^^^ Absolutely - but you're not so much gripping the bar end with full palm and all four fingers, as you are hooking your thumb and first two fingers around it, with the heel of your thumb resting on the base of the grip. If that makes any sense. It sort of approximates the hand position when you are on the hoods of a drop bar bike.
I didn't read the whole thread so I apologize if some of these have been mentioned, but I would suggest SPD pedals and shoes (this will probably eat up most of the $200).
For my 7.2 FX I also changed the tires to 28mm so I can run at 110psi, added bar ends, a saddle bag w/ spare tube, and rain guards for commuting. If I could only have one upgrade it would be the SPDs, hands down.