Bike Handlebar Tape Buying Guide

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Bike Handlebar Tape Buying Guide

Bike handlebar tape used to be considered very much as an afterthought, or even a customisation to road and off-road cycles. Recently, however, with the increasing number of weekend and evening riders and a surge in recreational cycling, it is considered to be an essential part of a bike's handlebar makeup. Previous younger generations would lovingly roll reel after reel of their father's insulation tape around their handlebars to give their bikes a customised look.

Nowadays however, keen cyclists are looking to handlebar tape, made with modern materials and manufacturing methods, not only to customise and improve the look of their bikes, but also to improve their grip on the handlebars. This is increasingly important for today's road cyclists, because possible danger can lurk around every blind bend. An increased grip on the handlebars means the handlebars are less likely to slip out of the grip if a sudden turn or manoeuvre is attempted.

An informed potential buyer can purchase in confidence that they are getting the perfect handlebar tape for their cycle, whether it be cork-based for its moisture absorbency abilities and added feeling of warmth on cold mornings, or a carbon fibre impregnated tape for its wear resistance. In addition to materials, a buyer also needs to know what advantages he or she wants from handlebar tape, as well as decide on colour, when purchasing handlebar tape.

History of Bike Handlebar Tape

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, adding handlebar tape to a beloved bike was definitely something for children. Rolls and rolls of often brightly coloured, domestic insulation tape were lovingly wound around handlebars by youngsters in an effort to make their bikes stand out or be part of the 'in crowd' of a group of their peers. Some even believed their bikes would go faster when tape was applied. This probably accounts for the continued popularity of self-adhesive stripes for 15-year-old hatchbacks, normally purchased by males in their early 20s.

Most bicycles purchased new have shiny chrome handlebars; in much the same way as many cars used to have shiny, chrome bumpers. Whilst this may initially look good when brand new, after a few months of constant use, the chrome inevitably develops rust spots and acquires the myriad of little dings and scratches normally associated with everyday use. Handlebar tape can protect the chrome, so when removed, the handlebars are as good as new.

Advantages of Bike Handlebar Tape

There are several different advantages to using handlebar tape for today's cyclists, depending on their needs. Handlebar tape may be purely to help increase the grip on the handlebars, or it may be fitted to absorb sweat and moisture.

Handlebar Protection

Many users of traditional road racing bikes, when out on a long stretch of road, like to change their riding position from being down, almost curled over the handlebars, with their heads just above the centre stem, to be more upright. While this is good for allowing the riders to enjoy the scenery from a more upright position, and also helps prevent fatigue, it means the handlebar chrome may become damaged by rings or other finger adornments. Handlebar tape ensures that the handlebars are protected from this wear.

Increased Handlebar Grip

Handlebar tape becomes essential for increased grip. Modern handlebar tape dramatically increases the grip of riders, and is especially good for sudden manoeuvres when riders need instantaneous and firm control of the handlebars, when avoiding oncoming or sudden stationary traffic, for example.

Sweat and Moisture Protection

Aside from the obvious protection of the chrome on the handlebars themselves, the main advantage of handlebar tape is that it should absorb sweat and moisture from the riders' hands. This prevents the hands and fingers from feeling slippery, and helps increase the grip on the handlebars. As previously noted, this is advantageous when riders are unfamiliar with roads or uncertain of car drivers in the immediate vicinity.

Bike Handlebar Tape Materials

Handlebar grips now come in a variety of different materials, each with its own specific properties. For traditionalist cyclists, this may be a cork finish, or it may be faux carbon fibre-like material.

Cork Handlebar Tape

By far, the most popular material used in handlebar tape is cork. This is renowned for its absorption properties, but also presents a surface which the hands and fingers can readily grip onto. On cold mornings, at the beginning of a ride, before riders fully warm up, cork has the advantage of feeling warm to the touch. This helps prevent fingers from stiffening up, and having difficulty operating the gears or brake levers.

Faux Carbon Fibre Handlebar Tape

Some manufacturers have started to produce faux carbon fibre-like materials for handlebar tape, which offer similar benefits to those of cork, but are often embossed; in much the same way as handlebar grips. Some riders prefer this type of material, as it offers an extra level of tactile grip not available in the more traditional cork finishes.

Bike Handlebar Tape Colours

Gone are the days of handlebar tape, or more commonly, electrical insulation tape, only being available in red, black, white, or green. Handlebar tape is now supplied in virtually any colour or combination of colours a rider can think of. While the traditional white is still popular, many fashion-conscious riders choose reds, blues, greens, pinks, and greys, and there is an increasing trend into even more exotic colourings. These are sometimes camouflage or even tiger stripes and other animal skin or fur-inspired colourings.

Fitting Bike Handlebar Tape

Traditionally, handlebar tape has had an adhesive backing reminiscent of the original electrical insulation tape of yesteryear. Since then, manufacturers have seen that when the tape is removed for whatever reason, it leaves a sticky mess that is only removed using solvents. Modern handlebar tape does not have an adhesive backing. Instead, the tape is wound from the centre crown out toward the brake and gear levers. The inner end of the tape is wound over by successive layers of tape, with the final loose end being neatly tucked into the hollow ends of the handlebars.

Many tape manufacturers include a matching end plug which fits into the end of the handlebars. As the end of the tape is reached, the final few millimetres are tucked into the end hole, with the plug fitting neatly over the top. This secures the loose end, and provides a neat finishing touch. This means that should the tape need to be replaced at any time, it is a simple matter to merely unplug the ends, then unwind the old tape. This is much easier and quicker, and means there is no need for the laborious task of wiping the handlebars clean of the adhesive backing of the old tape.

Winding Bike Handlebar Tape Around the Brake and Gear Levers

When fitting new handlebar tape to bike handlebars, there is the choice of whether to leave the brake and gear levers in place, then wind the tape around them in situ, or to completely remove all fittings and wind the tape directly onto the bare chrome. This choice is entirely up to the riders. Riders may have the brakes and gear levers set in exactly the right position, and then be reluctant to remove them for fear of never being able to get them into that perfect position again.

Alternatively, the bike owners may decide to start from fresh by removing the brakes and gear levers, and winding the tape directly onto the chrome. This has the advantage that there are no places, particularly around the levers, where the tape may become stretched, or may kink, due to an excessive bend as the owners try to get the tape to successfully negotiate them. However, if the first method is chosen (to completely remove the brakes and gears), particular attention must be paid in refitting them. Once the tape is applied, the bike owners must make absolutely certain that the brake and gear actuators are a completely tight fit. Allowance must be made for the elasticity and padding of the handlebar tape

How to Buy Bike Handlebar Tape on eBay

Searching for and finding bike handlebar tape on eBay is easy. Simply type "handlebar tape" into the search box, and more than one hundred different suppliers should appear. If you want to further refine your search, try entering the colour you would like before "handlebar tape", and all tape matching that colour appears. It is also worth checking the advert to see whether handlebar end caps are included with the tape.

Check out the seller's ratings to see how many positive sales they have completed, and also to see his or her seller ratings, as well as what some of his or her previous customers have said about their experiences. When your handlebar tape arrives and you have it securely fitted, be sure to rate the seller on both price and speed of delivery. Ratings are important to sellers as well as potential buyers, as it shows the world how they have and are performing.

If you have any questions to ask the seller, then you should make use of the "Ask a Question" feature. The vast majority of sellers are usually more than happy to answer any queries you may have before you buy, both to entice you to buy, but also to help ensure you give them a positive rating once the sale is complete.


Thankfully, the days of raiding the parents' toolbox in search of brightly coloured, sticky, electrical insulation tape are over. With modern design and production methods, handlebar tape is increasingly seen as a great way to both protect the bright handlebar chrome from the inevitable dings and scrapes of everyday use, but also as a way of making the handlebars truly non-slip and comfortable on those cold winter mornings before riders are fully warmed up.

Fitting the tape no longer takes careful hours of painstaking winding, as the handlebars inevitably become thicker and thicker in tape, only to find that neither the brakes nor the gear change levers fit. Modern materials also mean that not only is the tape waterproof, but with the use of caps for the loose ends, handlebar tape no longer needs to be self-adhesive and sticky. While there are many different materials and colours available, careful use of the keyword searching can narrow the choices down considerably.

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