Budget Bike Tech: Tweak your lever feel with grip tape

Added traction for braking and shifting

Generally speaking, ergonomics of modern-day brake and shift levers are pretty good, offering reliable and consistent fingertip control of all the major functions. But if you step back and think about it a bit, it oftentimes doesn’t make sense to leave those surfaces with a smooth, glossy – and nearly grip-free – finish. Here’s an easy way to fix it.

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Anti-slip, adhesive-backed tape is available in quality hardware stores in cut-to-fit lengths and both clear and black colors to suit the application. If you can find it, we recommend going with high-quality stuff like 3M Safety-Walk as it’s still remarkably cheap in the small quantities you’ll require and much more durable than something like skateboard deck tape.

Simply cut the traction tape in small swatches with scissors to fit contact points like your shift lever paddles and brake lever blades, using as much or as little as you deem fit to lend the feel you desire. If you exercise a little care in trimming before peeling off the backing, you can shape the swatch just right for a well-finished appearance that won’t look like you did it blindfolded.

Granted, we rarely hear complaints of slippery controls from readers but the difference after applying the tape is noticeable – especially so if you’re running a set of older, non-adjustable shift and/or brake levers you can just barely reach as it is. Whereas your fingers could slide off the end of the controls, they’re now stuck like glue.

We’ve especially noticed improvements on Shimano Di2 levers and even Campagnolo Ergopower. Di2’s buttons are currently textured but it’s still tough to distinguish between the two in the heat of the moment or when wearing gloves. With the traction tape applied to just the smaller lever, there’s no question which paddle you’re activating.

Ergopower doesn’t have that issue but the cable pull lever is a bit slippery and angled such that your finger occasionally wants to slide right off. Add the traction tape, though, and it’s a non-issue.

In fairness, shift and brake lever grip isn’t exactly a calamitous malady and during an especially long ride, the traction tape can be tough on bare fingers or flimsy gloves. Not surprisingly then, we don’t often see this technique applied to the countless pro bikes we’ve profiled over the years.

That being said, we have seen the stuff on pro riders’ time trial bikes, ‘cross bikes (Katie Compton’s husband and mechanic, Mark Legg, is particularly fond of Krazy Glue and sand) and the occasional downhill rig. In fact, SRAM have even produced custom textured trigger shifter thumb paddles for some of their BlackBox riders.

As always with our BBT tips, some of you will benefit and some of you won’t. But either way, there’s almost no money lost in trying it and while the adhesive is durable, it’s not all that difficult to remove. Try it out – you might be surprised.

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Budget Bike Tech is a new column here on BikeRadar, focused not on the latest high-end gear and accessories but on cheap and clever tips, tricks and upgrades that cost virtually no money at all. Improve your riding and improve your ride – just don’t go broke in the process.