Normally, this review would get shuffled into a Radar Roundup. Let’s be real, it’s just a mountain bike grip. But Travis Engel has been using the new Race Face Chester for a few weeks now, and he thought it deserved a spotlight, thanks to its two available sizes and surprisingly clever design. Also, the next Radar Roundup isn’t until Monday, and the Chester launch will probably be old news by then. It’s just a mountain bike grip.
The first thing I do to any review bike is swap out the grips. I’m picky that way. It’s the bike-tester equivalent of bringing my own hot sauce to a taco stand. But I know what I like, and I like thick grips. Normally, it’s the Ergon GA2 Fat. I like their size, I like the angle the clamp bolts are clocked, and I like that they’re short enough to leave room to put my controls where I want them. But I’m not 100% into the GA2 Fat’s tapered shape. I get that it focuses the padding out near the edge of the hand where there’s the most force, but I wouldn’t mind having a little more diameter across the middle of my hand and towards my thumb and index finger. I’d go into my experience with the many other thick grips I’ve used, but it’s already taking me too long to get to the point here.
The Chester comes in a Small (31 mm) and Large (34 mm) diameter, but of course it’s not that simple. The Small actually measures about 34 mm at each end, and quickly tapers down to 31 mm in the middle. I spent very little time on the smaller grips because of my XXL-sized hands, but I liked the tall, squishy ridges that make up the inboard taper. They offered some soft security to my thumb wrap without effectively adding much bulk. But honestly, those weren’t for me. I came for the Large.
These measured almost 36 mm at the outer tip, thanks to a little security curb that I personally could have done without. It’s a common trend in grip shape, and I get that it adds some support, but it creates a pressure point for riders like me who like to hang our palms at the very tips of our bars. Though my Ergon GA2 Fats do have a gradual taper towards the outward end, there’s no bump, which I like. Same goes for the Sensus Meaty Paws, Deity Supracush, and PNW Loam XL. If you’re a fellow hanger, those may be more comfortable. So, I choked up on my bar slightly while testing the Chesters, and I found a lot to love.
I immediately liked the deep channel underneath the grip where the tips of my fingers settled. The fundamentals of this design aren’t new. A lot of grips pair an ODI Mushroom-style ridged skin with a raised waffle print at the fingertips. But Race Face paired the raised contours with a smooth, sunken panel that really does make you feel a bit more “locked in.” The effect may be partly psychological, but not 100%. I noticed my fingers were a bit less fatigued on long rough descents because, in a small way, it was geometry and not friction that my hands were rotating against when I’d lean back or bear down as speeds and inclines changed. I haven’t had the grips long enough to say whether those raised ridges will stay sharp and stout for the life of the grip, but it may be one of those performance trade-offs like soft-compound tires. At least there’s what seems to be a longevity-focused raised panel pointing towards the palm where the Mushroom ribs are a little shallower, since that’s the area that will wear out first. It should keep the grip feel from changing too much as that high-traffic area inevitably smooths out over time.
Really my only substantive complaint about the Chesters is in how they clocked the clamp bolts. Race Face is not the only brand guilty of this, but can we stop pretending clamp-on grips don’t have clamps and just point the bolts straight up so we can reach them? Everyone’s setup will vary, but on two of the three bikes I’ve been using the Chesters, the bolts point straight at my controls, whether I had the pointing forward or rearward. So, I have to either use a stubby hex wrench or rotate everything else out of the way to tighten them. I mean, they went to the trouble of making a left- and right-side clamp so the bolts are facing the same way. Be proud of that and point the bolts up! To be fair, the issue was on bikes with original SRAM AXS shifters, where there’s a lot of bulk near the bar. It’s just that the fingertip channel means there’s a specific position where the grips are at their best, and that position led to conflicts for me. Ok, complaint over. Kudos to Race Face for perforating the plastic inner shell to allow the rubber to peak through, adding security to the clamping force. That’s becoming common practice, but it’s worth mentioning it’s in practice here, too.
Being Race Face, there’s also a style element to these grips. There are nine different clamp colors (Black, Blue, Purple, Turquoise, Kashmoney, Forest Green, Orange, Silver, and Red) that can be paired with a black grip, or a gum grip that comes with a black clamp only. They’re $27 a pair USD, or $32 CAD. Speaking of CAD, Race Face has had some clever vending machines set up at a couple North Shore trailheads for the past few days, handing out free grips. But the vending machines are probably all out of grips by now, and may only have a few rolls of Wint-O-Green Life Savers and a few bags of Triscuits.
See more at Race Face.
- Two sizes!
- Classic Mushroom ribbed style, if you’re into that
- Confidence-inspiring tactile feel under fingertips
- Slight outside flange isn’t for everyone
- Clamp orientation might make the bolts hard to reach for some cockpit setups