Now and Then, Function Trumps Form

For the past few years, I’ve outfitted most of my bikes with cork grips. I like their shape, I like the fact that they can be modified to work with bar-end shifters, and mostly I like how they look. In their natural state they’re fragile and get grimey in short order, so I typically give them a couple coats of shellac. This adds to their reliability and good looks, but it makes them a little slippery, particularly in the heat of summer.

I recently swapped the cork grips on one of my bikes for a pair of ODI mountain bike grips. I have to admit, I had forgotten how comfortable and secure a nice set of low-profile mountain grips can be. Their small diameter and grippy surface provide a much more direct connection to the bars than shellaced cork grips. I can’t say that I’d outfit all of my bikes with mountain grips, but for dodging traffic while carrying heavy front loads, the added control that comes with this type of grip can be a real benefit.

16 Responses to “Now and Then, Function Trumps Form”

  • Gee says:

    It’s the first thing I do with a new bike, switch to low-profile grips. Even though it gets a bit bumpy with my thin tires the control is worth it since I ride in the city.

  • Remi says:

    I have found the the black speckled grips from Velo- Orange look good feel good andhave the shape of cork. they work for me

  • Alan says:


    Those look nice – thanks for the tip! Here’s the link:


  • Moopheus says:

    Really? I hate the grips on my old Trek mtb. Can’t ride it without gloves. Maybe these are better, but I wouldn’t go back.

  • Sharper says:

    Like Moopheus, I wasn’t that keen on the grips that came on my Specialized HardRock, but I bought some middle of the road clamp-on grips like Alan’s when I converted the bike to cargo and around-town duty. I even bought some cork grips, but never got around to installing them — why mess with a good thing?

    The only thing I’m concerned about with the mountain grips is how long they’ll last. I’ve worked on a lot of bikes that have come through our shop with what look like good grips that have turned into just a big scummy glue trap over time.

  • Alan says:


    For me, it depends upon the bike. For short rides, zipping through town with a load up front, it’s really nice to have the added security of a nice mtb grip (the quality from one to another is dramatically different). For longer or more relaxed rides, a smoother grip with a little less “tooth” is still nice. Horses for courses… :-)


  • JIm Ball says:

    Different strokes for different folks. I’ve had carpal tunnel for a while, I use ugly black foam grips on all my bikes. The cushy non slip foam grips lasts longer than one expect. Not the most attractive option, but hard grips are not pleasant for hands and wrists. This is not an issue with recumbent.

  • Fergie348 says:

    Different strokes indeed. It’s like pedals or a saddle, your opinion is the only one that counts..

    I like the Ergon grips on my flat bar bikes, personally. And they now have a cork version:

    biokork indeed..

  • Andrew says:

    I’m firmly in the comfort- and function-over-style camp with my contact points, with cork/gel bar-wrap or lock-on mountain-bike grip camp (and sometimes both on the same bike! I wrapped the bar ends on my tourer in cork/gel tape and they’re a lovely place to leave your hands).

    Maybe one day I’ll give full cork grips a shot, but my experience with cloth tape (not shellac’ed, I’ll admit) on road bikes has left me more than happy to move on to newer things.

  • CedarWood says:

    If you want colored and sealed cork grips but don’t want to fill up the texture with shellac, try using stain and varnish.

    Here’s what I did: apply 2-3 coats regular wood stain (without polyurethane additives) to the unfinished cork, letting dry between coats. When completely dry, glue your grips onto the bars and wait until the glue is dry. Apply spar varnish to seal the grips. The final texture depends on how many coats of varnish you apply.

    I am now the proud owner of two pairs of black cork grips, one set more textured than the other. I used Minwax Ebony stain, but there are many other colors available.

  • Alan says:


    Cool technique; thanks for the tip!


  • Dean says:

    For me I need that little flat part for the palm of my hand. I had the Ergon grips on my flat bar commuter but recently swapped out for Dapper Dans. I think I’m going to put the Ergons back on as they were more comfortable.

  • Lee says:

    For city riding, I’ve found that for control and pure grip, Bizhouse gym grips are my favorite. They are on the firm side, but they won’t slip in your hand and have a great low profile, and the trade off for sure-handedness is worth it. The best thing about them, for someone with a twist shifter setup like me, is that they are essentially individual o-rings, so you can completely vary the width of your grips based on your taste, or bar component configuration. I also use quaman stainless bar caps/ends, which are rock solid and very low profile/knee-friendly as well.

  • Tim D. says:

    I prefer sew-up leather or cotton bartape over anything. Both of these grip well, and are relatively thin over the bar.I want to feel just the bar as much as possible. I think “comfort” has more to do with bike setup than grips. If you’re putting too much weight on the bars, nothing will stop the pain, no matter how foamy or corky it is. If I rode bars like this on a utility bike, I could imagine using low profile rubber grips, but I would want them to be hard as rocks, as I tear up rubber grips fast.

  • Ben W says:

    XLC makes a set of “cork” lock-on style grip. I’m not even sure if it’s really cork or not. Probably not, but very hard to tell. Best of both worlds! I’ve been using a set on my Torker Graduate and loving them. One of the few grips I’ll happily ride without gloves on. Looks like you can find them on Amazon.

  • Julian C says:

    For single speed/ fixie or setups with enough grip space, try ODI Longnecks. They’re a longer version of the original ODI Mushroom grips and are one of the hottest selling BMX grips. Our shop can’t keep them in stock. These are fantastic once they’ve seen a bit of useage. We also carry a lock-on grip that uses cork roadbike tape as it’s grip surface. (under the Evo brand in Canada) The tape is replaceable with a little bit of patience.

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