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Replacing the handlebar tape is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve the comfort, appearance, and ride feel of your bike. It’s also one of the most underappreciated upgrades.
Handlebar tape is a piece of bike gear that rarely gets the attention it deserves.
It wraps around one of the main contact points on your bicycle that supports your entire upper body. Sounds a bit more important now, right?
While bike bar tapes are simple, the effect they have on your experience of riding a bike is pretty complex. Namely, with the right bar tape, you will increase comfort, improve grip in wet conditions, and deck out an old bike.
Check out the best handlebar tapes we recommend and find out more about why you should consider this incredibly affordable upgrade, the things to keep in mind before doing it.
Handlebar tapes, as the name implies, wrap around the handlebar to provide comfort, grip, and style. They’re commonly seen on bicycles with drop bars, such as road, gravel, cyclocross, and touring bikes.
On the other hand, bikes with flat bars have grips made from rubber or other suitable materials.
Related: Road Bike Types
Cushioning, shock absorption, and control are some of the main benefits you get from choosing your bike bar tape wisely. The effect the bike tape has on these ride aspects depends on factors such as material, thickness, elasticity, and overall quality.
In addition to all of the abovementioned benefits, a brand new bicycle handlebar tape is a breath of fresh air on your bike. It’s one of the cheapest ways to improve the appearance of your bike, and let’s be real—life’s too short to ride an ugly bike!
Best Road Bike Handlebar Tape
If you’re looking for the best balance between comfort, low weight, and responsiveness, this version of Lizard Skins bar tape is what you need.
With a 2.5 mm thickness, this bike tape is pretty comfortable on short and moderately long rides. It’s made from DuraSoft polymer that’s grippy in dry, wet, and sweaty conditions.
If you also worry about the aesthetics, it’s good news that Lizard Skins DSP comes in four colors and has an appealing tactile imprint.
Buy if: You’re an all-around road ride and you want a bicycle handlebar tape that provides comfort and grip.
Best Bar Tape for Wet or Humid Weather
Keeping your hands on the handlebars can be a challenge on wet or super-humid days. Arundel Rubber Gecko is a sticky bike handlebar tape that ensures grip in all conditions.
It’s made from a combination of natural rubber and EVA foam, so it’s both comfortable and sticky. Plus, its textured surface prevents slippage and improves road feedback.
The layer of foam pushes this bar tape towards the thick spectrum, so it’s ideal for wet gravel rides or long brevets on rainy or humid days.
Buy if: Your two main priorities are cushioning and stickiness for long rides and wet days.
Longer Read: How to Improve Your Cycling
Best Cheap Bike Bar Tape
Cinelli Cork is a classic bicycle handlebar tape that never gets out of style. It’s characterized by excellent grip in all riding conditions and even better comfort and vibration dampening.
This bike tape weighs just 68g and costs only $15, which makes it one of the cheapest options around. Though, keep in mind that cork is a less durable material than synthetics, so you might have to replace it more often.
Still, Cinelli Cork is perfect for hardpacked gravel rides, commutes, as an all-around road bike handlebar tape, and for those who are just looking for a stylish option.
Buy if: Get this bike bar tape if you want a timeless option that looks good, grips well in wet weather, and improves comfort.
Best Looking Road Bike Handlebar Tape
The Supacaz Super Sticky Kush is one of the best-looking and stickiest bike handlebar tapes on the market. It’s made from grippy polyurethane with comfy padding that gives it a healthy 3 mm thickness.
This bike bar tape is also an excellent choice if you’re looking for a funky color that matches your style—it’s available in a large number of colorways.
What we also like about it is that the package includes two aluminum laser-etched plugs that increase the cool factor.
Buy if: You want the ultimate stickiness combined with great comfort thanks to the 3 mm thickness.
Best Handlebar Tape for Gravel
When it comes to the best bar tapes for gravel riding, we recommend taking the maximalist approach. The Wolf Tooth Components Supple bar tape is a good example.
Related: Best Gravel Bikes
With a 5 mm thickness, this bike tape offers unmatched vibration absorption on rough gravel routes. Its surface is soft and tacky, so you’ll also get a great grip when the road gets bumpy.
The tape itself is made from silicone that’s 100% washable, so it’s easy to keep clean even after a muddy or dusty gravel ordeal.
Buy if: You love riding gravel and want the best grip and the most comfort on rough and bumpy rides.
Best Bar Tape for Retro Bikes
Let’s face it, nothing beats a leather bar tape when it comes to style and appearance points. This Brooks Microfiber bar tape looks like leather but it’s made from synthetic materials, so it gets cruelty-free points as well.
It’s available in brown and black colors, so it matches different bike paint jobs. Keep in mind that this is not the grippiest or lightest bicycle tape you can get, so it’s not recommended for wet rides or weight weenies.
This is a fantastic option for commuters and recreational cyclists who want to achieve a classic look.
Buy if: You have a retro build that you want to complete with a high-quality tape that mimics leather.
Best Bar Tape for Low-Vis Riding
Bontrager Grippytack is a thin and incredibly sticky bike handlebar tape that ensures fantastic responsiveness and control.
It’s made from a combination of a grippy microfiber outer layer and a foam underlayer, so it’s reasonably comfortable as well.
Another nice touch is a pair of reflective bar end plugs that will improve your visibility in low-light conditions. Moreover, the bike tape itself has lots of reflective perforations (red or yellow) that make you more visible.
Buy if: You want one of the stickiest bar tapes that eliminates the worst chatter but doesn’t completely kill road feedback.
Looking for more interesting ways to personalize your bike? See our list of best bike accessories.
Bar tapes are inherently simple and so should be the way we think about them.
When shopping around for a new bike handlebar tape, there are two main aspects to consider: the material they’re made from and thickness.
Bike bar tapes can be made from a variety of materials, the most common and popular of which are:
The most common synthetic materials used for bike handlebar tapes are polyurethane, silicone, and rubberized polymers. This is a durable and affordable choice available in different thicknesses that offer varying tactile experiences. Some models are thin and firm, others have a foam or gel core that improves comfort.
Leather bar tapes look good and last the longest, but they don’t offer the most cushioning and lack comfort until you break them in. Leather also provides a classic appearance, which looks good on retro bikes.
Finally, cork bar tapes are the best choice for riding in wet weather because cork offers good absorption and remains grippy even when it becomes wet. The thickness also improves comfort, but due to high absorption, these bike tapes typically become dirty faster than synthetic and leather options.
When it comes to thickness, bicycle handlebar tapes can be 1-2mm thin or up to 5mm thick. It all depends on what you want to get out of it, how you ride, and what your needs are.
For example, crit racers go for very thin and minimalistic bar tapes that offer better response and control at high speeds and in tight corners. Road bike handlebar tapes are also typically very thin.
On the contrary, gravel and endurance riders prefer thick bike bar tapes with good cushioning that improve comfort on long rides and rough terrain. Some riders even double-wrap their handlebar tapes to maximize comfort.
When it comes to purchasing any bike gear, the golden rule to follow is to have a good understanding of WHY you want to buy a certain product.
That is, ask yourself what you want to get out of it and what improvements you expect to achieve.
Even though, as we’ve already mentioned, bike handlebar tapes are pretty simple, the selection online is mind-boggling. Therefore, you need an efficient way of sifting through those choices and finding something that reflects your needs.
Start with the following considerations:
Professional cyclists typically use thin, synthetic bar tape that reduces weight and improves road feedback. Synthetic materials provide excellent grip in all conditions, including under heavy sweating, so they provide the ultimate control at high speeds and in tight corners.
In order to choose the best handlebar tape, you need to consider your needs. If you ride fast, moderately short rides on smooth tarmac, you should go for thin bar tape. If you go on gravel and long endurance rides, thick bar tape is the best. But if you want the best looks, leather, cork, and cotton are winners.
Synthetic bar tapes are the lightest choice. Typically, the thinner the bar tape, the less it will weigh. Some of the lightest options around, such as the Lizard Skins DSP 1.8mm tips the scales at around 50g, including the plugs. Keep in mind that low weight comes at the expense of comfort.
Experts advise replacing bar tape twice a year in order to prevent handlebar corrosion caused by sweat and salt that accumulates under the tape. In reality, most riders replace their tape when it gets worn, which means once a year or even once in 2-3 years.
Bar tape is more expensive than one would expect because it doesn’t get changed all too often. Most riders replace their handlebar tape once a year or once every 2-3 years, which means that the demand is low, which translates into a higher price.
Bike handlebar tapes typically vary in thickness from 1mm to 5mm. The thinner the tape, the more responsive your ride feel will be, but the less comfort you’ll get. On the contrary, thicker bar tapes improve cushioning and comfort, but at the expense of some control and ride feedback.
Everyone has a dirty little secret when it comes to wrapping bar tape. The most common way is to start from the end of the handlebar and work your way toward the step. Overlap the tape by a quarter to a third and pull it tightly to make sure that it stays in place.
Yes, you can reuse bar tape if it is in good condition. For example, if you’re swapping the handlebar and your old tape is as good as new, you can just reuse it on your new handlebar. Just make sure to unwrap it carefully and recheck if it is in good enough condition before you reuse it.
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