers and nerve pain. Although silicone is far from squishy, it is much softer than rubber. The extra cushion helps reduce pressure on the ulnar nerve and deadens vibrations. The large diameter opens the user’s grip, which sometimes improves circulation.
The large diameter isn’t perfect for everyone. Small hands won’t be able to reach the brake levers comfortably. And it can be difficult to grab a fat grip if your fingers can’t close tightly around the bar in a clenched fist. But given the low cost, Fat Paws are worth a shot. If the diameter is too much for your small paws, they’re available in a 6.5mm thickness.
The Experts Weigh In
Fancy grips may help, but they are not always an answer to aching hands. The best solution might be free and easy. To better understand the bike and rider interface, we consulted Andy Pruitt, the man who literally wrote the book on bike fitment.
“Many riders suffer hand and wrist pain due to poor bike fit. Something as seemingly unrelated as saddle position can exacerbate hand pain. If the nose of your saddle is pointed down, it can increase the amount of pressure applied to the bars.” Pruitt said. “Strengthening your core can reduce pain by relieving some of the tension and pressure on the grips.”
Dr. Mérchen Naudé, an avid triathlete, mountain biker, and leading specialist in chronic cycling injuries, offered similar advice. “If hand pain is due to impingement of the ulnar nerve, padding in the grip or glove may offer some relief. If the pain is due to excessive dorsiflexion of the wrist, or an aggressive bend at the wrist, padding will not be enough to remedy the pain. That will require alterations to bike fitment.”
The most interesting advice from Dr. Naudé suggests the bike may not be the problem at all. “Depending on the injury, off-bike activities might be the main reason for pain. Typing at a laptop or daily work tasks can cause as much or more damage than riding a bike. Proper attention to your daily ergonomics can often improve your riding comfort.”
So there you have it. If buying new grips doesn’t assuage your hand and wrist pain, blame it on your job!
Christophe Noel is a freelance journalist, photographer, and general vagabond. A seeker of stories untold, he can often be found with a map in hand, lost, in the most remote corners of the globe. The founder of Clean Drink Adventures, he believes in the power of the traveler and doing good as you go.