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The best road bike handlebar tape and how to wrap it

Cyclist magazine
12 Aug 2021

Our pick of the latest road bike handlebar tape options, plus how to apply it like a pro

Nothing comes close to new handlebar tape if you want to freshen up your bike. A tactile contact point between rider and machine, the choice can be a very personal matter.

Fat, thin, tacky or matt, everything from colour selection to how you apply it can elicit surprisingly strong opinions. This is perhaps because, aesthetics aside, it will also have an outsized effect on how your bike feels to ride, with thicker tapes provisioning insulation, but often less response through the handlebars.

Generally, we think something in the middle thickness wise, in either black or a very close match to any colour accent colour on your bike, is the way to go. Of course, it’s your bike, so knock yourself out if you really must have something in dayglo camo.

Either way, below you’ll find several of your favourite handlebar tapes, along with how to apply them like a pro.

Here are the eight best bar tapes of 2021

1. Fizik Tempo Microtex Classic Bar Tape


If you like your bar tape thin and classic looking then this could be the one. With a minimalist 2mm of padding, there’s little squish, which will suit those with ascetic tastes.

With a shiny exterior and perforations, it looks good and stays fresh for ages. Its robust nature means you can pull it very tight when fitting, meaning it’s less likely to move once installed.

Plus it comes in tons of colours too. The end caps are standard push-in models, while the strips used to tidy the ends are better replaced with electrical tape. Regardless, it remains an office favourite.


2. Supacaz Super Sticky Kush Bar Tape


Not cheap, this bar tape is much imitated, but rarely matched. With a sticky feel, it manages to be both extremely grippy yet hard-wearing.

Coming in tons of shades and designs, there’s likely one out there to match your colour scheme, no matter how garish. With a medium degree of stretch, it's a nice tape to fit. This facet is furthered by the end plugs.

These laser-etched aluminium models are held fast to the bars via a 3mm Allen key, so you’re unlikely to ever lose one. Claiming to last five times longer than normal tape, we’re not sure about that, but it’s certainly tougher than most. As used by one Mr Peter Sagan. 

3. Lizard Skins DSP 3.2mm bar tape V2


You could be forgiven for thinking that bar tape only came in white or black, but it seems Lizard Skins didn’t get the memo as they offer their DSP tape in 13 colours and three thicknesses.

Given that this test is about comfort, we selected the thickest, the 3.2mm version. Lizard Skins state that the tape mustn’t be stretched while installing so DSP requires careful wrangling to get true, but once in place, it feels very secure and really grippy, with plenty of cushioning bounce.

Not cheap, its lovely hand feel and Allen key fastening end plugs go a long way to justifying the cost.


4. Le Col Bar Tape

Buy now from Le Col for £15

Ah, Le Col. How did you know that £15 is about what I consider it acceptable to pay for bar tape? And how did you also know that I want it to be about 2mm thick and ever so slightly tacky?

It only comes in black? Well, what other colour could a person conceivably want their bar tape to be? Will I buy a few pairs of socks to make up the amount I need to get free postage? Probably.

And you say every sale helps pay down the massive electricity bill ex-pro Yanto Barker runs up by leaving his many hot tubs continuously bubbling even when he’s not home? That’s wonderful to hear too. 

Buy now from Le Col for £15

5. Pro Race Comfort bar tape


With more than a passing resemblance to some of the other tapes here, this offering from Shimano’s in-house component arm PRO is no less worthy of your consideration.

Constructed from polyurethane foam, the stretch is somewhat limited so don’t expect to fit it in a hurry unless you’re practised.

But thanks to the 0.6mm silicone backing, you’ll be able to get it right without leaving the stickiness on your handlebars when you correct a turn.

It probably shouldn’t matter but the imprinted pattern is very cool to our eyes, too – one for the detail-oriented rider rather than those on a budget.


6. Rapha Bar Tape

Buy now from Rapha for £18

Rapha’s characteristically tasteful bar tape features a perforated design evocative of handlebars from decades gone by. However, rather than being composed of leather, it’s made of a tough synthetic exterior material stretched over around 2mm of EVA foam.

Thin but with a hint of squish, it should do a good job of stoping your hands from sweating.

Available in white, black or pink, on the first two of these options, you can just about see the firm’s signature pink poking through the perforations. Finished with some tough, low-key bar ends, Rapha also makes a thicker and more expensive Brevet with reflective detailing. 

Buy now from Rapha for £18

7. Tortec Super Comfort Bar Tape


Constructed from a lightweight EVA foam, Tortec’s Super Comfort does just what it says on the tin and that’s add comfort to your ride.

On the rear is a 0.5mm thick strip of silicone which doubles up as both a vibration reducer and grip to keep it in place.

It also has the benefit of being stretchy to help in the fitting, as well as not leaving any sticky residue, which helps if you need to adjust during installation and down the line when it’s time to replace.

Available in four colour options, the 2.5mm foam is nicely tacky on its outer layer.


8. M-Part Primo bar tape


Available in the usual black and white, as well as this rather fetching blue and an equally toned-down red, M-Part is one of Madison’s own equipment brands.

As the Primo name suggests, this is a premium item made of polyurethane foam with several layers.

The top coating has a subtle, durable pattern to it that gives some interest without trying too hard or sticking out like a sore thumb, and combined with the foam core it measures 2.2mm thick overall.

On to this, a very tacky 0.7mm silicone gel backing has been applied to help vibration damping and ensure that the tape stays in place during use.


Tutorial: How to wrap bicycle bar tape


How to wrap handle bar tape

Time taken: 30min. Workshop saving: £18

Nothing looks quite so fast or so pro as a road bike decked out with crisp white bar tape, a fact not lost on manufacturers who also love to strap it to their consumer models.

However, while it’s alluring in the showroom the real reason it screams professionalism and speed is because deep down we know it’s not really for the likes of us who don’t have a team of dedicated mechanics to replace it when a rainy ride or oily hands have made it a grubby mess.

While pros with black tape might get their bars rewrapped every few stages, white tape is likely to get changed as regularly as a rapper’s Air Force Ones.

Pretty it may be, but when a new team livery is revealed to include white-wrapped bars, you can hear the team mechanic’s groans.

Luckily, even in boring black, a fresh wrap of tape is an easy way to revive a tired-looking bike. Learning how to apply it yourself is easy and satisfying in an arts and crafts kind of way.

How to wrap bar tape

1. Preparation is key

How to wrap handle bar tape preparation

Make sure your hands are clean. Remove the tape from the box. Place the two short strips of tape (to go behind the levers), scissors and electrical tape within reach.

Roll the rubber brake lever hoods forward and carefully remove the old tape. Having exposed the gear and brake cables, ensure they are securely attached to the upper part of the bar using electrical tape.

Any old remains of glue from the previous installation can be removed with alcohol.

2. Start at the end

How to wrap handle bar tape start

Take the first roll of tape and remove the backing strip – taking it off in strips just overcomplicates things later when you’ve lost your third hand.

Poke an inch of tape into the end of the bar. Holding it down with your finger, give it one complete inward twist around the outside of the bar, leaving around 5mm overhanging the end. This will hold the plug in and keep the termination clean.

 

3. Wrap under tension

How to wrap handle bar tape tension

Keeping the tape under even tension, begin winding it around the bars. Each pass should overlap the previous by around 8mm so that the adhesive strip is contacting the bar and not the tape.

As you approach the levers, attach one of the short pieces of tape to the back of the fixing band.

 

4. Loop around the shifters

How to wrap handle bar tape shifters

Loop the tape so it partly overlaps the bottom of the lever body before bringing it above the lever and across the short strip of tape so as to also overlap the upper part.

Roll back the rubber hoods. None of the bar or lever body should be visible.

 

5. Finish off neatly

How to wrap handle bar tape finish neatly

Once you reach the point at which you want to finish, pull the tape forwards of the handlebar and cut it diagonally across, leaving about 15cm.

Wrapping the last stretch of tape should leave you with an edge perpendicular to the bar. Secure this with electrical tape. Push as much of the overlapping tape as possible into the bar end and tamp the plug into place.

Pro Tips & Tricks

  1. It’s crucial to maintain even tension on the tape while applying it – once fitted, it’s this that keeps the tape in place. How much tension comes with practice – Fizik bar tape is very stiff and requires a lot of tension so it doesn’t crease whereas the Lizard Skin DSP tape is very soft and spongy and they recommend not stretching it.
  2. Bar tape usually comes with matching sticky-backed strips to stop the ends unravelling. Throw these away – pro mechanics always reach for electrical tape instead.
  3. It’s possible to tape the bars without using the strips designed to fill the gaps behind the levers. Wrap the tape in a figure eight up the inside of the lever and over the top before returning to go once around the base before finishing up and across the outside of the lever body.
  4. To lessen the jarring effect of Paris-Roubaix’s famous cobbles, riders frequently wrap their bars with two sets of tape to provide extra cushioning. Many manufacturers now produce extra dense tape to create the same effect.
  5. For the non-vegetarian, leather tape is both stylish and hardwearing, and the perfect finishing touch for a classic steel-framed bike. It’s not cheap though and is some of the hardest to install.

Read our guides on how to wrap bar tape like a pro, best aero wheels and does shaving your legs make you faster

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