Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wrap Like a Pro: A Simple Step by Step Guide to Bar Tape

I’ve heard that a pro mechanic’s best way to lift the spirits of riders before a difficult stage is fresh white bar tape. It’s a confidence booster. Fresh white tape just looks clean and fresh, and can make your legs feel the same. 

Bar tape is one of those things—one of those mystical things on a bike that go just a bit beyond their utilitarian purpose. There is a touch of magic in that ribbon that is wrapped around your bars. Some people might just look at it like something to cover your cables, but I believe it is an essential point of style and soul for a bicycle.  Whether authentic leather, soft cork, old-school fabric, or a cutting edge synthetic material, your tape speaks about you as a cyclist and your axe. Take pride.

So how exactly do you make sure that your tape looks as pro as your shaved legs and tall socks? Here’s how:

Now, I’m not one to quell someone’s individual creativity, but I do think you should thoughtfully consider whether you really want that glo-green tape on your orange and red bike.  The classic rule in cycling is white, but a modern classy approach would be to match your bartape to your saddle. 

Once you have picked out your chartreuse and pink striped tape, how exactly do you wrap this stuff so that it looks as good as it can? Practice. Though it looks simple, wrapping tape can be deceivingly difficult to make look really great. It all boils down to a couple factors.  Keep the tape tight, and keep the wraps evenly spaced—then you just have to master the tricky figure 8 around your brake hood. 

Here is my step by step how-to:

Start by opening the box.  There should be two rolls of tape, two short strips of tape, and bar ends.  Throw the short strips of tape right into the garbage, or use them for some kind of folksy arts and crafts project.  They won't be needed here.  Fold back your brake hoods and you are ready to begin...

The first step is simply taking any backing off of the adhesive side of the tape, if there is any. I find it is easiest to take all of it off right at the beginning, but some people prefer to take it off as they go.  (I feel like there is a joke or two somewhere in that sentence, but I'll leave it...)

Start at the bottom of the drop in the handlebar.  Wrap with a bit of overhang in the tape that you can tuck in later.  I always wrap towards the outside of the bar.  This is so as a rider's hands rotate around the side of the drops, it works to keep the tape tight, rather than loosening the wind.  I don't actually think it makes a huge difference, if you are using an adhesive backed tape, which direction you wrap in, this is just how I have always done it.  

Your first wrap around should be taut without stretching or breaking the tape.  Pay attention to this throughout the process.  Keeping the tape tight will make it look better and last longer without moving.  

Pay attention and keep each successive wrap even and parallel to its predecessor.  It just looks sloppy otherwise.  

When you get to this point, this is where you'll have to pay attention.  I use a figure-8ish pattern to wrap around the hoods, which in my opinion is the cleanest way to avoid any gaps around the hoods.  There are many different ways to do this, I just happen to think my way is the best.  In my experience, this is how most of us professional mechanics do it, though I have never taken any kind of official survey or anything, so don't hold me to that.  Okay, on with the wrapping...

Cross behind the hood and begin to angle upwards to swoop over the top.  

Complete said swooping and wrap again behind the hood, crossing your previous wrap.

Remember to keep the tape taut throughout.  Bring the tape behind the hood, this time angling downward to go under the hood--an upside-down swoop, if there is such a thing.  

Another view of crossing behind...

Commencing upside-down swoop.  Riveting... 

Once you have swooped under, we need to start heading north to complete wrapping the flats of the bar, so you are once again going to cross behind the hood, making sure you cover any part of the bar or shifter that may be exposed after folding the hood back into place.  

Crossing behind...

Wrap upwards, overlapping slightly with the over the top wrap you made before.  

Continue wrapping up the flat of the bar.  Pay attention to the spacing of your wraps a the bend and make it look as neat as possible.  

When you get to the point you would like to stop at, grab a pair of scissors and cut the tape at an angle like above.  This will make for a clean perpendicular edge to your wrap.  

Post cut...

See? The diagonal cut is crucial to a well finished tape job.  

Finish with some nice black electrical tape.  Spend the extra .17 on the nicer electrical tape.  The cheap stuff has really terrible adhesive that will degrade and become gooey and gross when you sweat on it.  Also leave the logo-ed finishing tape that comes with the tape off.  It just looks tacky to me.  You don't need to advertise for your bar tape while you ride.  

Tuck the starting overlap inside the bar and finish neatly with whichever bar ends you prefer.  I always like locking ones like the Cannondale ones here.  They stay in place so well.  

The finished product.  Simple and classy, just like your local blogging bike mechanic.  


  1. What brand of tap is that? Looks real nice.

  2. That is LizardSkins DSP 2.5mm tape. It's a bit pricy for bartape, but probably my favorite tape on the market right now...

  3. Thats funny, I was thinking LizardSkins, but it didn't look like it to me. I thought Lizardskins had more of a chevron pattern than diamond.

  4. With that bar tape guide, it can help you become a better road cyclist. Great job you did there, and thanks for sharing this essential biking post.

  5. I was wondering about the bar tape too. Saw it at the shop and it looked great. Is this a custom bar tape that LizardSkins makes for Cannondale? I think it looks better than the LizardSkins DSP tape with the chevron batter. This looks like the bar tape LizardSkins custom makes for the Zipp Service Course CX without the text.

  6. This post is important and informative. Thanks for your lovely sharing.