April 10, 2010
This week I completed my annual task of wrapping new handlebar tape on the front door handles of Adventure Cycling. With that accomplished, it seems like a good time to write about handlebar tape for your bike.
Handlebar tape is a very simple addition to any road or touring bike that can both increase the comfort of your ride, and add some personalized style to your bike. Any new bike will come stock with bar tape, so it's certainly not necessary to replace it right away, but when the time comes, here are some styles to consider.
Cork Tape: This could be the most readily available tape out there and should be in stock at your local bike shop. It can purchased in a range of solid colors, as well as patterns, and has a soft feel to it that maintains a good grip even in wet conditions, and will last for many miles. Thickness can vary from one company to another, and some models have an extra gel layer for added comfort. Most cork tape will range from $10-$20.
Cloth Tape: For a old-style classic appearance, cloth tape is hard to beat. It is pretty inexpensive, and you will want 2-3 rolls for one handlebar depending on your preference. If you take this route, I highly recommend going the extra mile, and adding a few coats of shellac to the tape once it is wrapped. This will not only add loads of character to your bike, but it will add years of life to your bar tape. Cinelli is one of the leaders in cork handlebar tape.
Leather Tape: Another long lasting tape is leather tape. While it is one of the more expensive tapes out there ($45+ per roll), it has a unique feel, and will wear nicely over time, similarly to a leather bike saddle. Most leather tapes are designed to shed water, so you do not need to treat them with any additional products to stand up to the elements. Wrapping this can be a little tricky since it is a stiffer material, but it will provide a very nice feel once installed. Brooks and Selle An-Atomica are options for leather tape. In you don't have bar end shifters, I'm a fan of plugging the drop bar holes with wine corks.
Textured Tape: This is a newer style of tape that has been cropping up more and more. Often made from polymers or microfibers, this brand of tape has a very tacky feel to it, which provides excellent grip in all conditions. Like cork tape, it can be purchased in a variety of colors, and thicknesses. It does run a little high in price ($30-$40 per roll), but does have a pretty good lifespan. Lizard Skin DSP tape is one example of this.
To apply handlebar tape to your bike, I like to start at the end of the drop bar, and work my way up to the top of the bars near the stem. Once you reach the top, you will need to use a 'finishing' tape to keep the bars from unraveling. Most rolls of handlebar tape will supply a few strips for you, but I have never had any luck with these, and always resort to electrical tape.
Photo by Josh Tack.
TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.