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The Best Bar Tape for Your Road Bike

Updated on May 25, 2016
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer who ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

Red bike tape can look great on a red bike
Red bike tape can look great on a red bike | Source

Choosing the Best Bike Tape for Your Bike

As a cyclist it's easy to get too involved with the latest ultralight carbon fibre framesets and super fast climbing wheelsets. Yet it's the little details which make a real difference to cycling comfort and style. There's no point having a great bike if you haven't got the best bar tape for your road bike to match.

In this article we look at some of the different types of bicycle handlebar tape available for your road, cyclocross or fixed wheel bike. We also consider options for customising your tape as it forms a vital contact point between you and your bike.

A Brief History of Bar Tape on Road Bikes

While practical, metal handlebars can be rather harsh on a cyclists' hands. Therefore the handlebars needed some form of wrapping to help protect the hands and give grip for the rider.

Initially cotton tape was used for pretty much every bike produced before the 1980s

The 1980s saw the rise of the use of cork being pioneered by the Italian Cinelli company which marked a new dawn in comfort due to it's great shock absorbing properties although very at times questionable durability. It's still used extensively today on many sets of handlebars due to it's comfort levels.

The nineties onwards saw increased use of synthetic fibres which have blended comfort and durability to greater effect than early versions of cork tape.

Luxury fabrics like leather have also seen a recent comeback. Though not generally seen on the bikes of pros in the peloton in events like the Tour De France, leather others a luxury and sometimes retro touch for your bike.

How to Professionally Wrap Your Bar Tape

Not Everyone Gets it Right- Spot the Errors With This Bar Tape

See what errors your can spot with this bar tape wrap? The right side bulges out as though not tightly wrapped and the symmetry is shockingly bad.
See what errors your can spot with this bar tape wrap? The right side bulges out as though not tightly wrapped and the symmetry is shockingly bad. | Source

White Bar Tape- In Brazilian Glory

White bar tape gives your bike the Pro look.
White bar tape gives your bike the Pro look. | Source

Ride Like a Team Leader: White Bar Tape

Nothing likes quite so subtle yet overtly pretentious on a road bike than crisp white bar tape. It harks back to yesteryear when cycling team mechanics responsible for preparing the team bikes for an event would highlight the team leader's bike by using white bar tape.

In such an inglorious and dirty outdoor sport like cycling, where the elements play a vital part on deciding some events does the grace of a set of handlebars clad in white do it justice. White oozes class, style and the substance of a team leader.

Yet team leaders have people dedicated to the maintenance and upkeep of their machinery. Professional teams now adopt a more uniform approach but many still choose the brilliance of white for their tape.

Use Your Bar Tape and Be Creative

Get creative- Green bar tape works fantastically with the green elements on this black bike
Get creative- Green bar tape works fantastically with the green elements on this black bike | Source

Use Your Bar Tape Creatively

Coloured bar tape can help you to add a personal touch to your bike and there are so many different colours and designs out there to choose from that your can really add a personal touch to your road, time trial or cyclocross bike.

If you have a fetish for carbon fibre- you can buy carbon fibre effect bar tape. If you're following the fashion for baby pink elements on your bike (yes, a man's bike can look good with baby pink) or fluo yellow elements: there's a bar tape that's right for you.

Black- Stylish for the Long Term

Black bar tape offers a stylish, relatively maintenance free option long term. (Featured on a Planet X RT 57 with Sram Red)
Black bar tape offers a stylish, relatively maintenance free option long term. (Featured on a Planet X RT 57 with Sram Red) | Source

The Standard Choice Is Black

For many cyclists the best bar tape for longevity and ease of maintenance is black.

Black bar tape is provided on most road bikes and it's a well thought out option. Black tape looks great around the smooth lines of a set of drop handlebars and has a stylish yet functional look about it. It's not flashy, but you don't need to be flash if you're letting your riding do the talking.

Black tape doesn't show up with mud, dirt, blood, sweat and tears like lighter coloured handlebar tape and is therefore an ideal fit and forget choice for many riders.

Cork Isn't Just for a Wine Bottle

The 1980s saw the development of cork bar tape by Cinelli. It's been around blending vinyl acetate (EVA) with cork to produce a soft foam tape which could easily wrap around your bars. These days vinyl acetate has been replaced with polyurethane but the properties remain the same.

Cork was the best bar tape when it was first introduced as it provided exceptionally good shock absorption properties to help guard against wrist problems like de Quervain's Tensosynovitis. Cork tape is also good at absorbing sweat produced by the hands while riding which makes it good for riding in hot weather.

Cork bar tape is still exceptionally popular 30 years after it's inception and Cinelli still make some of the best after all that time. Cinelli's range of bar tape also allows a cyclist to choose specific colours to match their bike, team or event their personal style to allow some creativity.

Moving With The Times- Gel Bar Tape

As bikes have developed, the use of materials to produce them have changed dramatically. The 90's saw more widespread use of aluminium in bikes. Aluminium was found to be a great metal to use for it's higher tensile strength than traditional steel. While was great for enhancing power transfer the increased resilience forced a significant amount of road-shock through the handlebars to the rider.

The vibration dampening of cork is good but bicycle manufacturers have always been looking to utilise newer technologies in their products. By impregnating fabrics with a silica gel compound manufacturers have been able to further enhance the vibration dampening characteristics of bar tape.

Bar's Wrapped With Fizik Microtex Tape

Fizik Microtex Bar Tape In Red. You can visibly see the perforations on the fabric which is soft to touch with a leather-esque feel
Fizik Microtex Bar Tape In Red. You can visibly see the perforations on the fabric which is soft to touch with a leather-esque feel | Source

Fizik Microtex Synthetic Bar Tape

One of the most popular and therefore arguably one of the best bar tape's available on the marketplace is Fizik's Microtex Bar Tape.

Fizik Microtex is available with either a leather or suede-like finish depending how you like your tape. Pictured right is the red 'leather-esque' tape although having used the suede-like finished version this offers fantastic grip on the bars. The leather like synthetic tape can feel on the smooth side for some riders.

Cork tape can feel bulky on the bars, especially if you've got a beefy set of carbon or oversize bars. Fizik Microtex tape is relatively thing and therefore gives you a position which is closer to the handlebars.

Lovely Bicycle has a nice post on their use of the Microtex Handlebar Tape on re-generating an old surly road bike which showcases just how good it can look on your bike.

Luxury Bar Tape- Leather

Leather bar tape is an option for those connoisseurs out there who are looking for a little luxury on their bike. Good quality leather on your handlebars looks good and will last a lifetime. The best thing though with leather is that as it wears it will improve in feel.

The downside many people find with leather tape is it's comfort levels. It doesn't provide a vibration dampening effect like cork or gel tape although Cinelli's Imperiale tape offers more bulk and thickness which should help absorbing road vibration when compared to similar offerings from the likes of Brooks.

What's Your Best Bar Tape?

Which bar tape would you choose?

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    • profile image

      Vangregor 9 months ago

      I use a 3M foam tape over wrapped with traditional cloth tape. makes for a good feel and a bulkiness akin to a sport steering wheel-just right and easy on my old & arthritic hands!

    • CyclingFitness profile image
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      Liam Hallam 2 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Brooke for the heads up and your feedback. I'll make the necessary adjustments

    • Brooke Willson profile image

      Brooke Willson 2 years ago from Glen Allen, Virginia

      Never, never, NEVER use an apostrophe to create a plural: "As bike's have developped . . . " (There's also only one 'p' in developed.).

    • profile image

      Schwalbe Lover 4 years ago

      Hey, I've been using Fizik Microtex for a couple of seasons and it works great. I go for style and it looks awesome on my fixie and my best carbon racer.

      That white bar tape is a proper amateur job! Glad it's not me that did that!

    • capon profile image

      Tony Capon 4 years ago from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom

      Hello Liam. Personally I like Cork tape and I haven't noticed any improvement in vibration-damping qualities of gel bar-tape.

      This Winter I did try double wrapping Cork tape on fairly cheep ali'-bars on my Winter geared, ali', road bike (all very harsh). The improvement was considerable and I like the bulky feel. I plan to repeat this on my fixed when the current tape starts to look a bit shoddy or this coming Winter.

      I don't think I would double wrap the wider diameter bars which are currently fashionable. I don't think it would be warranted as such bars already provide a grater area for the hand to grip the bar and tape. Tony

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