You know you’ve got a new bike at your fingertips by feel. The smooth, unsullied touch of clean, unblemished bar tape is incomparable. Yet it’s one of the most easily over looked parts of your bike when it comes to replacement. I’ve seen otherwise pristine bikes with shreds of sweaty, stinky, bar tape crying out to be replaced.
It’s not as difficult as it looks, so here are a few tips to getting it done right.
1) Choose your look and feel
Thick, Squishy, Gel Tape: This is what usually comes stock on new bikes. It’s comfortable, helps absorb shock and is fairly easily installed due to the fact that it’s got some stretch to it. Light colors quickly turn grey with use and are not easily cleaned.
Old School Cork Tape: Similar to gel tape but without as much elasticity. If you pull too hard when installing it easily tears—leaving you to buy another set. Not quite as shock absorbent as the gel, but less water absorbent – something to consider in the Pacific NW.
Ultra Thin Tape: This tape is often perforated down the middle. It looks extremely slick on the bike and is easily cleaned, even after heavy use. There is little cushion, but that is usually fine if you wear gloves. This is a good choice for cyclocross bikes that will be covered in mud every weekend.
Grippy Tape: Similar to the ultra thin tape, but slightly more shock absorbent with a tacky element to the feel of the tape for better grip. This is also easily installed because of how elastic it is.
Cloth Tape: Another throw back to track bike era that has made a comeback with the resurgence of fixed gears. Easy to install, very affordable and comes in a variety of colors. Has zero shock absorbency and is the closest to riding on a naked bar. Least expensive, but wears out the quickest and looks inexpensive.
To adhere or not to adhere?
Some bar wraps come with a sticky tape on the back to ease in installation. The downside is that when you go to replace it, some brands leave the center strip of the bar wrap behind with it, leaving you to spend 20-30 minutes scraping chunks of old tape off before you install the new stuff.
Others come with silicone grip or no grip to help the tape hold tight on the bar. This makes it harder to install because overlap and tightness of the wrap are integral to keeping your wrap in place over time.
2)Get Ready: Scissors, electrical tape, bar ends and you.
Once you have a clean bar, get ready by having your first piece of bar wrap out of the box. If it comes with adhesive, partially remove the protective backing. Usually the box will also contain a short piece of wrap to put around the bottom of the brake lever. Peel off any adhesive and stick it to the bike where you can reach it, and do the same with your roll of electrical tape for finishing the wrap. Put the scissors in your pocket or within easy arms reach. (If all these tools are out of reach, you’ll loose all your work when you have to let go of your wrap to grab them.)
3) Wrap it up
Start at the bottom of the handlebar, so test the fit of the bar end cap you’re using. If it’s tight in the bar, you’ll start with the bar tape overlapping the edge by a few millimeters. If it’s loose, you’ll start with 1″ of the bar wrap end tucked inside the bar.
Starting from underneath the bar, wrap towards the outside and over the top of the bar. For loose fit caps, overlap 1/3 of the tape one wrap around the edge, for tight fit caps overlap 1-2mm tightly so the edge of the tape grips the end of the bar. As you continue wrapping, the wrap should angle like one side of an arrow pointing forward.
Continue wrapping over-lapping the edges by 1/3 – 1/4 of the next wrap. This will keep your wrap from appearing lumpy. Make sure to keep a constant, firm pressure pulling on the tape from all directions to prevent gaps or a wrap that comes loose.
When you get to one wrap short of the brake lever, slap your bonus piece (already on the bike where you can reach it) under the metal part of the brake lever. Leaving that one wrap under the brake lever bare, wrap under the lever towards the inside of the bike, over the top of the back of the lever towards the outside of the bike, under back towards the inside of the bike (crossing over your first under wrap), then around underneath the front of the brake lever. Finish this figure 8 by heading around the back of the lever one more time, then up over the bar and continue your wrap. Criss. Cross. Criss.
When you reach the largest diameter part of the bar, grab your scissors. Finish your wrap by holding the tape out from the bike on the angle you wrapped it on, then cutting a 4″ diagonal across the tape to cut it to length. This cut should be perpendicular to the bar.
Wrap the end on the same angle you’ve been wrapping and your perpendicular cut should make a nice, straight finish on the bar. Grab your handy electrical tape and finish the end with 3 wraps that do not touch the handlebar but completely cover the end of the wrap.
Pop in your bar caps and admire your handy work!
Tori Bortman is a bike mechanic and the instructor/owner of Gracies Wrench.