Handguards remain a bit divisive amongst mountain bikers, at least according to some rigorous trailside polling. Some folks think it’s one step too close to moto aesthetics, or just another frivolous accessory to add to your blinged-out bike, while others see them as a useful and valuable component for protection and performance. As handguards see more use on the EWS circuit, I would venture a guess that we’ll start to see them at more trailheads as well, for those things always seem to trickle down.
I’ll be comparing three of the most popular and well-designed options on the market these days in hopes of narrowing down the choice for those looking to keep their knuckles safe and sound.
Prior to the individual examples, though, it’s worth laying out some general thoughts on the genre in general - why even consider running handguards in the first place? The first and most obvious answer is the protection from brush and debris, keeping your tender little fingers safe and sound behind a nice plastic shield. They can glance off trees as well in a pinch, should you cut a corner too close. Another benefit is the protection they provide to your cockpit controls, as brake levers and shifters will no longer be the first thing to hit the ground in the case of a crash, providing the handguards have enough coverage.
The other benefits are a bit less obvious, as they’re more psychological than anything else. There’s something about having the visual cue just beyond your hand that makes cornering feel more committed and secure, almost like the mental effect of knowing you’re wearing kneepads - you can just commit that tiny bit more. Some claim that handguards can help with cold hands in the winter, but I’ve found that unless you’re just flying down a section of road there’s little noticeable difference in chill.
One last unforeseen upside to the cockpit accessories was the addition of another hand position when climbing fire roads and mellower sections of trail. Not unlike inner-mounted bar ends or Togs, the mounts of the handguards allow you to open your palm and still get to the brake lever, giving you a more upright and comfortable climbing position if you should want it.
Each of these options had unique attributes and benefits, so read on to see how each of the handguards shook out on trail.
• MSRP: $79.95
• Measured weight: 131 grams
• Replaceable polycarbonate shield
• Aluminum mount
• Made in California
With a smokey clear plastic guard and a grey anodized aluminum mount, the RevGrips handguards certainly make the extra accessory look as clean as possible. Thanks to a high arch in the mount, there is no interference with your brakes, though the relatively square faceplate allows for some levers to contact the plastic when the reach is fully extended. This may pose an issue for those that run especially flat brake levers, doubly so when combined with long levers assemblies like that on the SRAM Code.
The hard polycarbonate shield does a great job of holding brush and branches off the bars, keeping your hands and brakes unfazed. That said, that rigidity might bite you if you smack a tree at the wrong angle, as the shield could dig into your hand in a worst-case scenario.
Despite the lack of reach adjust, I do think the RevGrips' mount is the nicest of the bunch, with a smooth feel and small footprint. Per the secondary hand position comment above, these served as the most comfortable perch while rolling along.
Sleek and robust mount +
Easily replaceable parts
Hard plastic shield can do damage in a crash-
Lack of mount length adjustment
• MSRP: $66.41
• Measured weight: 170 grams
• Flip chip for lateral and fore-aft adjustment
• Aluminum mount
• Flexible plastic with foam backing
• Made in France
The Sendhit Nocks have seen some major screentime on the EWS circuit over the past year, as they've been consistently mounted to the front of the overall winner Jesse Melamed's bike at every round. This should bode well, and for the most part it does - the Nocks are quite well made. The coverage is very wide, and just tall enough to do the trick without too much extra material. Thanks to a soft plastic with a foam interior, they should be comfortable in the case of a hard hit or crash.
That said, they are a bit overbuilt compared to the others on test, with more parts and a larger footprint than the other two. The primary frustration here is the mounting clamp, as it can get in the way of certain controls, especially if you're running an AXS controller. The other options have the mount on the frontside of the bar, keeping the back relatively low-profile and out of the way. A small gripe, but with some handlebars as cluttered
as they are, every bit counts.
I had the unfortunate opportunity to see how all three options fared in the event of a crash, and found that the relatively soft plastic of the Nocks was the least effective at protecting your controls from getting moved around or damaged. A relatively simple washout still resulted in a turned and marred brake lever, which is frustrating when you're hoping to just hop back on your bike in the middle of a race run.
Largest coverage option+
Foam and soft plastic for comfort
Least robust in a crash-
More parts and a larger footprint than other options-
Mount design conflicts with some controls
• MSRP: €59.90, ~$66.00
• Measured weight: 105 grams
• Adjustable-length aluminum mount (also available in plastic)
• Flexible plastic shell
• 13 shell colors, 24 decal kits available
AVS Racing might be one of the oldest players in this game, as their delightfully vintage website suggests. As the choice of both Sam Hill and Nico Vouilloz, their reputation seems well founded. The AVS shield is the smallest of the group, but the shape is well considered, giving solid protection to your hand, while remaining sleek in the areas you'd tend to extend your fingers to grab brake. Heavily domed, the shield does the best job of the group in glancing branches and brush away from your grip.
The main downside to the AVS design is the relatively flat mount can conflict with some brake lever assemblies, namely the tall master cylinder on Shimanos. This should only be a problem if you run your levers Yoann Barelli flat, but it's still something to consider.
Least interference with other controls+
Good shape for glancing impacts+
Tons of wild color options
Coverage may not be enough for some-
Won't clear a flat-mounted Shimano lever
Each of the handguards here do a solid job of keeping your knuckles un-bloodied, your hands a bit warmer, and your cornering just a tad more committed. The value in each will be up to you and your specific cockpit setup, but for me, there was one option that ended up on my personal bike more than the rest: AVS. They have the smallest form factor, but do just as good a job at keeping your hands protected as the larger alternatives, with the added benefit of being less noticeable while you're riding.
In terms of general fitment and space concerns, both the RevGrips and AVS are best mounted directly inside of the grip, while the Nocks allow for a bit more side-to-side adjustment should you need it.
Though I've been using the alloy mounts for all three options, it's worth noting that AVS is the only brand that makes a plastic version, which strikes me as a wiser move for carbon bars in the case of a crash. I never had an issue with the mounts gouging carbon bars, but it seems like the right (wrong) situation could do some damage.
Those who ride trails that warrant handguards know who they are, and I must say: as a long time skeptic, I now understand the appeal. The protection and crash insurance is one thing, but the weirdly beneficial cornering effect is a big selling point. I can see why folks are running them year round, and for me they'll be a happy companion whenever the brush starts jumping out into the trail again.