For the past 3 years I've been using ESI grips because they are the softest.
|ESI chunky grips|
My past grip preferences included Pedros Diamond Vice grips, Serfas CNGB Connectors Grip and OURY grips.
The softer the better in my opinion.
ESI focuses its attention on the material instead of what the molding texture will be. The material used is soft surgical grade silicon. This provides vibration dampening, creating less hand fatigue and allowing you to get a more secure grip on the handlebar. All this gives you more control, making you ride better.
On long descents, my hands are less likely to be uncomfortable. It kinda feels like there is a little bit more suspension on the bike.
This past weekend, during a race at French Creek Park in Pennsylvania, these grips showed their superior vibration damping qualities during the rocky descents. There were so many grapefruit size rocks packed so densely that they were unavoidable.
In this particular race going fast on the descents was all about holding on tight and just taking the beating on the rocks. I ride a hard tail so there's even less forgiveness. The chain was bouncing around (bounced off several times, not easy with XTR) so hard that the sound it made had me convinced I broke a spoke. Several times I hit a rock particularly hard and thought that I must have flatted a tire or dented my Stan's Arch EX rims. No damage occurred to the wheels (durable wheels, not even out of true).
I felt in control the whole time despite all the chaos that was occurring underneath me. The vibration damping let me hold on tight during those descents with out hand fatigue through out the entire race.
In a way, ESI grips feel similar to me to the old foam grip. Examples...
But unlike those older foam grips these don't wear out as easily, retain their shape better because they are made out of 100% silicone, don't get wet and soggy in muddy races and don't spin on the bar when they get wet. Even with wet conditions, you can still get a secure grip (as good as when they're dry - not so for foam grips, or really any other grip). ESI grips can last for a couple years with heavy use as long as you protect the ends from getting torn.
I normally put my ESI grips on with hair spray (ESI advertises on the website you don't need to use hair spray, but I find it makes it easier). The hair spray lubricates the grip to slide on. When it dries, it helps the grip stick to the bar (I hear rubbing alcohol works well too). That said, it's not necessary. Others on my team don't use anything to install them other than an air compressor. The grips stay in place when installed with no rotating on the bar.
It seems to be common to get a tear on the side of the grip (I've done it to my ESI grips a few times and know others who have too) if you crash or hit something with the end of your bars. The plastic end protector included with the grips help prevent this but are not as protective as others I have used. There are many companies that sell more heavy duty bar plugs made out of aluminum (that fasten in and are less likely to pop out) that provide great protection. ESI recommends Hope Grip Doctors.
Here are a few examples...
|If you have carbon bars, this is the safest way to go. These have screw on ends that expand a wedge inside the bar (many companies make plugs similar to these )|
|If you are using aluminum bars you can get away with lighter plugs that are secured on with screws (several companies make bar plugs like this), but these end up damaging the bars and probably aren't the best for long term durability|
ESI is now making even thicker grips called Extra Chunky. They look identical the older thinner (Racers Edge and chunky) versions except they are thicker. I'm using the Chunkys on my bike this year. The thicker grip is more comfortable to hold onto. I haven't tried the Extra Chunky yet, but I'm guessing they are even more comfortable to hold onto.
|The yellow grips I currently have on my race bike are the Chunky size.|
|The original (thinnest size)|
|Color options for Racers Edge and Chunky. The Extra Chunky is only available in black|
|Chunky grip set weighs 45 grams|
|Chunky is only a couple of mm thicker than the Racers Edge size but noticeably better for me and the way I like my grips|