Ask a Mechanic | How to Wrap Handlebars Like a Pro

Question: What is the preferred way to install handlebar tape, particularly around the levers? How is the extra little piece of bar tape used? From: Devin

Answer: There are many ways to wrap a road handlebar, but here’s how I like to do it. I start at the end of the bar with the tape wrapping over the top towards me. I’ll leave about 1/3rd of the first wind hanging off the bar so that it will be held in with the bar plug. You can cut off the inside corner to help the tape lay a little flatter at the end of the bar if you prefer.

I like to overlap each wind of tape just enough so that the finished tape ends up flat, but you can overlap more if you want a thicker wrap. Maintaining even tension on the tape as you go is key to a achieving a good looking wrap that won’t come unwound. If you need to let go of the tape at any point, I like to use a pin spanner like a giant clothes pin to hold the tape tight.

When you get to the lever, you have a decision to make. You can either use the extra strip of tape that comes with the roll to cover the lever’s clamp, or you can use the crisscross method and avoid it. The upside of the crisscross is that it is very secure and it is sure to cover the area around the edge of the hood for a clean look. The downsides are that it uses more tape, and that could cause you to run out when wrapping wide handlebars, plus the crisscross leaves a bump in the tape and thickens the width of the hood where it meets the bar. Here’s how you do it. (Might need to improvise here)

The other option is to use the extra strip of tape that came with the roll. The downsides of this method are that it takes longer and the strips don’t like to stay put while you are working. Also, this method can come unwrapped a little easier. But this method looks very clean when done well.

Here’s how to do it: You only want the strip of tape to cover the clamp and the area of the bar just above and below it. It does not need to cover any part of the lever body. So if I’m using this method I’ll measure how much I need to get around the back of the clamp and then cut two pieces to length. I like to then stagger them starting with the lower one so that the entire area aft of the lever body is covered. Most mechanics don’t use two strips like this, but I’ve found it necessary when dealing with some of the very short reach/shallow drop bars that are common today. With the strips installed, you can continue with the wrap. On the wrap that goes up over the top edge of the lever body, you’ll need to pull the tape a little tighter so that it will make this extreme bend while laying flat and tight against the bar.

When rounding the bend before reaching the top of the bar, pay special attention to getting the wraps even and tight. This is the area where the tape will come unraveled if you don’t get it tight enough, or if you don’t have enough overlap on each wrap.

Once you get to the point where you want to end the tape, cut the tape so that the cut edge is perpendicular to the handlebar. Ideally the cut edge should wrap all the way around the bar.

With the exception of Lizard Skins DSP tape, I typically don’t use the finishing tape included with the bar tape. It doesn’t stretch or stick very well, so I use electrical tape instead. I like to start and end the finishing tape on the underside of the bar so that the seam is invisible. I also like to make the edge of the finishing tape flush with the cut edge of the bar tape. If you let the finishing tape hang over the edge of the bar tape, it has to be stretched a lot in order to make it around the bar smoothly. That tension will eventually cause the finishing tape to unravel once the glue on the tape gets soft and gummy.

Three laps around the bar are all you need, and on the last lap I put very little tension on the tape so that it won’t come unraveled down the road.

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