For bikes with drop handlebars or aero extensions, handlebar tape is used to wrap points of contact for additional comfort and grip when riding. Most triathletes will choose comfort as their main priority when deciding on handlebar tape. Yet, it’s important to first ensure that the handlebar shape and bike fit is optimised for your personal geometry before looking to handlebar tape as a solution to any existing discomfort.
Should I use bar tape on my handlebars?
There is debate amongst triathletes as to whether to use bar tape at all. There are multiple alternatives that amateurs and professionals alike might opt for such as grip tape, shrink wrapped tubing, or even no coverage at all. The choice here comes down to the type of riding the bike is used for and the riding style of its owner. Courses that include climbing and descending will require coverage to aid grip. For all but the straightest and flattest of courses, handling and therefore, guaranteed grip on the bars, will be a key focus.
Finding comfort often goes hand in hand with finding additional speed. If riding the extensions without tape feels comfortable and safe, this could be a weight-saving option. We would not recommend mimicking tactics of professionals without due consideration for your own needs and abilities.
How to choose the best bar tape
There is a wide array of options to choose from when it comes to tape, with material and thickness being key considerations. The material choice will be broadly split between a tacky or matt finish. A tacky finish will give a rider additional purchase on the handlebars and offer great longevity. This is a common choice amongst road racers who will be pulling on the bars more vigorously. Thicker tape is a common choice for those seeking additional comfort, with many tapes using a silicone gel backing.
How to wrap your own handlebar tape
To fit your bar tape, you’ll need: good quality long scissors, a small flat-head screwdriver, an Allen key, and some electrical tape.
- Remove your previous tape. You’ll need a small flat-head screwdriver to remove the bar ends of your previous tape. Some bar ends use an Allen key to secure them into place. Start removing your previous tape from the centre of the bars to avoid the need for scissors or a knife, which could damage your handlebars.
- Clean your handlebars. Once you have removed your old bar tape, clean your handlebars thoroughly and ensure that any cables running underneath the tape are in good condition and well positioned; if they require replacement, now is a good time.
- Maintain tension. The most important thing to remember when wrapping your tape is to maintain tension at all times. This will ensure that the tape cannot be worked loose when pulling hard on the bars. For drop handlebars as well as time aero bars, it is a good idea to wrap from the end of the bar as this will mean that typical hand movements or pulling motions will go with the direction of the overlaps, not against them.
- Start wrapping. Starting from the end, begin wrapping with half the tape overlapping the end of the bar for a complete turn; having this excess is essential to make sure the bar end fits securely. Most riders will look to have around a third overlap for each turn to ensure full coverage of the bars and optimal comfort. Overlapping more will make the coverage thicker, offering additional padding, though will add marginally more weight and bulk. However much you choose to overlap, make sure to keep it even.
- Approaching the hoods. If wrapping drop handlebars, as you approach the hoods and the bars curve upwards, you’ll need to begin to overlap more on the inside and less on the outside to ensure that no part of the bar is showing.
- At the hoods. Once you get to the hoods, pull back the rubber brake hood covers. Tape up to the bottom of the lever before wrapping up and over the top of your lever, overlapping the brake hood itself slightly. Next, wrap down and underneath the lever around the front of the bars, before wrapping back up and over the top. This technique is known as the figure of eight and will ensure no part of the bar is visible. Before you continue, double check your figure of eight by pulling the brake hood cover back down and checking for any exposed bar.
- Cut at the end. Once past the hoods, continue wrapping the bars as before, making sure to keep your overlap consistent. Once you’ve reached the point where you’d like your tape to end, make an angled cut parallel to the front wheel, as opposed to the direction the tape has been wrapped in. This cut should be around 2-3 inches long to keep your finish neat and square.
- Secure finish. Secure the tape with electrical tape wrapped at least two full turns around the bars. Bar tape usually comes with branded tape, but most tape-fitters will prefer to use electrical tape for its superior strength and durability. That being said, you can always use both if you like the look of the branded option.
How to maintain your bar tape
Bar tape is thankfully something that typically lasts well on your bike. Care must be taken when leaning your bike on rough surfaces and it is important to clean the tape to ensure no salt and other contaminants penetrate beneath it. Riders choosing coloured tape will want to take particular care when cleaning to ensure no oil or other contaminants stain the tape.
London based bike repair company, havebike offers riders across the South East collect and return repairs and servicing. Their mechanics gave us their expert advice on how to look after your bike’s chain. To book your bike in for a repair or service, visit www.havebike.co.uk
Will has been riding bikes for eight years and has placed in the top ten in national enduro races on several occasions. He started fixing bikes as a Saturday job at his local bike shop. As a technician at Havebike, Will specialises in off-road bikes and wheel truing.
More bike maintenance advice from Will
- How to maintain and clean your bike cleats
- How do you maintain your cassette on your bike?
- How do you look after your bike chain?
Top image by Stuart Franklin, Getty Images