The bar tape says everything you could want to know about a cyclist….
The other night during the warmup before the club ride, I noticed that the tape on my Trek rain bike had loosened up under the hood on the left drop.
For many, it would stay like that till they could get the bike into the shop or some electrical tape would be hastily wrapped around the bar tape to keep it in place. For me, it drove me batty the night I realized the issue, there was no way I could ignore it. The next morning I put my steed in the car before I left for work, and I left 20 minutes early so I could fix it before work:
For cyclists, the bar tape is more penetrating a tell than a psychic could hope for. The tape on my Trek is well-worn, not perfectly wrapped but pretty darn good. It starts from the bottom and winds around the drop, rising towards the stem. The electrical tape is tight and of the highest quality because daddy knows electrical tape (I buy the more flexible, high-grade 3M tape because it lasts longer in practical electrical applications). The right side, in the photo above, is also about a quarter-inch in from the left (I’ll have to fix that, didn’t realize it till I was looking at the photo on my computer – it’ll take three minutes).
There are two important things to note:
First, note the top of the bar, how the coils run towards each other from either hood. Most rookies make the mistake of starting the tape from the same side of the drop… Outside on the left bar, inside on the right, because most people are right handed. This will leave both sides with the same slant in the coil. I was guilty of this my first two go arounds. One must begin each side, opposite. For instance, start from the underside of the drop and wrap to the top and inside on each drop. On my bars I wrapped, starting under the bar, outside to inside. I also chose to start at the bottom of the drop and wrap up than start at the stem and wrap down… Choosing the latter route, one can completely avoid the electrical tape finish and that looks really cool but works against the way your hands move on the bars when shifting between the bar top, hoods and drops. Additionally, starting at the top with the wrap the way one grips and holds themselves up when in the drops can work to unravel the bar tape rather than strengthen the coil if the wrap is started at the bottom.
Second is the coil itself. Notice that my coils are equally spaced but not absolutely perfect? This says I am not a bike mechanic (or Chinese and wrap bars for a living… Those folks wrap a mean bar!). This says that I have some give-a-shit but shouldn’t quit my day job and I’m okay with that.
Take the fact that my tape is worn. This says, no matter how clean the bike or drivetrain, the bike is ridden… a lot. This is obviously a good thing.
The tape itself says something too. Bontrager (zoom in on the photo, you can see the tiny b’s), middle of the line gel cork. This says that I ride on rougher roads and this probably isn’t my main bike.
Now for the Venge:
Perfect coils, well-worn yet still exceptionally elegant. Specialized Pro D2 tape… It’s the bees knees, leather look and feel with just enough gel on the back to make the ride immaculate. Perfectly stopped before the aero part of the bar starts…. That tape isn’t made anymore but it went on all of the highest-end Specialized bikes up to the S-Works models. The coils are perfectly matched and were obviously done by a mechanic who took a lot of care (Justin cares as much about a good bike as a person can). The tape on that bike shows that the bike is ridden hard yet loved immensely.
What you don’t, and more importantly won’t see on one of my bikes is bare bar due to loose or ripped tape or a crappy tape job. Those egregious errors in judgement do show that the bike is ridden often… by someone who doesn’t care or doesn’t possess the “want to” enough to learn how to wrap a handlebar or to take the time to do it well. It took three attempts to get the right side where I could live with it. The left, the first time.
Now, I’m almost certain I’ll have pissed someone off with these simple observations. Allow me to suggest you’re not really pissed at me as much as you’re embarrassed that your bars are gnarly because you think you should get some hippie cred because you’re fighting the man by not replacing that 20 year-old shit that’s falling off your handlebar… Or something.
Yeah, no. It’s 2o bucks, dude. Nobody at [insert manufacturer here] is retiring off of your 2o.
If you’re serious about cycling, take the time to learn how to wrap a bar. And if you’re at a loss: