Ergon BT OrthoCell Handlebar Pads: Quick Review – by Guitar Ted
At the end of last year Riding Gravel received the Ergon BT Orthocell handlebar pad set and a fresh roll of Ergon handlebar tape to go over those. We introduced the BT Orthocell pads here, but since the riding season was winding down, we waited until now to give you readers a better take on these comfort aids. Now after many miles of riding, we are ready to find out if Ergon’s claims are true for the BT Orthocell pads.
Installation & First Impressions: The years of handlebar wrapping I have done have taught me a few things. One: Under-the-handlebar pads are a pain to deal with. They typically complicate wrap jobs and are not what I like to have to deal with. But, I was getting paid, so I did my job to the best of my abilities.
I have also experimented with several types of under-the-handlebar pads, but I’ll get around to my experiences in a bit. First, the wrap job was not as bad as I was anticipating it might be. These pads are not your typical ones and Ergon seems to have paid attention to how their tape would interface with the BT Orthocell pads. I imagine other bar tapes will play nicely with these pads also. So, that was better than expected, but still more to deal with than not using the BT Orthocell pads.
But that isn’t to say that there weren’t some nits to pick with the install. First, you must clean your handlebars thoroughly and then and only then can you expect the BT Orthocell pads to adhere to your handlebar……mostly. You can see in the image above where my pad set was pulling away from the handlebars. The foam the pad set is made from is a bit stiff and doesn’t like bending around sharp radius bends like a rounded extension on a drop bar. So, do clean your bar thoroughly and use isopropyl alcohol to make sure you have no foreign materials or oils on the bars.
Ride Performance: There is one inescapable truth to using under-the-tape handlebar pads of any kind and that is that the overall diameter of your grip area is going to be enlarged. That may actually be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon your personal preferences and physical build. Smaller hands may not desire larger diameter grips, and this can limit people with small hands to the point that a BT Orthocell option is not desirable. Knowing that up front….
My rides took me across typical Iowa crushed rock roads ranging from smooth to very rough and deep fresh gravel. I rode on broken up pavement, smooth dirt, and rutted out tracks. So, a wide variety of surfaces. I was most concerned with how the Orthocell pads would absorb vibrations that can numb and fatigue hands, forearms, shoulders, and so on.
So, what worked here was that I had less pressure points and less hand numbness due to the way that the foam padding worked to allow for blood flow and in how the pads distributed pressure. That was good and I think that alone makes the Orthocell pads worth using – if the larger diameter grip area is to your liking.
What was maybe marginally better was the vibration reduction characteristics that the pads have. I found high-frequency buzz was pretty much damped out, but think about what is going on here. If the vibrations are such that they are shaking the entire handlebar, and not just merely being vibrations that are transmitted through the bar, then any pad, grip, or tape is not going to really do much of anything with that vibration. Simply put- Are the vibrations being conducted through the handlebar? Then the Orthocell pads will help. Are the vibrations shaking the bars, and by virtue of the structure, the stem and the rest of the bike? Then you are going to get minimal help with these pads. In my experience, only high frequency vibrations are damped with the Orthocell pads.
At The Finish: The Ergon BT Orthocell pads are a solution for pressure distribution and some vibration damping for those riders traveling on rougher, crushed rock covered roads or where road surfaces cause a “buzz”. It is easy for a qualified handlebar wrapper who has experience to wrap this pad set and get it to stay put where you need it to be. Novice bar wrappers or those who do this infrequently should seek out a professional to do this job.
Beyond the installation, the pads do a great job of providing pressure relief. However; they do increase the overall handlebar diameter, so your grip area is going to be bigger around. Smaller handed folk and those who prefer small diameter grip areas need not apply here.
You’ll also find that not all vibrations are going to be attenuated with these pads. That may or may not be satisfactory for you. I found that the higher frequency stuff that can make my hands go numb was tuned out sufficiently that I was satisfied with the results. But I was curious. Would something else without using a pad do a similar trick?
And the answer is yes. There are handlebar tapes, like the Wolf Tooth Supple Lite tape we have reviewed here, that do a similar thing. That said, the Wolf Tooth tape is also so thick as to give a rider a similar diameter to the Ergon system.
In the end, I feel that amongst the options available in handle bar padding, the Ergon BT Orthocell pads are a better solution due to not only being a vibration reduction choice, but in that the pads reduce pressure points. Most other options cannot do the pressure point reduction thing, so I would recommend these pads over others just for that characteristic alone.
Note: Ergon sent Riding Gravel the BT OrthoCell Handlebar Pad Set at no charge for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for this review and we will always strive to give our honest thoughts and views throughout.