Ever since I was a kid my favorite movie has been The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Sergio Leone’s definitive spaghetti western blurred the lines between protagonist and antagonist, introducing me to the concept of an antihero. Until then I had only seen westerns where the good guy wore a badge, the bad guy a black hat, and the climax of the film was a gun fight between the two. Leone’s film ended with a three way shootout in a graveyard choreographed to a blaring Mariachi Trumpet. Needless to say this was much better than any traditional head to head showdown.
When my friend Justin got a pair of Hand Deflectors from MSR and I got Moose Racing’s Foam Hand Guards, I was considering doing a head to head showdown between the two. Then Justin scored a prototype set of Bush Whackers from Giant Loop and I knew a three way shootout would be much better – although not in a graveyard and, sadly, not with Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I found…
The Good: In case anyone has been unable to figure out exactly what the aptly nicknamed elephant ears do, they protect your hands from the elements. Mounted over existing handguards, they block cold air (as well as rain, snow, and mud) from your hands, helping to keep them from a state of cryogenic misery. Anyone who’s been subjected to the wind-whipped frozen hell known as winter in the upper mid west knows that wind chill plays a huge factor in dealing with the elements. So far as functionality goes all of these products work, but there are some subtle differences that separate them.
The highest compliment I can muster for the Hand Deflectors by MSR is that they work. Made from 1000 Denier Cordura with a plastic backing for rigidity, they have a single strap and loop system for universal mounting. This set has changed very little since first coming on to the market. Either MSR has become complacent with their antiquated version or they truly believe the Hand Deflectors can’t be improved upon. On their own they seem sufficient, but when compared to the other two brands these are unloaded guns.
Moose Racing’s Foam Hand Guards are constructed with a 500 Denier Nylon and backed with a half-inch of closed cell foam. They use a velcro strap for mounting and have additional twin grommets on the outer end to accommodate a zip tie. This made a big difference in ease of installation and high-speed stability.
The Moose set is made without a plastic backing and has a smaller profile. This didn’t seem to affect their general performance. The flexibility of the soft foam also means they’re easily squished and stuffed into a pack. For those of us with geriatric knees, they could also come in handy as a cushion should you find yourself wrenching on your bike out on the trail.
Maybe it’s the fact that this pair has 500 count less Denier in its material but they’re also significantly cheaper than the MSR product. I’m not sure about the drawbacks of a lower thread count, but I do know the benefits of handing out less money at the cash register.
The stand out of the group is definitely the Bush Whackers from Giant Loop. Those guys have mastered the art of turning a good idea into an exceptional product. Made from HDPE plastic these guards shed water and mud, won’t crack in cold weather, and remain rigid at high speeds. What’s more, they’re easily molded by hand, allowing for customization to accommodate mirrors, controls, and existing handguards. The six mounting slots (three near the top, three near the bottom) and heavy-duty straps made by Voile offer a variety of positions on the bike.
One thing I really like is that this set is slightly taller than the others. This means hands and even wrists continue to be protected when riding standing up. I’ll also begrudgingly admit that by the end of the test ride I was actually considering that these might even look cool, in a sleek modern way – like a set of IKEA chairs for your handlebars.
The Bad: The universe is vast and wide, so it should be noted that with any “universal fit” claim results will vary widely. Existing controls and handguards are all contributing factors to ease of installation and performance.
The MSR Hand Deflectors had issues from the very start. Mounting them around the controls with some semblance of stability took several attempts and was only achieved after poking a few holes in them and adding zip ties.
At higher speeds, any rigidity provided by the plastic disappeared and the tops flopped down, starting to crease the plastic. In addition to this, the controls eventually began to gouge into the plastic backing. I’ve also seen what can happen to these when a bike is laid down. Whether 500 or 1000-count Denier, nylon is fabric and not immune to being ripped or torn. The wrecked set I saw lost half it’s Cordura in crash.
Moose Racing’s Foam Hand Guards were the easiest to attach, but again it took several tries to get the straps fed through the controls just right and the velcro tight enough to feel securely fastened. While the slimmer profile of these may be more esthetically pleasing, this does sacrifice some protection, particularly in the standing position. On a side note, I’d like to congratulate the Brain Trust at Moose for coming up with such a clever name for their product. Too bad they couldn’t figure out how to work the word thingys into the name.
The Bush Whackers took the longest to install but for a good reason; these need to be folded and molded to fit individual controls. In some cases it may even be necessary to heat them with a hair dryer to achieve the desired fit. This was the initial installation. Once they’ve been manipulated to a custom fit, reattaching them is quick and easy. These too benefited from the addition of a hole and a zip tie, although it might not have been necessary.
The Ugly: In my opinion it’s not a question of if any of these are ugly, it’s a matter of which ones are the least ugly. This inevitably raises the ‘How many beers would it take for you to mount them?’ question. These are utilitarian, practical, and a complete eyesore. The beauty of elephant ears lay in the fact that they can redefine inclement weather and stretch the riding season. Hands down, the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen on a motorcycle is a thick layer of dust.
UPDATE: WHATEVER ISSUES THAT REPEATEDLY DELAYED THE RELEASE OF GIANT LOOP’S BUSH WHACKERS IN 2012 HAVE FINALLY BEEN SORTED OUT. WHILE THE SIZE & SHAPE REMAINS THE SAME, THEIR 2013 RELEASE SAW IMPROVED MATERIAL AND OVERALL ESTHETICS. CHECK OUT THE NEW VERSION HERE!