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I’ve had a set of Dapper Dan grips from Portland Design Works (PDW) for several months now, and have put them to the test on my daily urban travels.

The grips are well-designed, easy to install and use, comfortable, and attractive. The construction consists of a rigid tube wrapped in a piece of vegetable-tanned leather, laced up on one side. The ends of the tube are fitted with binder clamps, to secure the grips onto the handlebars.

The grips are available in two shapes: straight, and ergo. The straight grips are cylinder-shaped. The ergo shape has a bulb-out to support the palm of your hand. I tested the straight grips.

I installed the grips without difficulty, though it would be nice to have a little bit of instruction included with the package. It took me a couple of re-installations to figure out that setting up the clamps so that the bolts faced the outside would make installation and removal much faster and easier. But the bolts-and-clamps method is about 10,000 times easier than the usual shove-and-tug of installing standard rubber or cork grips.

I tested out the grips on two quite different bikes: our Christiania trike, and my Kogswell P/R.

The grips have no additional cushioning beyond the softness of the leather. On the Christiania this is not an issue, as it features Dutch-style ergonomics: an upright riding position that places very little weight on the hands. I wondered how the grips would fare on my Kogswell, which has what I call French City Bike geometry: an upright, but slightly-forward-leaning riding position, with standard swept-back city bars. This position puts more weight on my hands than the Dutch posture of the trike.

A couple months of riding with the grips on the Kogswell has proved that the grips are quite comfortable for the kind of short-trip urban cycling I generally do. In late June I pedaled the Kogswell out to a farm at the edge of town. The 22-mile round trip proved too much for my hands and wrists on these grips; by the time I got to the farm, my hands were sore and numb in spots. It makes me curious how much better the ergo-shaped grips would do for a longer trip.

The leather of the Dapper Dan grips has a pleasant, natural feel that is superior to grips made of rubber or cork/rubber. I was surprised by how much I liked it. There is something about leather handlebar grips that feels very good on the hands. They’re not tacky or sticky, but they’re not slippery either. They feel warm and comfortable, and they look very good indeed; the clean modern design blends well with the traditional materials, in a way that complements my bikes and would work well with any steel-framed bike, especially older or classic designs.

Since I’ve only used the grips during mostly warm, dry weather, I can’t say how they’ll survive our rainy winters, or years of use. The manufacturer says that “rain won’t hurt ’em” and that the grips will get “softer and better looking with use,” and my experience with other leather goods says they’re right. They certainly have worn well in these past few months.

The grips do have a few drawbacks. One is their considerable cost, at US$45.00. This is a lot of money to pay for a pair of handlebar grips (certainly more than my usual favorite, the cheap but comfortable rubber-and-cork Dimension grips available at most bike stores for around $10), but it’s considerably less than other similar grips. Brooks makes a rather astonishingly well-built set of sturdy leather grips, but they cost twice as much at around $90.

The main thing I found wanting about the grips was the end-caps. It’s nice that the grips have open ends, for installing a mirror or other bar-end-mounted items, but if you just want to cap the ends of your bars, the provided caps are cheap-looking, ill-fitting plastic. I ended up using a couple of wine corks, which work well and match the color and style of the grips very nicely. (I used corks from the recently released Acme Pinot Noir rosé, a Northwest wine which we’ve also found to be comfortable, easy to use, and well-designed.)

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Note that the grips are not compatible with Shimano bar-end shifters, which is a shame. In fact, it’s too bad that no one has designed a grip compatible with bar-end shifters, but considering that most city bars have an interior diameter too small to use bar-end shifters, I guess it’s no surprise.

Portland Design Works is a relatively new company. It was started in 2008 by Erik Olson, who was formerly a product development manager at Planet Bike. PDW’s stated mission, to “develop beautiful, simple products for urban cycling,” is one that we at Vélocouture can support wholeheartedly. But PDW’s small-but-growing product list doesn’t clearly reflect that mission.

PDW focus on sustainability for some things: grips made of bamboo; clip-on fenders made of recycled pop bottles; their participation in the 1% for the Planet program.

But they choose disposability for some of their other products: next to the selection of grips, their largest product line is CO2 cartridges, which are irrelevant to urban cycling and, as bicycle-related consumables go, about as wasteful as a product can get. To their credit, though, PDW are also working on a small, stylish pump that fits in a basket or purse.
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And though it’s laudable that PDW use recycled materials to produce their clip-on fenders, I question whether the world needs more clip-on fenders. The world of North American urban cycling could certainly use more well-designed, reasonably-priced full-coverage-with-mudflaps fenders, though . . .

All that said, Portland Design Works is a new company, still fleshing out their product line and philosophy. Their emphasis on good design certainly bodes well, and I look forward to seeing what they have to offer in the future. The Dapper Dan grips are a solid, well-designed product that would make a stylish addition to any city bike.


PRODUCT SUMMARY
Dapper Dan Grips
Click here for product information on the manufacturer’s website.
List price: US$45.00
Where to buy: In Portland at River City, Veloshop, Bike N Hike, Veloce, Athletes Lounge, Clevercycle and Joe Bike. Also available from most bike shops nationwide.