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If your bar tape has seen a bit too much abuse, or maybe you’ve invested in an upgrade to a flashy new set of handlebars - or you just plain fancy a colour change - it’s time to swap your bar tape. It’s not a difficult job, just a bit fiddly. Here’s how to get it right.
Choosing bar tape
Modern bar tape is a lot more forgiving than the cloth tape with which riders used to cover their bars. That means that if something does go wrong, you can usually unwrap the tape pretty easily and start again.
Often there’s a grippy section to the tape that holds it in place, rather than an adhesive backing. That makes repositioning the tape easy, although modern adhesives will usually tolerate unwrapping without losing their tackiness.
There’s usually quite a bit of stretch to bar tape too. It’s a good idea to use this to make sure that your tape is firmly held in position and won’t walk around the bars with use. Use caution though, as some bar tape can be torn quite easily if you overdo it.
Stretching the tape will mean that you’re unlikely to run out before you reach the finishing position. Most tape has enough length that this shouldn’t be an issue, but I’ve occasionally come across tape that’s a bit short and had to start again, stretching it a bit more.
If you have wider bars, aero tops or deeper drops, it’s something you might need to be a bit more careful about.
Bar tape is usually sold with a couple of short lengths of tape in the box. They’re there to place over the backs or sides of your levers. There are multiple ways to wrap around the levers and depending on which you use, you can get bare sections of lever which aren’t covered by the tape from the roll, which the short tape lengths can be used to cover.
If you follow the “figure of eight” technique described here, you won’t need to use the extra tape lengths though.
Bar tape packs will also include a couple of strips of finishing tape to hold down the loose ends of the bar tape at the tops. This is of variable quality; some will stick well and stay stuck down, while in other cases it may quickly start to lift and come unstuck or be too short to be effective.
You should equip yourself with a roll of electrical insulation tape in case you need to restick the ends down.
Clean up your bars
You may need the electrical tape for the next stage too, which is to prepare the bars for taping.
Unwrap your old tape and clean off any residue of adhesive. Pull back the rubber covers from the hoods, so that they’re out of the way when you start to retape. Check your bars look in good condition.
Brake and gear cables often run under the bar tape from the levers and are held in place by insulating tape.
If that’s your set-up, now’s a good time to make sure they’re held firmly in position and that the cables themselves and the tape holding them in place are in good repair. If not, you might need to replace your cables or re-fix them with a couple of turns of tape near the levers and another couple of turns near where they will emerge from under the tape near the centre of the bars.
Now’s also a good time to adjust your lever position on the bars if you’re not quite comfortable with where they’re set. There’s an Allen bolt under the hood covers which secures the lever in place. Loosen it, reposition your levers then tighten it again.
Taping the drops
Start off at the ends of the drops - or actually a bit beyond them, so there’s some tape to push into the ends of the bars and hold in place with the bar plugs. You need about one turn’s unsupported bar tape, but don’t push the bar plugs back in place until you’ve finished taping, just in case you need to start again.
We’d recommend taping from the underneath of the bars towards the inside, then outwards over the top. That way hand friction as you ride in the drops will tend to tighten the tape on the bars.
Try to overlap the tape by about a third to a half as you work up the drops, keeping the spacing consistent and applying a little stretch to the tape, as mentioned above. If your tape has an adhesive layer with a paper backing, it’s easiest to pull off a longer length of the backing strip as discard it, so you don’t end up with a bundle of it getting in your way.
The flat bit of the drops is pretty straightforward, but once you get into the curved parts, you’ll need to overlap the insides of the curve a bit more so that the outside is fully covered. Work your way up to the underside of the levers.
Around the levers
There are a few ways of wrapping around the levers. The most commonly used is the figure of eight, which we’d recommend, although it ends up with quite a bulky area where the levers and bars meet, which some people don’t like. It uses quite a lot of tape too, which might be a problem if you’re short on length. Stretching the tape a bit more when wrapping around the lever will reduce the bulk a bit and also make sure that there’s no loose tape around these tricky turns.
Once you get to the bottom edge of the lever body, pull the tape up over the outside of the lever body of the lever with the next turn.
Pass over the top of the lever (running outside to inside), again with a slight overlap of the join between the lever and the bar.
Now run the tape back towards the underside of the lever on the outside, making the figure of eight cross at the back, back under the bottom of the lever, overlapping the join between the lever and the bar and back up the inside of the lever to the front edge of the bar top.
That’s the tricky part done.
Along the tops
Now proceed along the tops, with the tape wrapping from the front edge of the bars upwards, then backwards over the top of the bars. That way, as with the drops, there’s a natural tendency to tighten the tape as you ride.
Again, make sure there’s plenty of overlap over the outside edge of the curve in the bars and keep the tape tight, as this is somewhere where loose tape can easily walk forward with use, leaving gaps.
Proceed along the straight part of the tops, making sure you’ve got even overlaps. Most bars have a slight taper near the stem, with the wider section usually printed with logos. When you get to this, you’ve reached the point where you should finish off the taping.
To finish off, you need to cut off the residual tape at an angle, so that the tail ends up more-or-less straight across the bar. It means quite a long cut, rather than one straight across the tape.
You want to end up with the cut on the underside of the bar, where it’s less subject to hand force, less likely to come unravelled and you’re less likely to feel it as you ride. You can ensure this by making a straight cut across the tape where you want it to end, before you make the angled cut.
Tape over the end with the finishing tape, working in the same direction as the bar tape. Use a couple of turns of electrical insulation tape if you’re not sure if the supplied finishing tape will hold; it’s better to tape up firmly now than end up with the tape coming unstuck during a ride.
As with the bar tape, you should aim to have the finishing tape end on the underside of the bar, for the same reason as you should finish here with the bar tape.
Finally, go back to where you started and push in your bar end plug. If it’s got a compression bolt, tighten it up to help keep the plug in place.
Now repeat on the other side
Right, that’s one side done. The second side should be a mirror image of the first, so you’ll work in the opposite direction.
If you’re a real stickler, you can check that you’ve applied the same tension and overlap on either side by comparing the length of left-over bar tape from each roll.
As we said above, don’t be afraid to unwrap or part-unwrap and try again if you’re not satisfied with the result - most bar tape can cope with this without losing its stick or stretch.
Wrapping bar tape is something that we can do for you as well. Please contact our workshop to find out more.
For most riders most of the time, that’s all there is to it.
But if you suffer from numb hands or are riding somewhere very bumpy, there are things you can do to make your bars a bit more comfortable.
Pros riders racing over cobbles will sometimes double tape their bars. It’s useful if your tape is a bit thinner, but choosing more squishy tape is probably a better option, as the overall thickness of the tape is likely to be less, leading to a more secure hold.
You can also buy bar tape kits which include gel pads. The pads sit under the bar tape and provide a bit of extra cushioning from road vibration. A good quality pair of mitts is another way to add some extra padding.