New bar tape a quick and easy summer tune-up

Quick! What’s the dirtiest, most disgusting part of your bike? Chances are it’s your handlebars. Survey the bike rack at your local mid-ride coffee stop, and you’ll find horns and drops that are sticky with road grime, sweat, sunblock, snot, and half-dried blobs of sports gels. Take a closer look and you’ll find bar tape that’s shifted, nicked, or even beginning to show gaps. It doesn’t have to be this way; wrapping new handlebar tape is an easy, cheap way to give your ride a fresh grip on life.

Bike tech and author Lennard Zinn offers this step-by-step guide to fresh handlebars from the new edition of his book Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.

You need both hands free and the bar rigidly held. Clamping the bike in a bike stand or holding it in a stationary trainer should do the trick, but you may need to stabilize the front wheel between your knees or with a strap around the down tube and rim or a bar-holder from the seatpost to the handlebar. Before wrapping, clean the bar and inspect it for cracks, crash-induced bends, corrosion, and stressed areas. If you find any sign of wear or cracking, replace the bar.


Tape down concealed brake and shift cables in a few places with electrical tape or strapping tape (Fig. 11.18) (Pre-1984 or so brake levers have no concealed cables; the brake cable comes out of the top of the lever).

Shimano STI levers up until 2009 always have concealed brake cables and exposed shift cables. Both the shift cables and brake cables are concealed on Campagnolo Ergopower, SRAM DoubleTap, or post-2009 Shimano Dura-Ace STI levers.

Tape the cables down where they will be the most comfortable for your hands. Some handlebars have creases in them for the cables; tape the cables down so that they stay in the creases. Some levers allow cable housings to go either in front of or behind the handlebar. My preference is to route both the brake cable and the shift cable along the front of the handlebar.

If the handlebar tape does not have an adhesive back surface covered with a paper backing strip, smear a Glue Stick on the bar around the outside of all of its bends. These areas are where the handlebar tape tends to creep and separate; the glue will help keep that from happening.

Handlebar tape sets usually come with two short pieces to cover the brake-lever-clamp bands. Peel back the edges of the rubber hood on the brake lever, wrap the little tape piece around the clamp band, and insert each end under the hood. You may want to tape the ends down with some Scotch tape. Leave the hood peeled back so that you can wrap the bar tape up onto the edge of the lever body and then cover it with the skirt of the rubber hood.

Peel back the paper backing on the tape and start wrapping at the end of the bar from the inside out. Overlap the end of the bar by more than about an inch, so that you can push the excess in with the end plug later. Lightweight bars tend to have thin walls and consequently a large inside diameter, and many end plugs will not fit tightly in them. In this case, the extra tape sticking out will fill the extra space. Alternatively, you can put the plugs in first and simply start wrapping right at the ends of the bar with no overlap; you’ll need to wrap some tape around the insertion prongs of the plug until it fits tightly and won’t rattle out.

To have a long-lasting tape job, you always want to wrap from the end of the bar so that each wrap holds down the inner edge of the prior one. The wrapping direction is important too. Wrapping from the center of the bar and finishing at the end plug is a mistake, because your hands will instantly peel back the edge of each tape wrap as you ride. The tape will look bad and get torn quickly. Wrap from the ends of the bar, working up to the stem.


Pull the tape tightly but don’t break it. Overlap each wrap about one-quarter to one-half of its width (Fig. 11.19).

Use as much overlap as you can to increase padding and decrease the chance of the tape slipping enough to reveal the handlebar. The amount of overlap will depend on the length of the tape, the width and drop depth of the bar, and the amount you stretch the tape as you wrap.

When you get to the bulged section of the bar that clamps into the stem, you should have just run out of tape. If you have more, you can rewrap part of the bar with more overlap, or you can cut off the excess. If the tape doesn’t make it to the bulge, you can rewrap part of the bar with less overlap. If you want to end with only a narrow piece of sticky tape holding it down, trim the end of the bar tape to a point, and hold it down with a single width of electrical tape wrapped around a couple of times. You can follow with the decorative tape piece that came with the bar tape. Otherwise, just wrap around the bar a number of times with electrical tape, going wide enough with it to completely cover the square-cut end of the bar tape. Cut or break the electrical tape so that it ends under the bar.

Push the plugs into the ends of the bar, using them to push in the extra tape you left sticking off the ends of the bar. Most plugs are now simply that—cylindrical plastic plugs. Old-school end plugs have an expanding device in them; you tighten a screw on the end, and it pulls a wedge into its internally tapered inner end, expanding it out against the walls of the handlebar.


Republished with permission of VeloPress from the new edition of Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.

You can find more easy tips like this in the book or learn more at


Ron Callahan is the chief cook and bottlewasher at Bike World News, doing everything from website design to bike reviews.
About Ron 3385 Articles
Ron Callahan is the chief cook and bottlewasher at Bike World News, doing everything from website design to bike reviews.
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