It’s cold outside, and your bike is just waiting for some attention. Changing your bar tape can be the perfect way to spend a cold afternoon with your bike. Bring it in the house, settle in with a warm cup of hot chocolate and get busy. Your bike will thank you with a comfortable, new appearance.
Bar Tape – Cosmetic Designs
The harlequin, or double-diamond are just a few of the cosmetic, yet functional designs to consider. But bar tape is about more than looks. It takes into account how your hands fit and feel on the handlebars. Good planning and design adds the longevity needed for long days and many miles in the saddle, while offering cushion in the drops and a slip-proof grip.
Bar Tape Life
Bar tape can last for years, and it typically comes already installed on a new bike. It might seem easy enough; wrapping tape around bars. But it’s not that simple. Not all cyclists know how to wrap a bar and make it last. In fact, it’s one of the most common things done wrong on bicycles.
How Often Should you put on New Bar Tape
Cyclists know that certain items, tires, chains and gears should be replaced at regular intervals, but how often should you replace your bar tape? If you measure it in years, professionals consider it way too long, some cyclists consider it gross. Bar tape is similar to running shoes and socks, most get changed way more often than once a year.
The sweat, water, dirt, gunk and nasty stuff on your hands is on your bars. So once a year is considered a bare minimum if you’re an active rider. Of course, it also depends on how many bikes you own and how much you ride each of them. If you ride one bike all the time and pile up the miles, it probably deserves fresh bar tape every few months.
Choose Your Bar Tape
Inferior tape can be hard, slippery when wet and doesn’t last very long. Good tape is durable, comfortable, and makes gripping the bars for miles on end a little nicer. Good quality tape also tends to have some stretch, making it easy to achieve a nice, tight wrap; a wrap that that doesn’t move when you’re shifting your hands around on the bars.
Thick or Thin Bar Tape
There’s also a wide variation in feel between various types of tape. Padding and thickness varies, the depth of which depends on what you expect from a grip, and what type of riding you do. Choose thicker tape for rough riding conditions, thinner tape for a more streamlined approach.
Types of Bar Tape
Bar tape is prone to wear and tear, and most bar tape is relatively inexpensive. There are plenty of options to explore too, and new tape will always rejuvenate a tired-looking bike. It’s worth experiencing the subtle differences in comfort, feel and performance offered by different brands and materials.
Cotton Bar Tape
Cotton is old-school. Any bike built before about 1985 probably has cotton bar tape. Cotton tape is very cheap but it’s not widely available, and your best bet may be to go shopping online for it. Cotton tape comes in a roll with an adhesive backing that is easy to apply to a clean set of bars. Cycling purists like to give cotton tape several coats of shellac to protect the material and prevent it from unwrapping. That’s why some older bikes seem to have shiny handlebars.
Cork/Synthetic Bar Tape
By 1987, cork tape had for the most part replaced cotton as the tape of choice. Contemporary cork tape is actually a synthetic blend of cork and ethylene vinyl acetate. Cork/synthetic tape is more expensive than cotton, but typically also comes with a with a small strip of adhesive backing. Cork/synthetic tape needs to be stretched carefully when wrapping the bars, otherwise it looks untidy and is prone to unravelling. Take care with cork blends, stretch them too tight and they will break. Cork tape is typically too thick for designs such as the harlequin or other pattern making. The main advantage of cork is that it absorbs shock and sweat like nothing else.
High-Tech Bar Tape
Most contemporary bar tapes are made from a lightweight and durable synthetics, in combination with a foam or gel core for cushioning. Materials such as polyurethane, synthetic nylon or silicone are strong, lightweight and durable and often have a tacky texture that aids grip and contributes to a positive feel to your hands. Some have a perforated surface, others a ‘microfiber’ smooth feel, while others have a textured surface. Some look like faux leather or faux carbon. These newer formulas add good vibration dampening, without the bulkiness that can come from old-school tapes like cork.
Leather Bar Tape
If you’ve ever heard of the Brooks saddle you won’t be surprised that leather bar tape is at the top of the heap. Leather tape just feels good in your hands. Expect to pay around $100 for leather handlebar tape. You can also expect it to last forever. Some cyclists claim that it improves with age, just like a Brooks saddle. If you’re into changing the tape every year as suggested, leather probably isn’t the best choice. The downside to leather is that it doesn’t provide a vibration dampening effect like cork or gel.
Off With The Old
Do whatever it takes to remove the old bar tape. It might just unravel when you remove the plugs, or you can use tweezers or pliers to grip it an pull it off delicately.
Clean The Bars
Clean the bars thoroughly. Use a bike specific cleaner or anything that will remove tacky substances. Make sure it’s dry and without any residue to ensure a good bond with your handlebars.
Position the Hoods
If you’re replace existing tape, the hoods should already be in the right position, but this is your chance to move them if you desire. Make the adjustments, and tighten the hoods to the handlebars. It’s typically done with a 5mm hex wrench. The bolt is usually on the outside of the lever under the hood. Its a good idea to ride the bike before applying the tape, to ensure the hoods are where you want them, because after wrapping the bars, they’re difficult to move without disturbing the tape.
Use black electrical tape to secure the brake cables to the bars if applicable. Some bars have holes in them for this purpose, and you can skip the electrical tape while others bikes require the use of black tape. It typically takes 3 or 4 strips of electrical tape to secure the brake line to drop bars.
The jury is still out on the direction, and whether to wind clockwise or counterclockwise is up to you. Some prefer to start in the center, on either side of the handlebars. Some prefer to anchor the tape with the plugs, and work toward the handlebars. Because the procedure varies wildly due to your choice of designs, the procedure can vary wildly. In general the most used way is to start at the end of the bars leaving about a half-inch overhanging the end of the bars. This is so you stuff it inside the bars when you insert the bar-end plug to secure it. Then start wrapping the bar tape leaving about 1/4 of an inch to a half overlapping the previous. Make sure you keep it snug as you go. When you get to the hoods there are a few ways to do it but in general, you want to make sure that no metal on the bars is showing. Then continue toward the stem stopping two to three inches from the stem. Cut the tape so it forms a straight edge and wrap a few layers of electrical tape around the end to secure it. Then the nice tape that generally comes with new bar tape can be wrapped over the electrical tape giving it a sleek look.
That a wrap. New bar tape will not only make your bike look better but will also give you added comfort to your riding. Make sure you pick a good bar tape color!