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Proper Techniques for Wrapping Road Bike Handlebars: The Finer Points and Details make all of the Difference


Wrapping handlebars should be pretty straightforward, but it’s not because we’re not bike mechanics who wrap them on a regular basis.  Most bar tape jobs are butt ugly, and I’d bet more than a few will confess to their gnarly wrapping ability in the comments section below.  I’m not going to get into the basics, there are plenty of instructional posts and videos out there to help one install their bar tape…  I’m going to go one step further and give some good tips that will help the average cyclist end up with above average results.

First, don’t worry about perfection.  Worry about your best.  If you get one or two wraps too fat or skinny, it’s likely you’ll be the only one who notices.  What you do want to look out for are the serious rookie mistakes, such as both sides of the bar wrapping the same way (common because we are creatures of habit and have one dominant hand – we tend to start the left bar and the right bar the same way, rather than opposite each other, which leads to the bar tape wrapping to the left or right of the bike, rather than in opposition like so:

Each side (look at the bar top, each side) wraps in toward the center of the bike.  Start the tape at the bottom of the tube on the drop, then wrap to the top (I went inside to outside).  Where most people mess up is they don’t go inside to outside on the opposite drop, they go outside to inside which means both bars will wrap to the left of the bike.

Once you get the tape started, make sure to keep the wrap taught all the way around the handlebar.  Any slack and you’ll end up with gaps a fugly wrap job.

When you get to the shift/brake lever, you have to make sure you wrap the bar around the drop the same way (again, but in opposition) or you could end up reversing the direction of the wrap.  To avoid this egregious mistake, pay very close attention to how you go around the hood handle.  If you use the special hood tape strip, you only need to get it tight to the grip and you’ll be fine.  Again, make sure this is tight.

When you get to the top, you can trim the bar tape to an angle so the tape has a crisp outer edge if you wish, or you can just make sure the wrap ends at the bottom of the bar.  No muss, no fuss.  Now, here’s a solid tip:  Instead of jumping right to the electrical tape finish, take a small piece of tape, just enough to hold the end of the bar tape where it is, and inspect your job from all sides.  If you’ve done a good job, tape it up.  If not, simply undo the bar tape to the mistake and redo it.  Once you’re satisfied, a solid electrical tape job later and you’ll be looking sharp.

Now, to wrap this post up, if you must have perfection, either pay someone else to do it or go very slow.  I wrapped that bar in about five minutes, including plugs and electrical tape.  Given a half hour or 45 minutes, I could have done a better job.  Of course now that I’ve written this post, I wish I had.  Chuckle.

Still, it’s close enough for government work.

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6 Comments

  1. unironedman says:

    I watched my mate do it. He’s a pro. He’d make a damn fine heart surgeon…

  2. Sheree says:

    My bar tape has to be just so, I’m very particular about it. I like white bar tape to match my white saddle. I keep it clean with Jif but after a point, it starts to look grey and has to be replaced. I like the owner of my LBS to do it rather than any of his staff, as he does such a beautiful job.

  3. bonnev659 says:

    1 of my buddies gets 2 differnet colors and have it on mix. hoods and to drops 1 color (dark red) and center to hoods other color (black). it looks sweet but i am old fashion and go for just black only.

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