Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Cyclists Guide to Bar Tape

There are only three points of contact a cyclist has with a bike: pedals, saddle, and handlebars. The most often neglected and least discussed seem to be handlebars and bar tape which covers them. Even seasoned cyclists who spend hours meticulously cleaning their drive train and bikes after every ride often leave dingy, tattered bar tape on their bike. Many fear they can't duplicate the perfect spiral wraps the manufacturer installed. However, it's not complicated at all, and can make a tremendous difference in comfort while riding. Changing bar tape each season is a good way to freshen up the feel and look of your bike.

The first decision is which bar tape to choose. Bar tape comes in many different options. The biggest difference lies in the thickness of the tape. Thicker tape promotes more shock absorption and dampens road buzz. Thinner tape promotes greater feedback and road feel. There are also gel pad kits available which go underneath bar tape to further dampen road vibrations. My bar tape of choice is Fizik's Microtex. The tape strikes a balance between road feel and comfort. Since it is thin, it provides good road feel, but the soft suede texture is very comfortable on long rides. The downside to it - installation is difficult since it doesn't stretch very well and the tape itself is very short. There is just barely enough length to get the bars wrapped unlike other brands.

Fizik's Microtex is my favorite bar tape.

The only tools required are a pair of scissors, electrical tape, and some patience. Although it's not necessary, a bike stand will help maintain tension while wrapping. An extra pair of hands can also be substituted. If you don't have either, your bars can be wrapped with the bike leaning against a wall. One hint, before you begin, take a picture of your bar tape so you can easily refer to the direction the tape runs. Directions often refer to clockwise, counter clockwise, topwise, above, and below. All these directions can be pretty vague when you're standing with naked bars and no frame of reference. Taking a picture makes it easy to refer back and be sure you're doing things right.

The first step is removing the old tape. Flip the rubber cover back on the brifter hoods and begin unwrapping from the center of the bars. At the base, remove the bar plugs. Note the overlap of the tape tucked into the end of the bars. This is an important step to repeat for a clean, finished look. Some tape has adhesive backing to help it stick, if yours does be sure that any residue is cleaned completely off the bar.

Once the bar is clean start at the base and allow about half the width of the tape to hang over the edge. From here, begin wrapping up the bar, overlapping the tape about half the width of the tape as you go. If your tape has adhesive backing, pull about a foot off at a time. The most important thing to remember in this step is tension. Pull as hard as you can on the tape without tearing it. This allows for a smooth layer of tape throughout the contours of the bar. Continue until you arrive at the hoods.

At the brake hoods, it's time for a decision. Most kits come with a two or three inch piece of bar tape meant to go behind the hoods and prevent any naked bar from peeking through. I've found it's not really necessary. Simply wrap as closely as you can to the bar hoods. Then the most difficult part of wrapping your bars - transitioning from the drops to the tops. Keeping tension on the bars, pull over onto the top of the hoods. If you wrap tightly and very close to the hoods, none of the bar will show.

The trickiest part of the process is ensuring the hoods are covered.

Continue wrapping the tops all the way until the end. At the very end, take the last length of tape and cut it on a diagonal so it lays perfectly flat with the bars. Finish off with some black electrical tape. Kits often come with strips of tape for finishing the bars. I've found this stuff rarely sticks well and usually isn't long enough. Some black electrical tape is much more effective. Last step, tuck the overlapped tape into the end of the bars and install the bar plug.

The end result is clean, even coverage throughout your bars.

Wrapping your bars is not terribly difficult, but it does take some practice to achieve mastery. The good thing is, if you find along the way that something isn't quite right, simply unwrap and try again. Changing out your tape is a great way to stave off boredom when it's too rainy to ride. Moreover, the satisfaction you get from wrapping your own bar tape is well worth the minimal effort required.


  1. Very nice, but I still like when you wrap my bar tape :)

  2. old post i know, but what i went to the store today to get my "ms150" inspection sticker and one of the dudes said i had my bar tape wrong. i have the fizik bar tape but he said i didn't do it write because i didn't use the gel pack under it and that it's uncomfortable the way that i wrapped it directly on the bar. i'm pretty sure he was just making me try to buy tape or something. i thought it was weird.