The handlebars are vital contact points between the bike and the rider. It is the resting place of your hands, and it also withstands the force from your shoulders, arms, and upper body. Thus, if you want to ensure an enjoyable cycling experience, take good care of the handlebars.
Handlebars tape installation can sound intimidating if you are new to the term. But basically, the task itself is just about wrapping the handlebars with bar tape. With some practice and patience, you can absolutely do it.
This article will show you step-by-step how to wrap handlebars like a pro. You don’t have to ask for a handlebar tape installation service from the local shop with these tips. And you can enjoy quality time with your bike.
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The Importance of Taping Handlebars
Compared with other parts on a bike such as tires, wheels, breaks, or frames, the bar tape on a bike’s handlebars seems not worth mentioning. Some riders, especially people who have just got into cycling, might consider bar tape as an accessory. They tend to overlook the importance of bar tapes and handlebar tape installation.
Imagine without the handlebar tape, you have to ride while holding on metallic handlebar grips. How unpleasant it is when you need to cycle for a long time, on rocky roads, or under the rain. Even with a short commute ride to work, your hands will finch away the cold and hard grips every morning.
Bar tape is comfortable soft padding for the rider’s hands, but not only against the hard metallic handlebars. What is interesting is that: handlebar tape also has some functions of the front suspension, such as:
- Bar tape is a cushion against the shocks from obstacles on cycling trails. It absorbs forceful impacts and vibration from bumps, holes, jumps, and other alien objects on the roads.
- Bar tape provides more grip power. Such power is a must in road trips, mountain biking, or races. Without the bar tape, your hand can easily slip off the handlebars when they get sweaty or numb. Or when the metallic bars get slippery in the rain. You have to be in complete control of the handling to keep yourself safe.
- Bar tape is not an accessory but rather a necessity. Tapping handlebars will ensure both the comfort and safety aspects of the cycling experience.
Handlebar tape is to wear and tear. Under the pressure of the rider’s twisting and sliding, or the external environment, the bar tap will eventually be torn, scraped, and worn out. When the moment comes, you shouldn’t try to put up with the wounded old tape. Like you can’t ride with a broken front fork, get new bar tape.
Luckily, the cost of handlebar tapes is very affordable. The price depends on the materials, thickness, colors, brands, etc. But you can always find some lovely bar tapes that fit your budget.
Wait! Pleasure. Security. Are these all the reasons why you should wrap your bike’s handlebars? – Of course, no.
It’s also about aesthetics. You decide the look of your bike with new bar tape on the handlebars. Try to transform a generic bicycle with a unique touch. It’s fun. You can freely express yourself and your personality with all types of bar tapes available on the present market.
Some people like changing the look of their bikes. Between a roll of bar tape for the handlebars and a can of paint for the frame – I’m sure the bar tape is cheaper. So, if you want to give your bike a fresh touch in the fastest and easiest way, go for a handlebar tape.
What Do You Need Before Processing?
You will need some equipment and a new bar tape to wrap the handlebars.
You can easily find all the equipment you need for handlebar tape installation around the house:
- Scissor/ Razor blade
- Electrical tape/ PVC tape
- Your clean hands. I don’t recommend gloves because you need to feel how solid and stretchy the bar tape is while tapping, so you won’t accidentally break it. You don’t want to make the brand-new bar tape dirty, so be sure to clean your hands thoroughly.
Place all the equipment within your reach. While you are tapping the handlebars, you shouldn’t move around or get your hand off the bar tape to maintain tension on the bar tape.
New handlebar tape
Choosing a new handlebar tape is the most exciting part. You can freely make use of your creativity and imagination to decide on the bar tape of your taste.
You can buy these bar tapes from local bike shops. Nowadays, with a few clicks on the internet, a bar tape will soon be in front of your door.
Colors, patterns, designs on bar tapes will catch your eyes first. Indeed, they play an essential role in determining the look and feel of your bike. However, don’t forget about the material and the quality of the bar tapes.
When you choose bar tapes, check these issues: padding, grip, durability, and, of course, look. These features are greatly affected by bar tapes’ materials.
Handlebar tapes have been around for a while. Because of this, the materials used to make them have also evolved through time. The very early bar tapes were mainly from cotton and plastic. Now on the market, cork tapes and foam tapes are the most common. Other more modern materials are microfibre, polyurethane, and synthetic materials.
In short, cork tapes and foam tapes are excellent choices for everyday use. They are very comfortable and absorbent. If you aim for more resilience, polyurethane and microfiber tapes are the best. They can even be washed and reused. But microfiber tapes can be pretty tough.
Leather bar tapes are quite unique. They are hard in the beginning, but the more you use them, the softer they become. And they can last very long. However, one drawback of leather bar tapes is their high price.
Try to spend a bit of time shopping for durable and robust handlebar tape that will help you to customize your own bike.
Before you wrap the new tape on the handlebar, check its strength out. Hold the end of the bar tape and pull as strong as possible. It would be best if you got a sense of the bar tape’s strength so you won’t forcefully break it while tapping.
Preparations on handlebars
Remove old handlebar tape
If your handlebars are already tapped, and you have to remove the old bar tape and clean the handlebars carefully before wrapping them again.
First, remove the bar plugs. Then, roll up the rubber brake lever hoods. Peel off the PVC or finishing tape near the stem. The old bar tape will unravel itself. If not, just unwind it with your hand.
Then clean the bars and get rid of all the tacky residues. Don’t skip this step. These leftover sticky lumps can get in the way when you wrap the handlebars and make the newly tapped handlebars uneven. Also, take a bit of time to inspect the bars. Sometimes, you will find cracks and damages on the bars.
You should also check the position of the lever hoods and adjust if necessary. After all the maintenance jobs, wash your hand carefully so you won’t ruin the new one with dirt and oil.
Secure the brake and gear cables
The last step you need to do for preparation is to secure the brake and gear wires with electrical tape. If your bike handlebars have holes to keep these cables in check, you can skip this step.
Now, your bike handlebars should be bar-tape-free, completely clean, and ready for their new look.
How To Wrap Handlebars With Cinelli Cork Tape?
Here, I choose to wrap my bike handlebars with Cinelli cork tape. Of course, you can use any type of bar tape. I choose Cinelli because it has been famous for being grippy, durable, ultralight, and comfort bar tape since 1983. By combining EVA and natural cork, Cinelli tapes become even softer, more resilient, more absorbent, and more comfortable.
High quality doesn’t mean you have to pay a fortune for it. Cinelli bar tape range is broad and can cater for regular use as well as professional races. So, you can easily find good bar tape at an affordable price.
Now, keep in mind that handlebar tape installation is neither difficult nor easy. You just need to be patient and careful while following these steps.
Cut the electrical/ PVC tape into a few 10cm-pieces and leave them aside.
Measure the length of the brake lever mounting strap and cut a piece of the Cinelli bar tape at the same size. Leave aside
Start taping from the bottom of the bar to the centre. Overlap 1 or 2 times to maintain tension. Leave around 10mm or half-width of the bar tap sticking out. Stuff this extra part inside the handlebar and install the bar plug.
With the right-hand drop, wrap in a clockwise fashion – inside out
With the left-hand drop, warp in a counter-clockwise fashion – outside in
I will explain later why you need to wrap the tape in different directions in the final part. Now, I want to keep the guide concise.
Overlap 1/4 to 1/3 the tape with each roll. Try to keep the overlap consistent and even. The Cinelli cork tape I’m using has rows of dots in the middle, an excellent guide for the overlapping gap.
Apply pressure constantly to maintain the tension on the tape, so it is wrapped neatly. As you already tested your tape’s strength, you should adjust your strength so that you won’t break it while pulling.
Wrap around the brake hood will be a bit tricky. Here, to secure the tape, you will have two ways.
- Roll up the rubber hoods and tap the bar tape you cut in step 1 on the strap.
- Roll the tape from under the lever and up towards the inside. Then wrap the tap up and down the drop. Then continue to roll the tape from under the lever up to the outside, overlap the tape in the first step of the figure 8. Finally, roll the tape back inside the bar. From here, repeat the wrapping as usual.
- Roll up the rubber hoods and tap the bar tape you cut in step 1 on the strap.
- Roll around the covering tap one time to cover it. Then take the bar tape up over the bottom to the lever body and then roll down the bar. From here, repeat the wrapping as usual.
When you reach the point where you want to stop wrapping, hold and cut the tape diagonally (about 6-7cm). Then hole it tightly and wrap the electrical tape (cut in step 1) 3-4 times around the end to secure it.
Repeat all the steps with the other bar.
It might be difficult to visualize these steps through words, so you’ll want to check out this fantastic video for very detailed instructions:
With this guide, I hope you can tap your bike handlebars nicely without much trouble. Don’t worry if you can’t do it right away; practice makes perfect. Also, you can always redo the tap installation if you are not satisfied with the result.
How To Wrap Handlebars With Bar-end Shifters?
Some riders install a bar-end shifter at the end of the handlebars. So instead of a bar plug, you will have a bar-end shifter. So, to wrap the handlebars with a bar-end shifter, you can follow the guide above, with a slight adjustment at step 2.
In step 2 above, you leave extra tape to stuff into the handlebar with the bar plug. But here, there is no bar plug. So, you don’t have to leave any extra bar tape at the end of the bar.
You will take the 10cm electrical tape and stick half of it on the beginning of the bar tap. Wrap the half left at the bottom of the shifter where it meets the bar. This way, you can keep the first roll of the handlebar tape as firm as possible.
Then overlap the electrical tape with the bar tap 1-2 times. Then continue to wrap and follow the instructions above. Everything is the same from here.
Here is a video on how to wrap handlebars with bar-end shifters:
Things To Note When Wrapping Handlebars
When you do the handlebar tape installation, there are few things to keep in mind that will ease the process and make it more interesting.
The direction of the wrap:
There is no fixed rule for the wrap direction. However, riders usually twist the bars forcefully under stress. To prevent the tape from getting loose, you should wrap clockwise for the right-hand bar and counter-clockwise for the left-hand bar.
Some people even start from the center and wrap to the end of the bar. This is what they prefer. But the easiest way is still from the end of the bar to the center.
- Gap of the overlap: try to keep it as even as possible to avoid lumpiness. It affects the general look of the handlebars and comfort while using.
- Tension: use a bit of force to tighten the wrap and maintain the tape’s tension so it won’t unwind. Never let yourself go in the middle of the tapping, or else you will have to redo it from the beginning.
- Finishing tape: you don’t have to always stick to bland black electrical/ PVC tape. You can hide the boring tape under a strip of leather, colored tapes, stickers, etc. Just decorate the finishing tape with your own style and preference.
How do you wrap handlebars like a pro?
Start wrapping from the bottom of the bar to the center. Maintain the tension and the equal gap while overlap. Wrap clockwise for right-hand drop and counter-clockwise for left-hand drop.
For more details, check out the guide in How to wrap handlebars with Cinelli cork tape?
Do I have to wrap handlebars on all types of bikes?
You should. The bar tape provides you with more control over your handling by increasing grip and absorbing shocks. It makes your hands feel more comfortable. Also, if you like to customize your bike, why not give your handlebars a new coat!?
How much does it cost to tape handlebars?
It is very affordable. You can find bar tapes for $9. If you do the handlebar tape installation yourself, then that is all the cost.
Should I wrap handlebars double or even triple?
If the bar tap is thin, you can double wrap the handlebars. Be careful. It would be best if you had a bit of experience to do this. Otherwise, the handlebars won’t be nice and comfortable to use.