Bicycle handlebar grips are typically made from rubber or foam. Grabbing your bicycle handlebars and feeling a sticky gross texture is the worst. The sensation of melted rubber is unpleasant, but when you have to hold it for your entire ride, it makes the trip unpleasant and leaves your hands feeling dirty.
You need to know what to do when bicycle handlebar grips melt.
When bicycle handlebar grips begin to melt, there is no way to put them back together, so you have two options. First, you can replace your grips with either more rubber or foam grips which don’t melt. Second, you can cover them in grip tape and try to make the best of a sticky situation for a while.
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Why Do Bicycle Grips Get Sticky
Bicycle grips get sticky from exposure to oils in your skin, exposure to oxygen or ozone, and heat from the sun. There are two forms of rubber degradation.
The first is called chain hardening, and it causes the rubber to fade, crack and become brittle.
However, your handlebars are more likely to suffer from chain scission. This process causes softening as the polymer chains in the rubber break down.
According to Martin’s Rubber, “What is rubber deterioration? Most elastomers undergo rubber degradation over time, and the most common rubber deterioration causes are exposure to light, oxygen (ozone), and heat.”
How Do You Fix Sticky Bike Handlebar Grips
You cannot fix melted handlebar grips, but you can fix them if they are only sticky from regular use. There are plenty of ways to get the funk off your handlebars.
I recommend using a small fingernail cleaning brush or straw cleaner if you have deeply textured grips, but a washcloth or sponge will do the trick when they’re smoother.
Avoid steel wool and the harsh scrubbing surface found on the top of some sponges, as this will abraid the rubber material.
- Degreaser – You can use a water-soluble degreaser to remove buildup from your sticky handlebars. Make sure you read the label to see if it’s safe for use on the rubber before you apply, and always rinse when you finish.
- Lighter Fluid – Lighter fluid is often recommended as a quick fix for sticky handlebars. On the one hand, it works. However, on the other hand, lighter fluid can cause chemical burns on your skin, plus it is toxic and highly flammable. Please do not use lighter fluid for cleaning.
- Replacements – Some messes are just too deeply set in to fix. Fortunately, new bicycle handlebars are a relatively inexpensive solution.
- Rubbing Alcohol – Rubbing alcohol is another not-so-great solution that works. While it’s not as bad for you as lighter fluid, I don’t recommend rubbing alcohol as it may dry out the rubber needlessly, contributing to deterioration and promoting chain hardening.
- Soap and Water – A simple solution of mild detergent like Dawn dish soap and warm water is all you need for most handlebar buildup. The Dawn brand, in particular, is known for its oil-removing qualities and is gentle enough that it is used to get oil off of animals when tankers spill in the ocean.
- Replace Regularly – Typical bicycle handlebar grips last 2 to 3 years before you should replace them.
How Do You Make Your Grips Not Sticky
The best way to make your grips not sticky s through prevention. You can always park somewhere cool or shady to minimize the heat exposure that breaks polymer chains down.
If that’s not possible, try insulating them to help keep the material cooler and prevent your hands from touching them. The only other option is to replace your rubber grips with foam.
- Grip Tape – Choose a high-quality tape like Supacaz Super Sticky Kush Star Fade Bar Tape from Amazon. Wrapping your rubber handlebar grips in textured tape keeps the cushioning in place for your hands while preventing finger oils from sinking in.
- Park Where It Is Cooler – Keeping your bicycle cool will undoubtedly slow the chain scission on your grips. Indoor air conditioning is best, but simply parking in the shade will also help. You should also be careful when parking bikes in uninsulated garages and avoid keeping them near water heaters, furnaces, and other heat sources.
- Wear Gloves – Another great way to keep your grips from getting sticky, especially when the problem is not melting, is gloves. Cyclists’ gloves are readily available for all weather conditions.
- Buy Better Grips – High-quality grips with an extended warranty are often made from a mixture of materials and have been chemically treated to help reduce chain scission.
How To Clean Sticky Handlebar Grips
Sometimes handlebar grips are only sticky from sweat and finger oils, or you’ve spilled something on them. In this case, deep cleaning will solve the problem quickly and efficiently.
Use any of the methods below for a perfect clean.
- Remove the grips entirely and wipe down your handlebars with a damp cloth. Meanwhile, soak the handlebar grips in warm soapy water. You can dry these off with a microfiber towel or let them air dry completely before putting them back on.
- For highly textured grips, get a soft to medium bristle brush like you use to clean the insides of reusable straws or to get the dirt out from under your fingernails. Using a diluted water-soluble degreaser, scrub the whole surface of your grips to remove any traces of oils or debris. Rinse the grips off once they are clean and pat dry with a microfiber cloth.
- You can also use spray-on rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth to clean off your sticky handlebar grips. Just as it kills germs and dissolves most dirt on your hands, this useful ‘sanitizer’ will do the same for your bicycle grips. I also strongly recommend rinsing the alcohol residue away with clean water.
Helpful Tips To Know About Bicycle Handlebar Grips Melting
Rubber handlebar grips can melt over time thanks to exposure to heat and air. However, many so-called melted handlebars are only sticky from buildup.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know about handlebar grips melting.
- Some bicycle grips are made to feel tacky on purpose. This is a feature that helps a rider retain grip. It is beneficial for dirt bikes, gravel bikes, and downhill mountain bikes that tend to get jostled around more than outer bike styles because of their paths. All that bumping around makes your hands more likely to slip, which can lead to severe accidents. By adding that texture, you stay safer. However, most bikes don’t feature tacky handlebar grips.
- Silicone rubber is more durable than most forms and can withstand temperatures over 200 °C (392° F) and down to -60 °C (-76° F). If you can find silicone handlebar grips, use them. ESI Chunky MTB Grips from Amazon are made from silicone and are among the only silicone grips available.
- In a pinch, don’t remove your handlebar grips altogether. Even when they are melting, they provide a more secure grip on the metal than bare hands. Additionally, metal heats up faster in the sun, and you can burn yourself if you have to park somewhere with no shade between rides. Instead, use electrical tape to cover the gross, melted handlebars. This waterproof tape is nonporous, so the ‘goo’ won’t ooze through when appropriately applied, with no gaps. Plus, it offers a better surface to grab onto than most types of tape. You’ll get a few more rides out of your bike while you wait for new handlebar grips.
- Foam grips may seem like an ideal solution, but they don’t last as long and will break down in their own way. Either way, you will need to replace the grips regularly. Most professionals use foam and replace their grips frequently.
Being proactive and working to prevent your handlebar grips from melting is the best way to make them last longer.
Sadly, even the best grips won’t last forever. The polymer chains that keep the rubber in a solid piece will eventually begin to dry and crack, or more likely, break apart and become soft, which can feel like melting.
Still, with regular deep cleaning, some grip tape, or a set of cycling gloves, you can help prolong their working life. Remember to change your grips every 2 to 3 years for the best results.