Review: AME Heated Ergo Tri Grips, Gimmick or Greatness?

Initially, when I first approached Bob from AME at Interbike, it wasn’t for their heated heated grips. I was more interested in their current line of standard grips, after recalling AME’s on many of the old bikes I used to drool over when I first started mountain biking. It seemed that most of the complete Santa Cruz mountain bikes stocked at my local bike shop were coming equipped with the famous AME triangles, yet have seemed to disappear over the years.

After spotting the AME booth, I decided to check it out, with my eyes locked on the AME Ergo Tri lock-on grip. I have always been a fan of thinner grips, but it seems that they are usually lacking in some crucial dimension that I thought may be improved by the additional hump on the Ergo Tris.

Seeing as how Bob is easily one of the more passionate guys in the industry, we chatted for a long while, and talk eventually turned to the heated grips. After spending some time learning the ins and outs of the challenges to create such a system, the benefits, drawbacks, etc, I left with what I felt was a much better understanding of the benefits to heated grips. I left Interbike with the understanding that I would receive some of the standard, non-heated Ergo Tris to review, nothing more, nothing less.

While disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to review the heated grips, I totally understood why. AME is a very small company, and even with the premium price tag associated with the heated grips, they still stand to make very little of each pair for now. Which, is why I was blown away when Bob offered me a pair to review shortly after I got home. Obviously, I jumped at the chance as our winters are often very cold, but rarely offer enough of the white stuff to keep you off the trails, so I figured a little heat couldn’t hurt.

Everyone seems to have the same questions when it comes to the heated grips; do they work? Are they reliable, durable? They cost how much? Find the answers to these questions and more, after the break!

The blue light lets you know it’s working!

Probably  the most important answer for one of the most popular questions, is yes, they work. AME Ergo Tri heated grips, absolutely, flat out work. Any arguments about the ability of such a small heat source to put out enough heat to penetrate the thickest gloves, are null and void. In my last post I covered most of the stock information such as system weight and basic operation, so I won’t go into much detail about that here, but if you are interested make sure to check that out!

These grips put out a colossal amount of heat, so much so, that never once in testing did I need to go beyond level 3 (I did use the higher settings to see how they worked, but did not ever need that much heat). AME’s heated grips have 6 levels of heat, with 1 being the lowest (warm) and 6 the absolute highest (HOT). Through the magic of conductive heating, eventually your glove’s temperature equalizes to that of the heated grip, in turn transmitting the heat to your hand. Keep in mind that this isn’t instant, so the more you take  your hands off the grips and the thicker the glove, the colder your hands will be. Even with most gloves being poor conductors (since they are obviously insulative), a few seconds is all that is needed for the temperature to equalize so your hands will start feeling the warmth.

Now, it is clear that many people experience cold differently, so it is hard to offer an objective review for everyone but I can say that I have used the heated grips in temperatures ranging from 9°F to 45°F, and as stated never needed more than heat setting 3. Perhaps one of the best features of using the heated grips, is never having to use a bulky glove again. Personally, I have a hard time with gloves that make it difficult to feather the brake, or shift quickly on the fly, so the ability to use an extremely thin glove is something that does not go unnoticed. Even when I was riding in 9 degree temps, I was able to use two very thin cloth gloves layered, which provided almost too much warmth.

In addition to providing temporary warmth to your hands, AME claims that due to the grips heating the blood that flows through them, it helps your body’s circulatory system to keep your entire body warm and functioning properly. While it is proven science that in cold weather your body diverts blood flow from your extremities to keep your vital organs warm, it is extremely hard to prove the validity of AME’s claims trail-side. Honestly though, I can state that while using AME’s heated grips at least my arms seemed to fatigue less than the rest of my body, and by the end of the ride I didn’t seem to crash nearly as badly as previous winters. If there is any truth to AME’s claims, this is the one clear advantage over winter riding aides such as Bar Mitts or pogies, as the heated grips actually add heat to your body rather than keeping in what’s already there.

Wires are unobtrusive.

Unintended benefits:

Everyone would expect a heated grip to keep your hands warm, but in practice there were some unintended benefits that made themselves apparent once out on the trail. Keep in mind, that none of these benefits alone would warrant the addition of heated grips to your ride, however, they definitely add value to the package.

Chances are, if you are in need of heated grips there is a good chance you are going to be riding on snow. As we all know, snow is slippery and can lead to a crash, or two if you’re really out killing it over the winter. I never realized how much snow got transferred to my gloves after a crash until I noticed it all melting on the heated grips. It’s pretty cool, you can dump your bike into a snow bank, and then watch the snow disappear on your bars. I also never realized how much I dreaded a mechanical in the winter, as I noticed myself continuing to ride after my seat post began slipping and I was thinking to myself, “I can ride this out until I get back to the trail head.” Shortly after, it became unbearable, so I stopped to break out the multi-tool and take care of business. Somehow, I easily unzipped my Camelbak, got out my multi-tool, quickly adjusted my seat post, and put everything away like it never even happened. It then dawned on me how easy everything came together. My fingers weren’t numb, I wasn’t fumbling with super thick gloves, and I didn’t have to take my gloves off to be able to work the tool. All of a sudden it was like I was working on a mechanical in the middle of the summer.

Finally, perhaps the greatest unintended benefit for me, was the amazing little mental boost the warmth brought on brutally cold winter days. I remember going to a science museum as a kid, and putting my hands on an exhibit that had both hot and cold pipes. After putting your hands, one at a time, on first the hot, then the cold, it asked you to write down your thoughts based on how the temperatures made you feel. Overwhelmingly, people had happy, warm thoughts of things like the beach from the warm pipe, and negative, downer thoughts from the cold pipe. While impossible to quantify in a review, I felt that this phenomena was definitely in effect as grabbing the warm grips always seemed to improve my spirits slightly. Perhaps I was imagining things, but for me it was a really nice coincidence.

Battery Life, Charging, Etc.

Like a lot of current portable, rechargeable electronics, AME’s heated grips operate off of a compact Lithium Ion Polymer battery. Li-Po batteries have many of the same qualities of your typical Lithium Ion battery, with the exception of the fact that the electrolyte is not held in an organic solvent, but rather a solid polymer. Ideally Li-Po batteries should be more durable and rugged than Lithium Ion batteries, although no rechargeable battery is invincible so always read the directions, especially regarding charging!

Charging of the AME Li-Po battery is done through their smart charger, by connecting one of the batteries leads to the charger via the DuxButt waterproof connector. While it may not seem like an a stand out feature, the DuxButt connectors are really nice as they are nearly impossible to screw up, are easy to attach with gloves on, and seem 100% waterproof, what more could you want? Once connected, charging never took more than a few hours, even after fully draining the battery. The charger thankfully includes an extremely easy to interpret indicator comprised of a red light meaning the battery is still charging, and green light which means charging is finished.

Battery life is obviously an important factor, and one that seemed to be directly tied to the construction of the handlebar. What does the handlebar have anything to do with it? Well, the longest battery life I experienced was with a carbon handlebar, which got me just under two hours of heat, however, with an aluminum bar it was generally reduced to somewhere around an hour and half. On my last ride with an aluminum bar, which was a balmy 17°, I finished the ride at an hour and 20 minutes with plenty of heat left in the grip, then left the grips on during the drive home. After I had stopped the car, at about 1 hour and 45 minutes total time on, you could just barely detect a bit of warmth radiating from the bars, but not enough to keep your hands warm. Why the discrepancy? Due to the fact that carbon is a fairly good insulator, and most metals tend to be great heat sinks, the carbon bars seemed to keep the heat in place while the aluminum bars drew the heat away from the grip, effectively heating the whole bar. With the wide bar exposed to the elements, the heat continued to exchange with the air causing the grips to have to work a bit harder. AME actually recommends carbon bars for this exact reason, so if you don’t have carbon bars, plan on factoring that into the price if you want to get the absolute most out of your battery.

My emergency battery mount. One old tube rolled up and placed between the frame and battery worked wonders!

Battery Pack and Grip Mounting

It’s clear when you look at something as simple as a piece of rubber and a Velcro strap, that no details have been overlooked when it comes to AME’s grips. Included with the kit are two different rubber mounting brackets that allow for nearly every mounting position possible. Stems, frame tubes, head tubes, etc, you name it-you can mount the battery on it as long as the wires will reach. This is accomplished by the fact that the two mounting brackets allow the battery to be mounted on its side, top, back, or front, and all in an extremely secure fashion. The Velcro strap included has a tenacious hold, even when used improperly. How do I know? Most recently, I found myself at the trail head without either mounting block, and I refused to turn tail and head back home to get it. After a bit of thought, I had a eureka moment and used a folded up inner tube as the rubber brace between the frame and the battery pack. The strap held the battery in place so well, if you didn’t actually look at the inner tube, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t installed properly. It goes without saying then, that when you do use the supplied mounting blocks, the battery never shifts and is completely worry free.

When it comes to the grips, they are equally as fool proof. AME easily has one of the best lock on systems available, let alone single bolt systems. While they are a little tough to get on (you have to give them a little tap tap, with your hands) once on the bar, they snug up perfectly without loads of torque. As I mentioned earlier, I have loved the shape of the Ergo Tri since I laid eyes on it, so no complaints there. The grip offers just enough ergo feature to make it comfy, yet not impede your hand from moving around on the grip. If thin grips aren’t your thing, AME also offers the thicker 1.3 Tri heated grip which is quite a bit fatter.

While some riders might be concerned with shelling out a bunch of cash for a wear point on a bike, the 2-Year Half-Price Replacement Warranty on grips for damage due to crashing or excessive wear will help to allay some of those fears. Honestly though, after many miles and crashes on my non heated AME Ergo Tris I can vouch for their durability, in spite of how soft and nice they feel. I would be fibbing if I were to say that I haven’t crashed with the heated grips, and even with more than one wipeout on black top and concrete the grips are no worse for wear.

Verdict

This is where it gets tough. If the AME Heated grip system was under $100, there would be no debating the fact that you should buy these. The entire system works great, and does all it is supposed to and maybe more. Unfortunately, the grips are not under $100, though this is not to say that they are overpriced as there is a lot of technology in this little bundle. It is clear that the real debate is not whether or not the grips work, but what the benefit is worth to you.

There is also the question of whether you want to add additional complexity for your winter ride routine. Typically, for me it takes a lot of preparation to get the many layers of clothing and courage together for a winter ride, so one additional step was hardly noticed, but you have to ask yourself if you want to have to plug your bike in between rides.

Freeze frame from my GoPro HD Hero. Comfortably blasting some stairs in the snow at night. Note, the two tiny blue lights marking the end of the grips.

Personally, I have found the grips invaluable even after comparing them to Bar Mitts. Yes, Bar Mitts work very well, extremely well in fact, but I can’t help fight the feeling that with Bar Mitts I might have trouble bailing from the bike. Obviously not an issue for many people riding in the winter, but I tend to find myself riding snow covered staircases, drops, and fun chutes in an effort to keep myself from the grasps of seasonal affective disorder. In these situations the additional freedom of the heated grips is great, not to mention the added dexterity of thinner gloves. Clearly, Bar Mitts will work for the majority of the riding population, but there are those out there who will benefit from the heated grips (though with Bar Mitts and the heated grips, you could probably get away without any gloves at all!)

Specs:

  • A comfortable hand temperature improves blood flow which reduces fatigue and maximizes dexterity and performance.
  • 489 g actual entire system weight (Includes grips, which the regular non heated weigh 105 grams alone)
  • 6 Month Grip Replacement on Manufacture Defect.
  • 2-Year Half-Price Replacement Warranty on grips for damage due to fall or excessive wear.
  • Simple push button, 6-setting temperature adjustment with LED lights.
  • Patent pending.
  • $129.95 GRIPS ONLY. BATTERY PACK $170.00. CHARGER $39.95. MOUNTING KIT $10.70 the whole kit is now $199.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to the final score. If the grips offered a slightly longer burn time (especially when running an aluminum bar) and were a little less expensive, it would easily warrant 5 thumbs up. Technically the grips are nearly flawless, although some users may desire a little longer run time. Ultimately, in my opinion the grips are anything but a gimmick. They work, solve some cold weather riding issues, and provide a much appreciated mental boost in the winter. While the performance is great, the purchase of AME’s heated grips obviously boils down to price. Due to the $300+ price tag, you aren’t going to be seeing many of your riding buddies rolling around with heated grips, but if you are simply looking for the best winter riding gear, have to have the coolest parts, have circulation problems, or tend to ride like a maniac regardless of conditions, these could be just the ticket to cure your winter blues.

Comments

Tom Boonen - 02/12/11 - 11:24pm

Awesome!

DrDon - 02/28/12 - 8:47pm

Raynaud’s syndrome can kiss my big you know what! I just found out about these. AME needs better maketing.

Alex - 12/19/13 - 8:56am

You need to update the price on these. I just went on the A’ME website and they are $199 for the complete setup.

mike - 10/13/14 - 1:14pm

Alex is correct the complete setup for mountain bikes is $199.

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