Since I work in a dealership, this question pops up on a daily basis. It’s difficult to tell someone what their own personal preference should be. As much as I want to sell product, I’m more concerned with selling the right product. When it comes to hand guards, you’ll have to make up your own mind. Here you’ll find some of my opinions as well as some facts I’ve learned along the way that might help you make a decision.

hand guard debate
Open or closed? Full wrap or no wrap? Barkbuster or flag style?

The Question?

I’m not about to compare every brand of hand guard out there for this. The ultimate question is…open or closed hand guards? Should you be running a “bark buster? An aluminum guard that wraps around from your bar pad to the end of your handlebar. OR should you be running the MX style plastic hand guards that are only connected to the bar from the inside of the riders controls. Everyone’s preference exists for a different reason, allow me to join the ranks of forum heroes and throw my opinions in the mix.

I have a love/hate relationship with full wraps. Here we are in yet another argument. Photo: Jill Carney

 

Geography and terrain

Aside from personal preference, your location will dictate which hand guard you may choose. For example, in tight east coast single track you’ll see most riders favouring the wrap around hand guards. On the flip side, desert riders will be running the motocross style open guards since there aren’t many trees to smack your hand into in the Mojave. It’s not only trees that may encourage you to run full wrap arounds though. Rocky terrain is notorious for snapping clutch and brake levers. If you drop your bike on rocks a lot, it’s only a matter of time before you lose a lever or two without wrap around guards.

hand guard debate
If you plan on hurling your bike up terrain like this all day, you should be running full wrap around hand guards.

 

The full wrap injury myth; fact or fiction?

One of the most common excuses for not running a full wrap around hand guard is the dreaded myth that they are “wrist breakers”. Riders claim that their wrists will get stuck in the hand guard during a crash and could result in injury. Unfortunately I’m one of these riders. A few years ago I had an incident where I was not able to free my hand from the guard in a crash and resulted in a severe wrist sprain. Unlike most, I did not immediately join the “I hate wrap around hand guards club”. I still see why they are preferred by some riders and I actually continued to ride the full wraps even after my injury. The threat is there but I wouldn’t let it scare me out of running them completely. How many times have riders been impaled by foot pegs? Yet we still all use foot pegs.

So yes, the injury myth is confirmed…But we’re riding motorcycles as fast as we can through large objects that don’t move when you hit them. Just remember that you’re about as likely to smash that pretty hand of yours into a tree as you are getting it stuck in the hand guard. Here’s where you get to use that big ol’ brain of yours and figure out which injury you’d rather deal with.

hand guard debate
Wrist injury or smashed fingers. You can choose which injury is more likely to you and which you’d rather deal with…Yes, these are both my injuries BUT don’t be alarmed, neither were actually caused by hand guards or lack of hand guard.

About wrap around hand guards (closed)

These are more popular among most Novice-Intermediate riders. We see mostly east coast folks running this system because the trails can be incredibly tight and it’s easier to go fast when you don’t have to worry about smashing your hand off a tree. Aside from protecting your hand, the other major advantage they have is protecting your grips and levers. You can auger your bars right into the rocks and the full wraps will save your levers each time.

hadn't guard debate
If you really want wrap around hand guards but are really concerned with injury caused by getting stuck. I’d recommend the Cycra pro bend model. These are curved after the grip to allow a bit more room for your hand to escape if need be.

They are clearly not perfect or else everyone would be using them. One of the bigger issues I had with the wrap around guards is that they are difficult to keep in place. During a crash, the entire wrap can move up or down inches at time which can be dangerous and distracting. To avoid this, I’d highly recommend upgrading to a threaded bar end insert instead of the cheap spreading anchors included in the kits. Find out more about these and see our review of the SRT threaded bar ends here. 

About MX or flag style hand guards (open)

You’ve seen these everywhere. They are widely used by motocross racers on rocky or muddy tracks. They’re stock on some KTM and Husqvarna models and you’ll see every professional hard enduro rider using them to protect their hands from small debris, branches and the elements.

Have you ever wondered these top enduro riders aren’t using full wrap around guards though? It’s because they are not allowed!

The FIM rulebook states:

“33.06
When hand protectors are used, these must be made of a shatter-resistant material and have a permanent opening for the hand.”

hand guard debate
My hand guard of choice for the time being. Just like the 1960s! Full freedom, minimal protection.

The open hand guards are without a doubt more comfortable. Your hand can freely move on and off the bar and you’re able to use more of your grip without feeling an aluminium bar on the outside of your hand all the time. The downside here is that the protection level is minimal. Even small saplings can do some damage so it’s a bit risky to run these in the tighter trails. Riders will have to adjust their riding style if they’re used to banking off trees at mach speed. Your levers are also susceptible to damage, my advice would be to invest in some “unbreakable” or flex levers if you choose to run this type of hand guard.

Where do I stand?

Although I ran full wraps for many years, I’m currently back to running open hand guards. I’m aware of the threat to my fingers but I just fell involve with the freedom of movement again. Plus I never felt quite comfortable riding a motocross track or faster trails with the full wraps since my injury. On the flip side, when I get back to racing I’ll be putting full wraps back on for certain events. Some races have fast trails with trees that are barely handlebar width apart and I know I’d lose finger if I went without.

I’ll still plan on re-installing my wrap around hand guards for select races depending on the likelihood of me hitting trees. Photo: Jill Carney

Although I prefer the open style hand guard myself. I would encourage newer enduro riders to use the full wraps themselves to at least determine whether they like them or not. The best thing here is that you can change your mind at any time. Especially now with lock on grips, hand guards can be swapped out in just a few minutes.

hand guard debate
Pick your poison. It’s not a tattoo, you can change your mind at any time.

In conclusion

Full wraps offer the most protection for hands and levers but they’re also a bit cumbersome and in a perfect storm could injure your hand or wrist. If the threat of getting your hand stuck in there is that stressful for you, then I’d stay away from full wraps so you’re not always riding worried. My final recommendation is for you to ride both and install the best suited hand guard for whatever you’re riding that day. Keep your options open and your hands safe! Hit up our social media pages and let us know your preference.