Friday, March 11, 2011

Wood You?

Anybody a fan of wooden handlebar grips? I've been attracted to them for some time and have seen a few on vintage and custom bikes, but have not tried riding with them. I requested these from Bella Ciao, and they sent me a set to try along with a bundle of other stuff for the Superba prototype. The grips are handmade in the EU and Bella Ciao carries them as a special order item. Not sure whether I will actually use these on the Superba, but I wanted to see - and more importantly feel - what they were like.

Here is what the grips look like on a set of handlebars. They are not fancy, but they are classic, nicely finished, and ergonomically shaped. I don't know about Italian city bikes, but I think they would be great on a path racer with upside down North Roads.

I don't know whether I will like these in practice, but in theory I think they could work nicely. While modern bikes tend to come with heavily padded grips, over time cyclists can discover that they prefer a harder gripping surface. That may sound counterintuitive, but padded grips can tense up the hands, whereas hard grips can allow hands to relax. Still, it's possible that the wood could be too hard. I am also curious how well wooden grips hold up in the rain and humidity: Do they swell, crack or distort? Some of the vintage ones I've seen have been quite worn, but did not show any signs of cracking or warping.

Aside from Bella Ciao, there are a few manufacturers who sell different versions of wooden grips, including Dia Compe and Cardiff. I remember Rivendell used to offer some last year as well, but I no longer see them on their website. There were also wooden grips shown at NAHBS a couple of weeks ago, according to this picture via BikeSnobNYC. If you have experience with any of these or others, I'd like to hear about it.  I will be installing mine over the weekend and will make it a point to test them on a long ride, leave them out in the rain, and otherwise abuse them to see how they behave in comparison to other types of grips.

41 comments:

  1. I've never tried wood grips, but seems like they could be uncomfortable in the summer with sweaty palms. Would definitely have to wear gloves.

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  2. I dunno. My current experience is that I hate hard grips in any form, period. I recently transitioned from a bike with fake cork wrapped VO porteur bars, to a bike with even narrower porteur-style bars with hard plastic grips-- and so far, I am not at all digging on the hard plastic grips. I am seriously considering what kind of wrap I want to do to make it all better. This feeling, though may be exacerbated by the fact that I am using hard plastic grips in combination with Guidonnet levers that I simply cannot reach from the grip proper.

    On my 1972ish DL-1, for comfort reasons, I had to replace the aged (and damaged) plastic/rubber grips with new soft rubber ones from Harris.

    Now that I think of it, it could be that my hatred of hard grips I have experienced thus far has to do with not liking the hard ribbing on them-- ouch it hurts! I have never tried a contoured, hard grip, wooden or otherwise. It could be a totally different experience. Please tell us how it turns out!

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  3. I'm just finishing off a path racer style 3-speed and considered using the bamboo "Panda Treat" grips made by Portland Design Works. I was worried that they may become too slippery when damp or sweaty so bought their leather "Dapper Dan" grips instead. I haven't tried them out yet but they sure feel nice. I look forward to hearing your impressions of the wooden grips. Are they varnished / lacquered or just raw timber?

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  4. honestly? I have no occasion for these but I still think they're beautiful... (you may not know this about me yet, but...) I love woodworking and carpentry -- the concept of the Calfee bamboo bikes has always fascinated me. Really, any fine woodworking seems to grab my attention.

    RE: Swelling/cracking. I guess it depends on the wood and on how the wood was treated/finished.

    That's all, I guess.

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  5. Re slippery when sweaty - Does that not happen to you with hard plastic and shellacked cork? It does to me. I'll have to try the wooden ones in the rain and heat of course.

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  6. They are naked wood now. We could treat them. I can't imagine they would last otherwise.

    I doubt they would feel slippery when wet untreated, but if lacquered, all bets are off. Maybe a mild contour will help prevent slippage. Of course they could be checkered...

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  7. I'm finding it's not just the material that I like/dislike, it's the shape of the grip too. I had smooshy old foam grips on the Raleigh Sports when I bought it. Loved the smoosh, hated the look and the heat of the black grips in the summer (hot hands are miserable hands, I find, just like freezing hands. I'm soooo Goldilocksian about this). So then I got the portuguese cork grips from Rivendell. LOVED the shape, hated the hardness of the cork. Just when they started to break in... I dropped the bike and one grip shattered. Back to the drawing board: cheap leather grips. Like the cushion and the leather, but the shape stinks.

    Sigh. I will never be happy with this, I suspect... but as someone with chronic hand pain, I'm fussier than most.

    Wood would be too hard for me. I think they would hold up beautifully, if finished with a good varnish of some sort. And if you like hard grips, they'll look amazing.

    Now what I need is custom leather grips. Bet those don't exist.

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  8. Checkering sounds like a treat! Maybe chased or carved edges, as well as a 20 line-per-inch pattern...talk about bespoke.

    I'm not sure what species of timber those are made from, but nearly any wood will split or check if left untreated, especially in rain and hot sun over a long season.

    A few light coats of a polyurethane (minwax makes a good one in wipe-on form) will protect them to a certain degree, but moisture getting inside could crack them just as easily over the course of a year or two.

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  9. Amanda - Don't know whether you've read this, but I could not use the Guidonnet levers either.

    snarkypup - Useful to know that the Rivendell Portuguese cork grips are hard. The standard reconstituted cork models are too squishy for my liking. And you are right about the cracking on impact - That's one problem with cork grips.

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  10. I've never tried wooden grips. They are pretty, but something tells me I wouldn't want to ride with them. Shellacked tape and cork grips were not kind to my hands: I think the slickness of the surface was even worse for me than the hardness of the material. Even though I usually wear gloves, I find I'm most comfortable with, and have the easiest time gripping, something that has some kind of texture to it.

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  11. Actually I make wooden handlebars with integrated ergo grips.
    I like wood as a grip material allot. For several years I use it now and never had a problem with sweaty hands. The shown grips seem not to be very ergonomic- there is much room to improve that.

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  12. Off topic, but the BBC has put this up:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12668503

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  13. Justine - So what grips do you use on your upright bikes where you don't use bartape?

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  14. if they crack, you've abused them, and they have shrunk (thus causing the crack). I'd like to know how they feel too, I've ridden often with thin cloth tape and hard plastic grips without any problem. and the best is a thick grip because shocs and stress are less concentrated.

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  15. I will be interested in learning what you think of the wood grips once you've used them. I really like the looks of them. Of course, I really liked the looks of my shellacked cork grips, too, but I had to take them off my bike because they got so slick from moisture that I actually felt it was dangerous to ride with them. If you have more than one pair, maybe you could try one pair finished and the other unfinished. I suspect that, unfinished, they'll stay grippy but weather and possibly crack more rapidly. Finished, I suspect they'll get slick. Of course, there are different kinds of finishes. You might consider using a penetrating finish (e.g., tung oil) rather than a surface finish. I don't know, but it's possible that this would give you some moisture resistance without undue slickness. Like Ian, I've got Dapper Dan leather grips on one of my rides. I really like them a lot.

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  16. I've got a LOT of experience with wooden grips. Just not on bicycles. Shovels, hoes, machetes etc. I think wood is excellent for gripping, it's warmer to the touch in winter, doesn't get as hot in the summer and if it's not covered with a slick finish it has a surface that is naturally finely textured. A day spent in the garden with nice wooden handled tools is a much different experience than with some "cushy" blister making, cramp inducing, sweat soaked, filthy foam hotdog bun of misery(Damn, I had no idea I was so opinionated about this too...).

    I don't want to start a discussion about firearms but I still hunt and am just as "goldilocksian"(I'm really in love with that word,Snarkypup)about rifles as I am about bikes(I DO like bike people much more than gun people though). I much prefer a nice walnut stock over any modern composite wonderstock in spite of all the alleged practical advantages of kevlar and carbon fiber.

    As far as durability is concerned, if those wooden grips are made of some tightgrained fruitwood or fine hard maple they will probably rot to dust before they ever split or send out splinters to attack your unsuspecting fingers. The only thing that keeps me from ordering(or making) a pair is that I like the thinnest grip possible and all the wooden ones I've seen are too big a handful. Would some finely figured walnut veneer cemented on the handlebars seem too far over the edge of self indulgent affectation?

    Spindizzy

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  17. Just posting to make REALLY sure I can follow the comments. They look so interesting!

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  18. I have wood grips (Dia Compe, from Rivendell) on my Sweetpea and think they're great. The ones I have are very comfortable, no problems with sweaty or wet hands (though admittedly, if it's raining, I'm usually wearing gloves), and they've held up to the elements nicely (not that I leave the Sweetpea exposed for long periods of time)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/52346770@N00/3495463358/

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  19. speaking of wood, check out this site for the maker of wooden rims
    http://www.cerchiinlegnoghisallo.com/homeeng.php

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  20. My husband has wooden grips-- the ones from Rivendell. They are quite pretty and he likes how they feel. I don't remember him complaining about sweating in the summer but he is certainly the stoic in our relationship.

    They are quite large for women's hands, I think. Or mine, at least.

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  21. Bernie - that first one, the sort of mini tandem, I would love one! Thanks for the link

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  22. Shellac may be traditional, but as several have said, it's slippery. Instead of shellac, try using a couple coats of Minwax wood stain (the regular, no-polyurethane sort), then a couple coats spar varnish. This allows you to control color and texture separately. I treated a set of re-constituted cork grips this way, and they have survived winter on my Dutch cargo bike without issue.

    Those are beautiful grips, but moisture and dirt will also find them attractive. If you like the color, just give them a thin coat of varnish. Or enhance the color and grain with a light-colored stain such as birch. This will give them a lovely glow. Or maybe do a darker color?

    Wood stain soaks in, so does not affect texture. One thin coat of varnish will also not affect texture. If you do this, you should wipe off the drips and give it several days to dry at 70 degrees, or up to a week at lower temps.

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  23. Spindizzy - I think you ought to try making them!

    But as Spindizzy pointed out, I suspect that lacquering may not be necessary, depending on what kind of wood was chosen for the grips. I do not like too much shellac on anything and even on bartape I apply only thin layers. I am thinking of staining these to match the Brooks brown saddle and then giving them the thinnest possible shellac treatment.

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  24. I haven't tried wooden grips, but they would look cool on some vintage bikes.
    Just curious. Do they stay on with friction or do they have to be glued on?

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  25. They need some sort of adhesive, perhaps a rubber spray. Otherwise it's too easy to pull one off. The handlebar is so slippery.

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  26. Spindizzy, yeah, pls make checkered cocobolo thin grips for bikes k thnx bye! :)

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  27. There seems to be a question as to what wood was used to make the grips featured in this, the "Wood-you" posting.

    Obviously they are made of Yew wood.

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  28. Actually, I just noticed that according to the German description they are "Buche natur" (natural beechwood).

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  29. I think they are lovely to look at and I look forward to what you think of them after you give them a try. I haven't seen any here in NL and I was at Belga Fietsen on Sunday looking at goodies for hours.

    Leather hasn't been too popular here, or cork. We get rain so much. When it rains you see shopping bags used at seat covers and I'd be doing that to handles as well if I had them like that.

    I will also agree with others that super soft grips stink. Rein has a set of gel ones that have cracked on his Koga Miyata and I can't wait for the day he's not looking and I can change them out for something else. Typical Dutchman.. he'd rather not spend any money on his bike if he can help it.

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  30. If I lived in a climate where it rained constantly and my bike stayed mostly outdoors, I would simply use the traditional 3-speed plastic grips. I like those just fine on an upright bike.

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  31. I used the Rivendell wooden grips for about a year. I liked them, but I always ride with gloves (not due to grip material, but just because I hate road rash on my hands, and you never know...). I found that, once I got them oriented to match up well with the shape of my palms, they were quite comfortable.

    They never showed any sign of weather-stress, but they were finished with some sort of hard, clear finish, too.

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  32. I really like the wood stock and forearm on my shotguns far better than the ones made of composite. The best wood used, IMO, is walnut with a hand rubbed oil finish. I have hunted in the rain and snow and never had a problem with the grip. I'd like to try wooden grips on my bike but I would want them stained dark walnut/mahogany. I wear a 7 1/2 glove and worry about how big a wooden grip would be and if it would fit my hand.

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  33. All the extra gunstock comments made me go "hmmmm..."

    I use gunstock oil on my instrument neck shafts...it's a polymerized oil that wipes on very thin, and can build coats and be polished *if* you want it shiny. It's water resistant, and can be touched up if scuffed. It also lends a beautiful warm glow to most woods, comparable to light-amber shellac, but far more durable. You can use it over stained wood as well.

    It's sold in sporting goods stores in 4 ounce bottles as Tru-Oil, and the brand name is Birchwood Casey.

    Corey K

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  34. The link to the wooden rim source is just outright bike porn. I want/need/covet some wooden rims on the bamboo bike I'm(slooowwly) building.

    My Grandfather had a wooden rimmed fixed gear racing bike he rode all through the 30s to the (waterpowered)flourmill where he worked. Halfway through the war he stopped riding it for lack of tires and started hitching. One day the scrap drive truck came by and my 8 year old Dad told them to take it. My Grandfather talked about that bike till he died, and in the one blurry picture of him on it that survived him he looked quite the stud.
    I wish I knew what it was...

    Spindizzy

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  35. I 2nd everything Corey K says above about oil finishes in general and gunstock oil in particular. You can make it a nice soft matte finish or go all gaudy Liberace's piano shiney.

    Spindizzy

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  36. If you were going down the truly bespoke route - and why not? - you could get your wooden grips made out of reclaimed huon pine. Huon pines, which grow in Tasmania, are an extremely slow growing tree that is impervious to rot. THey live for thousands of years and are no longer harvested. They used to be though, a lot, and there is still plenty of wood around and available, since it lasts forever and can be reused and reworked. It is a lovely honey coloured wood, and would make lovely hand grips. Would not be that hard to manage.

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  37. I think the shape of those wooden grips does not make sense at all, because it will neither fit small hands, nor huge hands very well.
    A good (and even authentic) shape for wooden grips is (german) ebay article No. 280640250920. I have no relation to the seller or the auction whatsoever, but
    I bought a pair of these NOS wooden grips about two years ago, and while one grip went on the bar (of a 1930s Italian ladies bike I bought in Switzerland) well, the other cracked, because the beechwood had distorted in the process of drying (over decades, I guess) and due to this fact lost its round shape.
    I was able to fix the resulting gap with a slice of beechwood, and everything is fine since then, but of course it would have been better if the wood had been chosen more carefully before processing it. O.k., this is history anyhow, but if I were to buy another set of wooden grips, I wood like to take a close look to the grain beforehand, or alternatively chose a sort of wood that has no tendency to alter its shape in the course of the natural drying process.
    Maybe water resistant birch plywood would be a good option, too - I've seen grips from this material somewhere before, but cannot find it now.

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  38. Anon 8:21 - Actually these feel great in my hands, but I have not tried riding with them for a prolonged period of time yet. The vintage wooden grips I've tried are a bit too small for me. Can you post a link to the German ebay item? I can't seem to find it.

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  39. The wood grips look nice but they also
    look too thick and they appear as though
    they may slide off the end of the bar too easily...

    I know you are not going to like the look
    of these, but I find that Ergon grips
    are the most comfortable, especially if
    I am putting any weight on my hands:

    http://www.ergon-bike.com/us/en/product/gp1

    These provide a large area or my palms and they clamp to the handlebars so they do not rotate - a problem I have found with platic grips.

    So I wood probably not.

    John I

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  40. @Velouria: The complete link to those NOS wooden grips is http://cgi.ebay.de/Lenkergriffe-NSU-Adler-Wanderer-Durkopp-Brennabor-/280640250920?pt=Transportwesen&hash=item4157766428 . I did not try them on a longer ride either, and I think that maybe they would be a bit to small/short for my hands in the long run, but in gloves my size is 10,5 - not so small, so I think they should fit smaller hands very well. The handle bar ends on the aforementioned Italian/Swiss bike (featuring the beautiful and quite ingenious combined rod brake system you described in an other post :-)) are so short that longer wooden grips could not be fitted anyhow.

    And of course I would be happy to hear that those Bella Ciao grips suit your needs well, not to be misunderstood - I just could not see what the large 'bulbes' at the ends should be good for.

    Matthias

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  41. Velouria: On my LeTour III mixte, which is my only bike that doesn't have tape on its bars, I use Oury grips. They are the same grips I used to ride on my mountain bike. I have always liked them because they are rubber and have a somewhat tacky surface, but are not too thick. Plus, I found a pair in a shade of brown that was a fairly close match for my Gyes Parkside saddle. (I tensioned it just last week and it feels better now.)

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