Are Foam Grips Any Good for Mountain Biking?

Foam grips don't sound terribly exciting, and in the past I've completely dismissed them for a whole bunch of reasons. But after testing some, it turns out they are pretty comfortable.

I’ve always known that getting the touch points on a bike dialed is one of the most important and least costly things I can do to make a bike more enjoyable to ride. The thing is, it’s hard to know what that actually means, because everyone is different what might be right for one person could be totally wrong for somebody else.

The humble lock-on grip. A solid choice, but is there something better?

So what next? Well, if it’s comfortable, you stick with it. If it’s not comfortable, maybe it’s time to buy something new. As mountain bikers, we often learn to live with a little pain, because mountain biking should be hard, right? A colleague once told me while discussing saddles and saddle pain that “there are no heroes.” In other words, while competitive cycling is physically challenging, why put up with pain and discomfort when you don’t need to? This brings me to my point in a roundabout sort of way — sometimes in biking it’s hard to know what is bad pain and what is just par for the course.

The SQlab 30x handlebars might look weird but my god they’re comfy.

I’m bleating on about this because I’ve recently made some changes to my cockpit setup that have made a huge difference to my riding comfort in a way that I didn’t think I could. One of those things are the SQlab 30x handlebars with a 12-degree back-sweep that you’ll have to pry from my cold, dead hands.

But I’m here today to tell you about foam grips. Foam grips don’t sound terribly exciting I know, and in the past I’ve completely dismissed them for a whole bunch of reasons. They’re for XC racing weight-weenies. They’re a bit retro. They don’t lock on, etcetera, etcetera.

Getting comfortable with foam grips

I’m lucky in that I get to try a whole bunch of bike parts sometimes and often I’m quite surprised at just how good something is, and foam grips are one of those things. One problem that I’ve always had is that on longer rides of 30km and upwards, the edges of my palms get quite sore. I’ve tried any number of lock-on mountain bike grips with two collars, one collar, different thicknesses, compounds etc. and it never seems to help. A couple of friends recommended foam grips and so I thought I’d give it a try.

The Wolf Tooth Fat Paw grips are super comfy, if a little chunky

I wound up trying a bunch of Wolf Tooth’s dual-density silicone grips including:

The Wolf Tooth Karv grips ended up working really well for me with a regular round profile and a 32mm diameter; they just feel comfortable and are easy to get along with. The Fat Paw adds a little extra comfort but I’m not sure about the diameter at 36mm, though if you have big hands these could be a winner. Personally I wasn’t a fan of the shape of the Cam grips because I found it tough to find a sweet spot in the positioning between climbing and descending.

Foam grip installation and security

First up, installation is a little more tricky than a lock-on grip, but only marginally. A liberal amount of rubbing alcohol helps the grips slide on easily.

My second worry was security, and honestly they feel super solid on the bar. I didn’t need to do anything special to keep them in place, and through a bunch of super wet rides on gnarly North Shore rainforest trails I never had a grip slip once. I can tell you from experience that when a lock-on grip slips, it’s the opposite of fun. That said, the silicone grips are a little more fragile than a rubber grip and tear a little more easily from crashes.

The North Shore isn’t short of gnarly trails for testing components

My biggest takeaway from running foam grips is simply how comfortable they are. Sure most grips are comfortable for a while, but even on shorter rides the the comfort of the foam grips is hugely noticeable. And even on long rides my hands felt fresh as a daisy. Crucially, I haven’t had any hand pain, and while my calluses are still holding up strong, the edges of my palms haven’t given me any chaffing pain.

More surprisingly I experienced less arm pump on the North Shore’s long technical trails, which meant less stopping for breaks and more chance to enjoy the flow, or what little flow I’m able to find. Swapping back to regular grips for one ride confirmed my findings and led to the onset of arm pump while trying to squeeze in a top-to-bottom ride before work one day.

The Wolf Tooth Cam profile wasn’t quite to my taste, but still mega comfy.

I’ll happily say that foam grips aren’t for everyone; if you’re going full send all the time and crashing a lot, they may not stand up to the abuse. Maybe your hands just want something a little firmer and foam isn’t for you.

However grips are one of the cheapest upgrades you can make to a bike, and at $26.95 if you ever experience hand discomfort you could do worse than trying a set of foam grips next time your regular grips wear out.

For me personally, my bike just got a whole lot more comfortable and I think I’m a convert. For everyone else, I urge you to experiment with your cockpit setup because you might just find your new favorite thing.