There’s nothing quite like replacing your bar tape to make your bike feel like new. Wrapping bar tape well is an acquired skill and in this guide, we’ll walk you through the process.
You may wish to change your bar tape if it has got scuffed, you want a new colour or style, or it’s just looking a bit tired.
Whatever reason you have for replacing your handlebar tape, being able to wrap it properly is a useful skill to have under your belt.
Ask any 10 mechanics the best way to wrap bar tape and you’re bound to get 10 answers – it’s a truly hotly debated topic.
On two things, however, everyone agrees: tape should not be baggy and no gaps should be left, revealing the handlebar.
We’d recommend replacing your handlebar tape once or twice a year if you’re riding frequently. If your bike sees regular use on a turbo trainer, it’s worth checking the condition of the bar fairly regularly – stories of bars corroding under a mix of sweat, spilt energy drink and dribble are not just urban myths and are a common maintenance mistake.
Tools needed to replace handlebar tape
- New handlebar tape
- Electrical tape
- Solvent to clean bar
- Hex key or rubber mallet to secure bar plug (optional but not essential)
- Pin spanner or pliers to hold tape (optional but not essential)
Wrapping handlebar tape is one of the few maintenance tasks where we’d recommend against wearing gloves. However, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before installing the new tape to avoid any greasy smears or marks, particularly if it’s white.
How to wrap handlebar tape in 6 steps
1. Out with the old
Pull back the hood covers of the shifters and undo the electrical/finishing tape securing the bar tape on the top of the bar. Remove the old bar tape and clean any sticky residue off with a light solvent, such as isopropyl alcohol.
Once clean, it’s a good idea to inspect the condition of the handlebar with the tape removed, particularly around the shifter clamps.
It’s also worth checking that the electrical or fibre tape securing your cables is in good keep.
2. To cheat or not to cheat
Most bar tape comes with two small sections of tape – sometimes called cheater strips – that are designed to make it easier to hide the little gap left when you wrap around the shifters.
It is a mark of pride for any good mechanic to be able to wrap their bars without using the cheater piece, and it’s not that hard in practice, but we won’t judge if you decide to use them.
If you’re going to use them, it’s worth cutting the strip down to the correct size now before you start wrapping the bar tape.
Place the strip behind the lever. It should just cover the clamp without extending onto the body of the lever. Carefully measure and cut down to length.
Keep the shortened strips within arm’s reach for when you need them mid-wrap – we like to stick them loosely on the frame’s top tube.
3. On with the new
Before you start wrapping the new tape, there are a couple of points to note.
Firstly, we’d recommend wrapping from the drops of the bar to the hoods. If you wrap the bar the other way round, it won’t be as durable because you’ll be effectively loosening it with your palms as you ride.
Next, if you are wrapping the driveside of the bar, the tape should be wrapped in a clockwise orientation. The non-driveside should be wrapped anti-clockwise. It should be wrapped in this direction because, when you are riding on the drops, you will be naturally tightening the tape.
Starting at the bottom of the drops, keeping firm tension on the tape, wrap moving out from the bar. If the bar-end plug supplied simply pushes in, we’d recommend stuffing a small portion of tape inside the bottom of the bar and then beginning your main wrap to help keep it locked in place.
Make sure the gaps are even as you wrap – if the other side is already wrapped, keep referring to it to make sure they match. Most tape has chamfered edges, which allow a given level of overlap without adding thickness, but at the sharpest curves you’ll have to vary the overlap, making the wrap thicker.
Once you’ve wrapped three or four rotations, secure the tape and install the bar-end plug. We like to use a pin spanner, but you can also use a plier or a toe strap.
It’s best to install the bar-end plug now rather than at the very end to make sure it installs neatly – there’s nothing worse than having to unravel already wrapped tape to install a stubborn bar plug.
Once the bar plug is installed, continue wrapping the tape until you arrive at the shifter.
4. Make your choice
Now that you’ve arrived at the lever area, there are a couple of different routes you can take.
You could simply extend the wrap, but that will likely result in a gap, especially if you’re not using a cheater strip. Others prefer to wrap the tape around the shifter in a figure-of-eight to ensure full coverage, but this can translate into excess bulk.
We like to wrap the tape so its covers the underside of the shifter before swinging around the inside curve of the bar and up and over the top face of the lever hood.
Continue to wrap the tape towards the tops.
5. Cutting edge
Work out how far from the stem you want the wrap to finish, taking into account any logos that may be on the handlebar. Too close to the stem may look unsightly and cause awkward cable routing.
Aero handlebars typically incorporate a finishing point for any bar tape.
Once decided, cut the end of the tape to a point. Doing so means that, when you wrap the final piece over the top of the bar, you will achieve a really nice, smooth edge.
6. Secure in place
Use some electrical tape or the finishing strip included with the bar tape to secure it in place, so that it can’t come loose.
Although many tapes come with specific finishing pieces, we’d still recommend using electrical tape and then installing the finishing piece over it.