Whether you're pounding over rocks and roots or flying down a steep descent, you definitely don't want your hands to be slipping off your mountain bike's handlebar grips. With that in mind, UK-based TMR Designs recently set about designing grips that could be custom-molded to the size and shape of an individual rider's hands. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the resulting Imprint Bicycle Grips are now in production. I got my hands on a pair – literally – to find out if they really make a difference.
When you first pull the grips out of the box, they're still perfectly smooth. In order to "personalize" them, you start by sliding an included tube of plastic imprint mesh over each one. You then allow them to sit in freshly-boiled water for two minutes – this causes the polymer used in the actual gripping section to become soft and moldable.
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Next, you quickly dip them in cold water to cool them off a bit, then squeeze them in your hand. The polymer will take on the impression of your gripped hand, plus the mesh will leave a textured diamond grid pattern on the surface. Finally, you dip them back in the cold water to set the polymer, then you peel off the mesh and mount 'em on your handlebars.
I found the molding process to be fairly simple and straight-ahead. Because I wear gloves when riding, however, I figured that I should also wear them when doing the molding. The first time around, the softness of the gloves caused the hand imprint to be rather subtle and ineffective-looking.
Fortunately, though, you can re-boil and re-mold the grips over and over. The next time, I squeezed much harder and got a considerably more pronounced impression.
Mounting them on the bars is like mounting any other grips – you just have to make sure that they're rotated into a position where your hands will naturally rest in the molded impressions when you're riding. Also, as is the case with most other higher-end models, they have an integrated aluminum locking ring that you tighten down to help keep them in place.
Even as I was removing my old conventional grips, I must admit that those ones did seem to feel rather hard and unyielding as compared to the Imprints. This makes sense, though – with the Imprints, the protruding features on the inside of your hand end up making deeper impressions in the polymer, helping to keep the pressure from being concentrated in those spots when you're riding. According to TMR, this should also allow the grips to last longer than others, as they will wear out more evenly.
When it came time to ride, one of the big things I wondered was whether or not I'd constantly be fumbling around, trying to align my hands with the grip impressions. Once I got going, though, things just seemed to naturally fall into place. Although I'd sometimes find myself idly running my fingers over the "finger ruts," I never felt like I was required to actively search them out.
I also wondered if it would get tiring, keeping my hands in the same position for two to three hours at a time. Well, in my case at least, it didn't. Even without the Imprints, changing up my hand position to any noticeable extent would involve curling them awkwardly forward or back. Riders using bar ends could always switch over to those every now and then, to mix things up a little.
As far as increased gripping ability goes, I can certainly attest to the fact that my hands didn't go flying off the Imprints even once – not that they've done so with regular grips very often, either. It's hard to say whether it actually required less effort to hold onto them, but as mentioned earlier, they certainly felt more natural and user-friendly than what I'd been using before.
Imprint Grips are available now, from the TMR website. They're priced at £24.99 (about US$40) for the Standard version which has a plastic base, or £39.95 ($65) for the aluminum-bodied Premium edition. Worldwide shipping is currently included in those prices.
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