If you’re a cycling enthusiast, then you understand how important it is to have handlebars that are easy to grasp. It’s the only sure way you have of staying in control of your steering and balance, and if you can’t maintain a solid grip, you’ve got a problem.
Even if you normally wear gloves, mud or sweat can make it impossible to hold onto bare handlebars on long rides. And the jarring and vibration that’s transmitted through the hands and wrists on tough climbs and hard descents can leave you with finger and shoulder pain that can last for days.
Regardless of whether you’re a full-time freestyler or a grand tour hopeful, a good roll of handlebar tape is one of the most worthwhile investments you’ll ever make in comfort, health, and even visual appeal. There are hundreds of different types of tape to choose from though, and understanding their most crucial points will help you pick the one that’s best for your riding style.
Stay in Control With High-Performance Handlebar Tape
Let’s be honest: in a sport where feather-light frames, body-custom saddles, and ultra-precision groupsets are centre stage, tape seems almost archaic. Nothing could be further from the truth though, as the use of high-performance bike tape for handlebars has become an essential part of modern bike setup and maintenance.
No two riders have the same hand size, grip strength, or apply the same gripping pressure at all times, and bar tape compensates for how much these minute differences can make in a rider’s performance. That’s why bicycle grip tape is manufactured in such a wide range of textures, materials, and thicknesses: to make sure that you have the solid, comfortable grip that you need to stay in control of your handlebars at all times.
Know the Difference Between Your Bar Tape Materials
Everything from the climate to your preferred riding environment is going to determine which type of bike grip tape is best for you, and you can buy them in an array of materials that include:
· Synthetic polymer. Easily wrapped synthetic and composite bar tapes made from polyurethane, EVA elastomers, or silicone are the most popular tapes for all types of road, cyclocross, or freestyle riding because of their variable textures, their tackiness through all kinds of weather extremes, and easy-to-clean surfaces.
· Leather. Breathable, long-lasting leather bar tape ordinarily requires an extra bit of work to wrap because of its natural stiffness, but it has excellent wearing properties, is incredibly soft once it’s worn in, and the way it looks screams classic cyclist.
· Cork. Although tapes made from sweat-resistant cork, and cork/polyurethane combinations tend to absorb dirt faster than other materials, they’re still the extremely comfortable stalwarts of old-school cycling that are easy to wrap and provide a true road feel.
It’s worth noting that while bar tapes aren’t expensive – certainly not with respect to the job they perform – that there are price differences between the materials. Traditional bicycle tape materials like leather and cork have a more sumptuous feel and are inherently pricier than their purely synthetic counterparts. What synthetics lack in opulence, however, they make up for in textures, adaptability, and colour choices.
The Right Tape Thickness for Comfort and Preventing Injuries
When you’re looking at the wide selection of bar tapes that are on the market, you’ll quickly realize that thickness is inseparable from both comfort and health. Not only can riding with a handlebar that’s wrapped either too thick (or not thick enough) cause short-term discomfort and control problems, but it can also lead to serious hand injuries such as nerve damage or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
This is why you’ll find handlebar tape for sale in such a wide range of thicknesses. And while personal preference is the main determinant in choosing the right thickness, the preferences typically coincide with the type of riding being done. In short, the harder the ride, the thicker the tape will probably be.
· 1mm – 2mm
This is the ideal thickness range for road bikes where every kilogram counts, and lighter controls and sharper handling are required at the handlebars. Almost all leather and cork bar tapes are in this thickness range; and while there are a few synthetic tapes in this range too, they’re not particularly durable at this size.
· 2.5mm – 3.5mm
This is the optimal thickness range for all forms of gravel, cyclocross, and all-around recreational riding. The tackiness, and strong vibration-dampening properties of corks and synthetics really shine through at this thickness, giving them a grippiness that’s perfect for any size of hand and any type of riding.
· 4mm – 5mm
This thickness range is almost exclusively for gravel and other types of endurance cycling where extra tacky, and extra vibration adsorbent tapes are required. Thick, heavy-duty synthetics provide maximum protection for these types of long hard rides, and they’re designed to withstand a lot of moisture and rough gripping.
Choosing an appropriate thickness for your type of riding doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice a preference you might have had for a different bicycle handlebar wrap tape, especially if it was thinner. You can double-wrap a handlebar to increase the thickness of a preferred texture, or you can wrap the tape around cushioning gel pad inserts next to the handlebars to provide an extra layer of shock absorption.
Suffice it to say, having a grip that’s comfortable and won’t cause long term injuries is as simple as ensuring that your bars are the correct thickness.
Make Sure That Your Handlebar Tape Adheres Properly
The final consideration you need to keep in mind when you buy handlebar tape is the adhesive backing. Bar tape typically comes with a low-reside adhesive, or gel strip backing that prevents it from shifting once you’ve wrapped it. A lot of bar tape kits also come with finishing tape strips to secure the end of your wrap.
Bar tape backings are ordinarily tacky enough to allow you to remove and remount them periodically. And if the adhesive loses its strength after several removals, ordinary electrical tape can easily be used to cleanly secure the ends of the wrap.
Ultimately, while there are almost as many different ways of wrapping handlebars as there are types of bar tape, the one unwavering rule is that the tape needs to fit snuggly. Lightly stretching and generously overlapping the tape when wrapping aids in adhesion, and you’ll find that tape that is tightly wrapped can maintain its adhesive quality for years.
The Final Word
At the end of the day, no matter how often you ride or which type of riding you do, the state and condition of your bar tape deserves just as much attention as your tyres. Depending on how hard and how often you ride, a top quality tape can last from several months to several years, but you can’t afford to ignore it when it needs to be replaced.
High performance bike tape for handlebars will let you take the comfort, control, and safety in your cycling to a new level. It’s a small accessory that can have a significant impact on your health and performance, and if you’re haven’t used bar tape in the past or new to renew what’s already installed on your bike, today’s the day to do it.