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When I Wrap My Own Handlebar Tape, Why Do I Get a Gap After A Few Rides?

December 2020

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post. A friend commented on that post and gave me the inspiration for this one…

Handlebar wrapping isn’t all that tricky as long as you know there is a specific order to everything, steps you can’t deviate from or you end with a mess. Uneven overlaps, gaps, etc., etc. It can be enough to drive you nuts. This post is meant to fix, or at least help end two of the problems that cause gaps. We’re going to get into some detail here, so hold onto your drops – and I’m even going to share how to fix a mistake that you’ve missed (I have to go back from time to time as well). Bontrager/Trek inserts a diagram with their handlebar tape that is the most helpful instructional piece I’ve ever seen. It covers everything you need to know, so download the image and save it for future reference (I still have the original card in my tool bag):

Now, there are one of two things that cause a gap to form in your bar tape after a couple of rides. The first is quite simple; you’re not pulling the tape tight enough on the original wrap job. If you don’t pull tight enough, when you ride in the drops, you’ll pull the wraps apart because you’re too loose. You don’t want to stretch the tape, but you want to be tight enough that the ends of the tape curl toward the bar after it’s wrapped. The tape is actually manufactured to make this happen when the proper tautness is achieved:

If, when you wrap your bar, you’re edges stay flat (eventually they’ll even curl up) you’re simply not pulling tight enough.

The second mistake that can cause a gap after you’ve ridden a couple of times is wrapping the bar the wrong way. If you look at the Bontrager diagram above, the first drawing, that’s the only way you can wrap your bar. If you go the other way, outside-in, when you get in the drops, you’ll pull slack into the tape, causing a gap to form over a couple of rides. Wrapping the bar the proper way causes the wrap to tighten in on itself naturally, when you ride in the drops.

The wildcard here is that you may not feel it, but when you ride in the drops you apply just a little downward pressure and that pressure, if the tape doesn’t tighten on itself, will unravel the tape and cause a gap to form between wraps as the tape stretches over time. You can have completed the perfect overlap with the perfect tightness and the perfect tape job and you’ll end up with a gap over time simply because you wrapped in the wrong direction.

Finally, to wrap this post up, one tell that you’ve got a noob bar tape wrapper is that both bars wrap in the same direction. I’ve been guilty of this myself and, until you use that first picture in the diagram above, you’ll likely make the same mistake. The wraps should oppose each other so that when you’re standing at the front of the bike, each side wraps toward the other. For noobs, it’ll look like the wrap continues from the left handlebar to the right (or vice-versa).

Now, what to do if, after further inspection you find you’ve messed up one overlap? It’ll be the one right under the hood, at the leading edge of the drop. I know. So what you do, assuming you’ve wrapped the bar in the proper direction, is you carefully unwind the electrical tape, making sure you don’t separate layers of the bar tape pulling the electrical tape off (yep, done it). If you start pulling layers away, simply stop and cut the electrical tape off and trim any excess you can get – leave the stuff on the bar tape. You’ll cover it up again in a minute when you re-tape end. So, unwind the bar tape to two or three wraps lower than your mess up. Use those two or three wraps to cheat the overlap so you still end up at the hood at the same place on the bar tape. Then simply re-wrap the bar, getting back to the exact right place you were at the top and apply your electrical tape. The key is to cheat several overlaps rather than trying to make it up all in one or two.

Finally, to wrap this post up (alright, I’ve used the word “wrap” in every form I can think of at this point), if you want to learn how to wrap handlebars – if you really want to learn the meaning of humility and frustration, try real leather bar tape. Not the fake stuff, mind you. The real deal. You will struggle and you will curse. You will learn the true nature of the word “frustration”… but you’ll learn how to wrap your handlebars like a pro. There’s no room for error with real leather bar tape, and it doesn’t exactly stretch when you pull it taught. When you go from leather back to anything else modern, you’ll be spectacular.

Of course, there is one more level to bar tape wrapping hell. If you want to learn how to wrap with leather, use the old ribbon bar tape. Just make sure you’ve got about $75 set aside for the Swear Jar.


  1. Anthony says:

    Years ago…and I mean years, I re-taped my handlebars and it was a mess. At some point I am going to have to tackle this job on my current bike, but truthfully, I don’t want to. I know I shouldn’t be scared, but I am. I have re-taped my tennis racquet and my squash racquet, but the bike is something completely different.
    I enjoyed your posts on this and you’ve given me a bit more hope that I can tackle it….but we’ll see.

    • bgddyjim says:

      It does take practice, brother, but once you get the hang of it, and checking your work before you tape the ends up helps a ton, it’s not so daunting. Good luck!

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