RV entry handles. They’re not glamorous, but trying to get in and out of the old rig without them puts one at risk of a nasty fall. And the higher the floor is from the ground, the more urgent the need for a good entry handle. Manufacturers have come forward with various approaches to help scale the side of your own rolling Mount Everest—each with its own good and bad points.
A few weeks ago, a new product hit the RV market. The GripSafe Handrail Assist, by RV Designer®, has worked out several of the bugs that have troubled other RV entry handle products. RV Designer sent us a GripSafe, and we’ve installed it on our RV and have our own observations.
From “drawer pulls” to swing-outs
Early incarnations of RV entry handles were akin to overgrown drawer pulls. A few inches long, with barely enough room to stick your fingers around, they worked—sort of. Provided you could reach the handle from the ground, didn’t need to climb too high, and had good finger dexterity (and no joint pain), they’d get you by.
As RVs got taller—mandated by basement storage and better ground clearance, it took more steps to get up inside. The simple “drawer pull” style entry handle just didn’t cut it. Enter the new era of RV entry handles. Set up with a hinged, swing-out function, you could actually grab hold, take a step, slide your hand up, grab again, until getting into the rig. Fold-away entry handles made a huge difference.
But they weren’t without their issues. Some felt pretty flimsy, causing trepidation with the thought of a trip up or down the steps. Built of metal, these handles amplified the weather. They would freeze your hand in the winter, or burn the daylights out of it in the summer.
Some manufacturers responded with adding a grip, designed to improve the hold-ability, and reduce thermal shock. But as we’ve written about earlier, these grips often deteriorate in short order, leaving you with no grip at all, or a sticky mess of melting adhesive. Others used a foam piece that was like a “pool noodle” and almost too big around to get a grip.
No more “grip grief” and a safer-feeling installation
RV Designer has clearly rethought the process with the GripSafe Handrail Assist. To overcome the grip-grief issue, GripSafe doesn’t fall back on foam or other rubber, but rather, provides a molded plastic grip at the center of their steel bar. While the grip may not last an eternity, our guess is that it’ll probably be around longer than most of us will own the RV.
We’ve had experience with several other “fold-out” style entry handles. Most, if not all, mounted to the side of the RV with four screws—two on the top part of the handle, and two on the lower part. It may be that this mounting attributed to a frequent “wobble” feel when you grabbed on, as the mounting screws didn’t allow for even distribution of stress over the brackets that mounted to the rig sidewall. Grab the handle and pull your weight, the side of the brackets that didn’t have screws in them would, over time, pull away from the sidewall.
Again, GripSafe’s design seems like an improvement to us. Instead of having two screws per mounting bracket, there are four. This distributes the force more evenly across these points, making the whole thing feel more stable. Additionally, instead of simply lifting up on the handle, then swinging it to the side for “travel mode,” GripSafe adds a more secure latch system. When it’s time to hit the road, the user pushes a tab, unlocking the handle. Swing the handle either direction, and the assembly will safely lock into place with an audible “click.” Ready to use the handle? Push the tab, then swing the handle to the center position, and hear it click-lock into place.
Quick and easy install
Installation is straightforward. In our case, we removed an older, existing entry handle built by “the other guys.” We took the four mounting screws out, cleaned up some goo left over from an overzealous installer, and were ready to hang the new GripSafe. The RV Designer folks mention that if you are replacing an existing handle, you can use one of the holes in the sidewall as a starting point. In our minds, using the old hole wasn’t too skookum an idea. What if the hole was compromised, already worn down? We simply filled the existing screw holes with an acrylic sealant and started fresh.
Using an included template, you’ll bore 1/8” pilot holes, four for the upper bracket, and four for the lower. Because GripSafe has plastic shrouds that cover the screws, you’ll need to allow a little space away from the door frame for the shroud.
Here’s another “plus” for GripSafe. It doesn’t matter if you have an oddball “hinges on the left side” door. While “the other guys” who use only two screws per mounting bracket favor the normal right-hand hinged door by placing their screws on the right side of the bracket, GripSafe’s four screw pattern helps you. Why? Users have complained that with their “oddball” doors, screws on the right side typically won’t find a wall door frame to screw into. They’re stuck having to bore through the skin, clear into the inside of the coach, then utilize bolts and nuts to ensure a secure fit, rather than relying on screws.
In our case, with a “normal” door, the screw on the right side of the GripSafe’s brackets found decidedly solid footing in the door framing. On the left, no frame, but they did get a good bite in the composite wall build. It seems secure to us, but if use over time suggests a stouter installation, we’ll pull the screws on the left and replace them with nuts and bolts.
A couple of tips
The entire installation, including the time needed to remove and clean up from the existing entry handle, was 45 minutes. Just a couple of hints: Use a small-slotted screwdriver to carefully pry the shrouds loose from the mounting brackets. And don’t make our initial boober. In the excitement of the moment, we didn’t realize the mounting screws are #3 Phillips. Don’t try and use the standard #2 bit!
We’ll report back down the road as we see how the GripSafe holds up in real-world conditions. So far, we’re well pleased.
Getting your own
The GripSafe Handrail Assist by RV Designer is produced in four flavors. They’re available in 22” or 27” lengths, and black or white in either length. As to getting a copy of your own, at this point anyway, you won’t find them on Amazon. You won’t see them at Camping World, either.
We did find them available for shipping on Walmart’s website—any of them for less than $45. That with free shipping. Beware, however, the Walmart seller lists one of them as being the 27” variety. It’s quite obvious from the picture that it’s really a 22-incher. You WILL NOT find them inside Walmart stores. Or “Google it” using the “shopping tab” with GripSafe as the search word. There are quite a number of sellers, with wide-ranging prices. Just check the shipping charges. You may find them at local RV retailers, where you can reach through the clever cut-away packaging to get a feel for the grip.