Thick, grippy and tacky: The joys of bar tape

With the wear and tear of riding, especially when done frequently, bar tape just naturally gets dirty, torn and ripped up over time. One of the easiest ways of making a road bike feel fresh is to strip it of its old bar tape and wrapping your drop handlebars with a new roll.

There are a number of options for handlebar tape. It’s made out of many materials, from the traditionalist cotton (usually varnished over with some twine, even), to cork and leather, and synthetic materials like microfiber. Bar tape also comes in a variety of thicknesses, usually done via a backing layer of foam. Finally, the material of the tape itself can be given sophisticated properties, such as texturing and tackiness, which ensure grip while the handlebars are wet. Some varieties can even be re-wrapped, to facilitate replacement of cables and housings.

I’m pretty sure most cyclists have their own methods of wrapping their handlebars. I’ll show my own, culled from various sources and practiced a fair bit on my own bike. It’s worth learning to do it yourself because it’s a good way of customizing your bike, and it can even be stress-relieving.

This particular wrap job will use Lizard Skins’ DSP 2.5 mm bar tape.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES NEEDED

  • Fresh handlebar tape
  • Vinyl electrical tape
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol (optional)
  • Box cutters (optional)

PREPARATION

Strip out the old bar tape. If you have no plans of reusing the bar tape, box cutters can help speed up this process. Wipe the bare handlebar with alcohol to remove any residue from the adhesive backing of the old bar tape. Peel back the brake hoods as well.

 

One optional racer’s trick in the preparation stage is to take some electrical tape and wrap it around the ends of the drops with the adhesive side outward.

Why do this? In case of a crash, the bike usually ends up scraping the pavement on its side, the bar tape ripped along the length of the drops. This inner layer of electrical tape acts as flypaper, ensuring the bar tape doesn’t come off the drops.

BEGINNING THE WRAP

Expose a bit of the adhesive from the inside of the tape. This is usually covered by a narrow strip of waxy paper. You’ll expose more of this adhesive as you go along wrapping the handlebar.

Place half the width of the bar tape on the bottom of the end of the drops, leaving the other half in the air. Then make a first loop around the bar.

I tend to wrap from the inside out (i.e. clockwise for the right side, counter-clockwise for the left), since this matches the general direction of how my hands hold and twist on the bars while riding aggressively in the drops.

Always put the tape under a little tension as you wrap; this is largely what keeps the tape on the bar. The adhesive is just there to help.

As you continue wrapping the bar, make the tape overlap on itself slightly. Make sure that you have enough diagonal overlap, or bias, so the underside adhesive contacts the bare handlebar. Go on until you reach the clamp band on the control levers.

FIGURE-EIGHT

Once at the clamp band area, wrapping bar tape becomes something of a personal preference thing.

Many bar tapes come with an extra strip meant to cover up the clamp band of the control levers, while the main run of the bar tape goes on with wrapping as normal. Personally I go for the figure-eight method, where no extra strip is needed. With thicker bar tape, this method can result in a bulky look, so some people don’t like this.

The following photos demonstrate this for the left control lever.

First, continue to wrap the tape. Make sure to wrap underneath the clamp band.

After covering the clamp band the first time, run the tape over the body of the control lever.

Same control lever, photo taken from the other side.

Cover the clamp band a second time by going under it, then wrapping forward and below the control lever body.

We return to the original point of view. This is what you want; only a small part of the bar is exposed, and none of the clamp band can be seen

From here, cover whatever bare handlebar is left.

Back to the other side. Complete the figure-eight wrap by sealing off any remaining clamp band.

This completes the figure-eight wrapping method. Your end result is to have zero exposed bare handlebar or clamp band, like so.

 

With the figure-eight done, it’s all a matter of continuing the wrap as normal. To wrap curved transitions, make the overlaps tighter on the inside of the curve.

FINISHING UP

Give some thought on how you want your wrapping job to end. Usually people go for a smooth edge parallel to the stem. I usually end my wrap just before the handlebar thickens to the stem’s clamping point.

While continuing to wrap over your desired endpoint, pull out your scissors and cut along the length of the tape to make it parallel to the stem.

You should end up with something like this.

Grab your electrical tape and start it on the bar tape, then wrap. I do at least three turns, ending exactly at the bottom of the handlebar. You don’t need to put any electrical tape on the handlebar itself – the bar tape’s tension will keep it in place.

Got any finishing tape in the box? Use it over the band of electrical tape.

Normally I do away with the supplied finishing tapes, as it’s usually just a piece of electrical tape with the branding printed in. They also tend to have lousy adhesion. With Lizard Skins, however, it’s the same material as the bar tape, so it’s worth putting it on as it extends the effective wrapped area.

Finally, if you haven’t done so yet, go back to the drops. Take the overhanging pieces of bar tape and stuff them into the bar, then secure with the supplied bar ends. Use the heel of your palm or a rubber mallet to tap the bar end in place.

Flip the brake hoods back on and you should now have a neatly wrapped handlebar.

There are a few caveats to note, specifically with white bar tape like this. It looks pro, but it is also notorious for looking dirty very quickly, and it will never return to its original color regardless of how meticulously you wash it. Black bar tape hides dirt better, although I’ve had red in the past and it stayed looking good while delivering some welcome color.

A few rides in, Lizard Skins’ 2.5 mm DSP tape certainly feels rather good. It’s a little better than the Fizik 3 mm microfiber bar tape that was a favorite of mine, mainly because of the texturing and added tackiness, but it’s also a little more expensive. The Fizik roll lasted me more than half a year of daily riding. I’d recommend either one.

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