Wrapping your handlebars for the first time can be a lot more hassle than it should be. Armed with just a few tips you'll find yourself admiring your handy work rather than wrestling with several yards of unwilling sticky (or not) bar tape.
Your first decision will be what type of tape you prefer. There are numerous vendors offering everything you can think of from real cork tape to gel-infused foam tape. Profile Design (our sponsor btw) offers a great line of bar tape in just about every color you can imagine.
Your next choice will be color. I tend to stick with darker colors – they don’t show grime and wear as easily as brighter colors, and may draw less attention to you if you’re not riding your best. It’s a personal thing of course, and I’ve seen some really cool bikes with yellow, pink or orange bar tape that look really awesome.
Now that you’ve been to the shop and picked out the color and type of tape you like, you are ready to get down to business. Removing the old tape is fairly straight forward. Put the bike on a work stand, or if you don’t have one put the bike somewhere where it is steady and won’t fall over while you are wrapping the bars. Roll the rubber brake covers back to expose the base of the brake lever where it attaches to the bars. Be careful, you don’t want to tear this pad!
Remove the plugs from the end of the bars. They may have been in there for a while and this could be the hardest part of the whole process. Once the plugs are out, take off the tape or sticky stuff that is holding the tape to the bar near the stem. Once that is off you can unroll the whole mess and toss the old stuff into the recycling bin.
While the tape is off, take the time to look over the bars. Some carbon bars can crack near the brake hoods or around the stem if they’ve been tightened too much, or if the handlebars have taken a shot or two in falls. Many carbon manufacturers recommend replacing bars every 2 years or so. If you’ve fallen hard – you should replace the bars. It’s a small price to pay to protect your skin. Check out the rest of the bars for chips, cracks, or even small scratches that can become weak spots. Having your handlebars come apart is not a pleasant experience.
If the bars are dirty, clean them off before you begin to apply the new tape. In your new box of tape, there should be short pieces that are intended to cover the band that holds the brake hoods to be bars. Peel the brake hood rubber covering up if you haven’t already done so and place the small tape pieces on each band. You may have to trim the pieces shorter to have them fit correctly.
Now it’s time for the fun part. Take one of the long pieces of new tape. Admire it in its brand new, clean state. Starting at the end (bottom of the drops) on one side begin wrapping the tape around the end of the bars. You have to leave about half the width of of the tape sticking over the end of the bars so the plug has some tape to hold on to. Here’s the tricky part. You want to wrap the bars in the correct direction. My preference is to wrap the tape so your weight on the tops of the bars keeps the tape tight – instead of unwrapping it. This used to be a bigger problem in the old days with tape that had no adhesive backing, but old habits are hard to overcome.
Here’s my bar wrapping mantra “on the outside looking in”. It’s from an old Boingo song, and if you have to ask who Boingo is… Anyway – you want to wrap the tape spiraling from you towards the bike. That means it is going to be a different direction from each side. It’s confusing, but after a while you’ll get it. If you’ve wrapped the bars correctly the ends of the tape on the tops of the bars will be wrapping towards the back of the bike. Make any sense at all?
As you wrap you’ll notice you have to go around the brake hoods somehow. It’s really easy – you just keep going in the same direction you have been and go around the brake hoods.
Style Point - The really cool thing to do with the new aero carbon bars is to only wrap the drops, and leave that really cool carbon aero part with the fancy logos and stuff as plain carbon. It’s the way many track racers wrap their handlebars – and is way cool. For regular round bars you can go to a point on the flats of the bars that will allow room for your bar-mounted goodies like computers or lights, bells, etc.
Once you reach the point on the tops of the bars where you want to stop you’ll need your scissors to cut off the excess tape. Here’s how you cut the tape so you get that pro look. The edge of the tape towards the stem needs to be straight and clean, but the tape is wrapping around the bar at an angle. The solution – you cut the outward edge of the tape at an angle. Hold the tape away from the bar by pulling the loose end of the tape towards you. It’s easier to do from the front of the bike. Now, cut the outside edge of the tape with your scissors at an angle perpendicular to the bars and parallel with the top tube. Voila! Now the end of your tape makes a perfectly straight edge when you wrap it around the bars.
Finish off by using the supplied tape strips, or simply use some electrical tape to hold the bar tape in place. Use a little care to make sure the tape is on straight and clean, and you’ll definitely get more style points when your friends are admiring your new tape at the local coffee shop.
Wrap the other side of the bars taking care to end your tape on the flats so it is symmetrical with the first side. The very last thing you do is to put your new plugs into the ends of the bars. If you’re really lucky you’ve left just the right amount of tape overhang and the plugs pop right in with just enough resistance to keep them in. Too much tape and the plugs may not fit. Too little and they will fall out. Don’t feel badly if you have to redo the job a few times to get it just right.