LoamLab is a Squamish based company run by industry veteran Mark Haimes.
The purpose of the Counterpunch is to protect your fifth metacarpal, AKA your pinky, from impacts with trees and other narrow trail features. I wouldn't fault you for being skeptical of the LoamLab Counterpunch at first glance. But after a year of on-and-off testing I've found some real benefits to these metal doodads.
• Weight: 68 grams per pair or 164 grams with grips.
• MSRP: $29 USD or $44 USD with grips
• Compatible with ODI dual clamp grips
• Works with other open-end grips
• More Info: LoamLab
Installing the Counterpunch with LoamLab's own grips (or any open end grip) is simple. Slide the grip onto the bar. Slide the Counterpunch into the end of the handlebar making sure the flanges on the grip key into the endcap. Then tighten up the lockring and endcap to 2.5 and 5-6nm respectively. If you prefer a grip that comes with a closed end-cap then you'll have to cut the end off yourself.
This review is about the Counterpunch, but I want to touch on the LoamLabs grips because they designed to pair with the Counterpunch. LoamLab's own grips use a similar concept to OneUp's grips with cutouts in the inner plastic sleeve to allow rubber to contact the handlebar directly. The idea being that this will provide a similar feel to push-on grips. Overall, the LoamLab grips offered great integration with the Counterpunch. The shape was fine but the grip lacked texture and didn't work that well when wet. The LoamLab grips are also some of the shortest grips I've seen. This makes sense, though, because with the Counterpunch you tend to use only the outer end of the grip, so why not make the grip shorter? For me the length was not an issue as much as the lack of soft rubber and texture. I chose to cut the ends off a worn pair of Burgtec grips I had laying around.
I liked the Counterpunch, but opted to switch back to my trusty Burgtec grips after a few months on the LoamLabs.Feel
LoamLab touts performance benefits and states "As soon as testing began, several riders reported improved control, and declared it the top reason to run them." While I did notice my hands pressing into the bar ends slightly, I wouldn't say that I felt a massive change in control. I've personally never had my hand slip off the end of the handlebar, and I don't tend to push or pull on my handlebars in that direction so I didn't feel any benefits in terms of control. For the most part I didn't feel the Counterpunch at all, and could focus on riding my bike as normal. Which is exactly what I had hoped for.
The Counterpunch doesn't change the aesthetic of your bike like a full blown hand guardProtection
The main purpose of the Counterpunch is to protect your pinkies from trees. Do they deliver? Short answer: Yes. I smashed them into all sorts of rocks and trees over the past year and they have protected my pinkies admirably. I would recommend these to anyone who wants cheap insurance for their pinky fingers. I also noticed that, unlike a rubber endcap, the curved metal of the Counterpunch does tend to slide off trees slightly easier. Glancing off a tree with the Counterpunch is ever so slightly "slipperier" feeling than with a standard rubber grip. More of a "click" instead of a "thwack." All that being said, this isn't a magical product that lets you ride through anything. Neither are handguards.
Comment below if you have pinky scars.How do they compare to handguards?
Obviously this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. The Counterpunch and handguards have quite a different form-factor, but their goals are roughly the same. To protect your hands.
Hitting a tree is still hitting a tree. A plastic shield or small hook of metal can only do so much. I think the Counterpunch does a good job of giving you a better chance of getting away with clipping a tree, which can feel like a huge benefit if you're regularly cutting it close on tight sections of trail
. Handguards don't specifically protect your pinky, and in my experience they don't protect your pinky as well as the Counterpunch. If your pinkies look anything like mine, or you've broken your metacarpal before, these might be a good product for you.
Unlike handguards the Counterpunch does not protect your brake levers
Handguards offer protection from bushes and thorns as well as crash protection for your brake levers. On the flip side, I've bent and broken multiple handguards while the Counterpunch seem pretty much indestructible. Handguards may protect your brake levers but they tend to be sacrificial. Pair this with the fact that most handguards are twice the price of the Counterpunch and the Counterpunch definitely wins in terms of value. It's also worth noting the crash that broke my brake lever was quite violent and I have a feeling handguards might not have made a difference.
My assessment is that the Counterpunch bar ends are better for clipping trees and handguards are better for bashing bushes. For the sake of science I tried both simultaneously at TranSierra Norte because I figured I would encounter both situations over the course of that race. I did. After I got over the look, I was happy to find that I was able to reap the benefits of both products simultaneously. The Counterpunch saved my pinkies multiple times on the tight forested stages and the hand guards worked well to fend off cactus on the lower elevation desert stages. If it works who cares if it looks a bit weird?
Doubled up on the doodads
I became particularly aware of the benefits of both the Counterpunch and the handguards when I returned from my trip and rode my other bike without new-fangled hand protection. As is often the case with product testing, you don't realize how much of a difference the product makes until you go without it. In this case I realized I was used to clipping trees and smashing my hands through thorn bushes with much less consequence. I was quickly reminded that both of those things hurt without added protection. I'd say both the Counterpunch and handguards are effective. The Counterpunch gives a big benefit on tight trails, while the handguards give a benefit on overgrown trails, albeit this benefit is less significant especially if you wear thicker gloves. It's honestly nice to have both when things get really weird.
The MTB equivalent of barkbusters? Regardless there's still nothing on the market that protects my gnome. Sorry buddy. Durability
The Counterpunch have held up well, displaying only a light patina of scratches to let me know it's doing its job. The internal expanding mechanism seems tough and shows no sign of coming loose or ripping out. I'd guess the Counterpunch even adds a bit of durability to the ends of your fancy carbon handlebar. For those who are skeptical, LoamLab has a video involving a hammer that shows the Counterpunch bending with no sign of damage to a carbon bar.
Works as advertised and protects your pinkies from harsh impacts+
High quality and reasonable price compared to handguards+
Easy to install with open end grips
Requires very mild hacking to work with closed end grips-
Doesn't offer brake protection like handguards