Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
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 in 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 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 its great shock absorbing properties although at times very questionable durability. It's still used extensively today on many sets of handlebars due to its 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.
Ride Like a Team Leader: White Bar Tape
Nothing looks 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 in 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 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 you can really add a personal touch to your road, time trial or cyclocross bike.
Read More From Skyaboveus
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.
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.
Ride With Cinelli Cork Bar Tape. The Original and Best
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.
Fizik Microtex Synthetic Bar Tape
One of the most popular and therefore arguably one of the best bar tapes available on the marketplace is Fizik's Microtex Bar Tape.
Fizik Microtex is available with either a leather or suede-like finish depending on 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 thin 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 its comfort level. 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 absorb road vibration when compared to similar offerings from the likes of Brooks.
Be Seen: Fluorescent Bar Tape
A stealthy all-black mean-looking bicycle may look the part, however, from a distance, it will have difficulty being visible to other road users, especially in low light conditions.
A great idea is to add some fluorescent bar tape to your bike to aid visibility. It doesn't have to be regular, classic fluorescent yellow. Deda Elementi produce a very reasonably priced selection of fluorescent bar tape in their Mistral design in fluo orange, green, pink, and yellow to accentuate your ride with the potential to add safety
searcher on May 08, 2019:
I have a bar tape I am very happy with; but I don't know its name. BUT I have the LOGO on the PLUG. BUT what lacks on these handlebar tape links are IMAGES of the plugs, for any viewer's sake to identify of the handlebar tape.
My tape be no big name brand; no ez search)
Vangregor on August 23, 2016:
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!
Liam Hallam (author) from Nottingham UK on February 09, 2015:
Thanks Brooke for the heads up and your feedback. I'll make the necessary adjustments
Brooke Willson from Glen Allen, Virginia on February 09, 2015:
Never, never, NEVER use an apostrophe to create a plural: "As bike's have developped . . . " (There's also only one 'p' in developed.).
Schwalbe Lover on April 18, 2013:
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!
Tony Capon from Upminster, Essex, United Kingdom on April 16, 2013:
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