To do its job well, handlebar tape has to be comfortable, hard-wearing and grippy, and it doesn't hurt if it looks good. We've wrapped scores of handlebars and ridden thousands of miles or Tarmac and gravel to bring you the best bar tapes you can buy.
Your handlebar tape is the essential interface between your bike and part of your body that's full of nerve endings, sensitive tendons and small bones: your hands. It needs to provide both cushioning to reduce the road buzz a bit, and a grippy surface for your hands to hang on to in all weathers.
And since handlebar tape it subject to pressure and friction from your hands, plus damage from falls and leaning against walls and the like, it also needs to be robust. Balancing those requirements is no easy task and is why there are so many different tapes on the market. These are the handlebar tapes that have won the road.cc team's approval.
Tester Pat writes: “£35 is a lot of money to pay for bar tape but believe me when I say that if you want increased comfort, excellent grip and smart looks then ENVE's handlebar tape might be one of the best upgrades ever for your drop-bar bike.
“ENVE says it has designed a special compound for the tape that provides grip, comfort, and stretch, and has backed it with a silicone strip that provides vibration damping. It is incredibly effective at doing all that is claimed and it’s reusable too. As it’s silicone-backed there is no glue, only a tacky strip that keeps it in place when you wrap it. That’s a massive bonus for anybody with lots of bikes or if you're changing bars around. Now three bars in, I’m no longer worried about that cost.
“It’s grippy regardless of whether you have gloves or not, or whether it’s raining or not. That embossed ENVE logo on the tape really does provide superb grip and a very secure connection between you and the bars, which gives plenty of confidence when moving around the bars descending nasty trails, even in the wet. The vibration-damping silicone strip works like a charm and helps to reduce trail buzz better than any other tape I’ve used.”
Tester Liam writes: “Wolf Tooth's Supple Bar Tape is an excellent option for gravel bikes and those wanting extra cushy tape for smoothing out rough road surfaces. Wrapping is easy, and the lack of sticky backing means that you can re-wrap endlessly. I've used grippier tape, but this still provides a secure hold on the bar.
“Supple bar tape provides exceptional cushioning over rougher surfaces and isolates the hands from road buzz. It’s both wide and thick, 40mm wide and 5mm thick, to be precise. Wrapping is pretty easy, but does require you to use a slightly different technique than with standard tape. Wolf Tooth's self-fusing silicone finishing tape finishes the wrap very smartly.
“The thickness of the tape is the big feature here, and I have to say that I have really liked using this tape for general riding and on the odd gravel road I've been down. Mendip Council's penchant for surface dressing the local roads gives the ideal testing surface and the tape did a great job of stopping road buzz getting through to my hands.”
“The surface of the tape is, Wolf Tooth claims, extra tacky, but while I found it provided a secure hold in the hands, it's not the tackiest tape I've used. All in, I really like the Wolf Tooth tape. It delivers on its performance claims and wraps easily. The price is a bit of a sticking point though.”
Prime Comfort Handlebar Tape is an excellent way to add a little more comfort to your road bike, while also getting a boost in grip — and the price is a bargain. The tape wraps easily, is perfectly grippy in dry and wet conditions, comes with good finishing bits and seems to be lasting well. The gel back makes re-wrapping easy too.
Tester Liam writes: “Out on the road the comfort is instantly noticeable. The thickness is very much appreciated over less than perfect surfaces, and this tape does an impressive job of smoothing out the road buzz my SL7 can send my way. After having the bars smacked from my hands by a hidden pothole, I'm back to being a fan of grippy tape. That grip is there whether or not you're wearing mitts, and it's even pretty good in wet or sweaty conditions too.
“If you're looking for an upgrade but the price of the fancy tapes puts you off, the Prime Comfort Handlebar Tape is, erm, a prime candidate. It's thick, grippy, easy to wrap and holds up well.”
Tester Jez found this tape to be a wrapper’s delight. He writes: “The Super Comfort tape from Tortec ticks all the boxes - it's super grippy in use, with just the right amount of padding for mile after comfortable mile. It's also really nice to install. Rather than an adhesive strip, Tortec have used a silicone gripper strip on the back, very similar to what you'd find along the bottom of a jersey. This is grippy rather than sticky, so you can make as many adjustments as you need to, and you can even reuse it, as it'll peel off the bars without leaving any residue.
“There's plenty of stretch too so you can get round the corners on a set of drops without a problem, and it isn't one of those tapes that feels like it might snap if you pull too hard. Once installed the silicone does a great job of keeping it in place - I never noticed any movement.
“Out on the road it's a lovely tape, with a tacky (in a good way) surface that offers really excellent grip levels even in the wet. I almost always ride with gloves, but there's oodles of grip on bare skin too if that's how you roll.
“You're spoilt for choice when it comes to bar tape, but this is as nice as any I've used - comfortable, super-grippy and reusable. Lovely bar tape from Tortec. Recommended.
Kinesis Signature bar tape is really comfortable and easy to fit, and this special edition, featuring text and a bit of humour from Jo Burt, adds a little style and fun to an otherwise pretty standard bit of kit.
Tester Matt writes: “The material feels very grippy and the 'anti-slip' in the name seems appropriate. Even when wet it stays grippy, which suits our typical British weather – perhaps even more so if putting this on a gravel bike, as I did. Water runs off the tape, so it won't absorb much rain or sweat as some tapes can.
“There isn't a quoted size for the thickness, but it is reasonably deep with Vex Gel within the material to give a good amount of cushioning.
“It works brilliantly, being comfortable, good in all weather, and easy to wrap, with Jo's illustrations adding a humorous helping of style and fun.”
The super-wide Wolf Tooth Supple Lite bar tape makes it easy get a smart finish, and you can over-wrap it for extra comfort. It's great stuff. It’s also super-wide: 40mm, by my ruler. Wolf Tooth's idea is that you can basically double-wrap your bars in a single sitting, thanks to the huge amount of overlap available.
Tester Neil writes: “I like riding with this tape. The foam has plenty of give; you can feel it shaping under your weight, but it's not squidgy or porous. Changing positions feels natural; there's just the right amount of tackiness to stop you slipping, but not to stop you moving at all. It's particularly good in wet weather since it shrugs off water. There's been no sign of it moving during the test and, if anything, I think it's looking better for having a few miles on it.
“This is easy to wrap bar tape with great feel and comfort – and we like the understated looks.”
Gravel and cyclo-cross riders are the target market for Acros Silicone Wrap Handlebar Tape. They'll benefit from its shock absorbing, easy care qualities, and so will pretty much everyone else running drops – assuming, of course, you're happy to part with £35.
Tester Shaun writes: "The Acros tape's 3mm thickness does a brilliant job of insulating against low-level vibration. Silicone tapes are renowned for being grippy, and from the off I wasn't surprised by the tacky, tenacious feel and this proved uniformly good, wet, dry and regardless of glove type.
"I'd expect a bar wrap commanding £35 to live up to its hype, and the Acros Silicone Bar Wrap certainly has, in every respect."
Tester Shaun writes: “The Fizik Vento Solocush Tacky tape is a high quality and very effective bar tape aimed primarily at racers and folks assembling lightweight builds, and it's certainly lived up to the hype. Even cleaning it has proved much easier than I was expecting.
“Fitting is straightforward, although it requires a firmer approach than many laminated tapes. It's less supple than cork, or indeed old school bike ribbon. The adhesive backing is very tolerant of being unwound, if corrections are needed. The end plugs are similarly sturdy, and the finishing strips are better than most. Purchase and control proved uniformly good, dry or wet – reassuring when tired and tackling some very long, winding descents, peppered with potholes and similar imperfections, or when snaking though town, as well as when the wintry rains came.
“The Vento tape lives up to the hype and is certainly on a par with several similarly priced competitors. Some will baulk at £33 for bar wrap, but this is a high quality tape that offers superb comfort and is well worth considering. And as you can see, it can be found heavily discounted from its RRP.”
Joystick's Analog bar tape is a cinch to fit and comfortable to use, with loads of grip in both wet and dry. In fact it's pretty darn good – as long as you're happy to pay top money for tape.
Tester Stu writes: “I mostly ride without gloves so I need a comfortable bar tape but it has to be quite thin; I'm not a massive fan of a lot of bulk. This Analog stuff hits the nail on the head with its 2.8mm thickness and firm but slightly compressive material. It’s pretty soft to the touch and thanks to its compound it has a very slight tackiness to it, which is great for grip in the rain or when you have sweaty palms. The 'tread' helps a little here too.
“It's really easy to wrap as it's quite pliable and you can really stretch it around the tight bends of the shifter and bar. The tape sticks well to the handlebar and it can easily be undone and refitted without damage, something you want from a tape of this price. To finish things off neatly you get bar end plugs with a hex bolt fitted to adjust the tension and clamp the bar tape inside the bar. It always gives a much nicer finish in my opinion than the push fit options.
“While its price is comparable to some of the most expensive tapes, so it the performance and for those of you who are happy to pay for it then it is a good investment.”
FSA Power Touch Bar Tape is comfortable to the touch and easy to apply. The tape is a decent thickness, which really adds to the overall feel, and the price is fairly reasonable
Tester Steph writes: “Made from a synthetic and natural cork mix with 2.8mm of padding and gel on the inner side, it is very comfortable and easy on the hands. I noticed the grip immediately without gloves on, and felt that even in wet conditions it would work extremely well. I usually ride with gloves, but went without just to give it a fair chance to shine. The grip was beyond excellent, even in damper weather. The gel underlay seemed to absorb any bumps I may have felt otherwise, and if coupled with gloves your hands would barely suffer.
This is an easy to apply tape that won't break the bank and well worth considering for longer rides. If you’re inordinately fond of cleaning your bike, you can get Power Touch tape in white for just 12 quid from Chain Reaction.
Tester David writes: “Prologo is best known for its large range of saddles but also produces a range of bar tape, so if you're using a Prologo seat you can match the bar tape on your bike. There's nothing better than matched saddle and bar tape if you care about the appearance of your bicycle, and the grip and cushioning this tape provides makes it a good choice even if you’re not going for looks.
“This Onetouch bar tape is made from what Prologo calls 'Polygrip', a foam core sandwiched in a polyurethane outer, and is about 2mm thick. I prefer my bar tape thin as opposed to thickly padded; I like a good handlebar feel. This tape manages to be quite thin but there is enough padding to make it really comfortable, even on longer rides without gloves. Prologo offers a gel version if you want even more comfort.
“The best aspect of the tape is the diamond texture serves to increase grip. This makes it an ideal choice for any readers who happily ride without gloves, as even when you've got a bit sweaty there is still good grip on the handlebars. Your hands feel very secure with gloves too. It's also really good in the rain, as it simply serves up more grip than most regular bar tape.
“It’s not madly expensive either. There are cheaper tapes, but for the performance, the high grip factor and nice cushioning, this is a very good choice.”
Modern handlebar tape is marvellous stuff, providing cushioned comfort for your hands; a more or less grippy surface depending on your taste (though as you can see from our recommendations, our testers almost universally like their tape as grippy as possible); and a massive range of colours and finishes so you can get exactly the look you want.
Bar tapes are made from a fairly wide range of materials, with lots of variation in the details; it's the materials and how they're used that determines how the tape will feel under your hands. Bar tape can be made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), poly(ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam (EVA), polyurethane (PU), polyester microfibre, silicone, or leather, often blended and bonded to get the feel the designers are aiming for. Brooks Cambium Rubber Tape, for example, has a polyurethane coating over a polyester and EVA mixture, while cork tape combines tiny bits of cork with an EVA matrix (an idea claimed by Antonio Colombo of Cinelli). You might also run across the abbreviation TNT which stands for the Italian Tessuto Non Tessuto. That indicates there's a nonwoven fabric somewhere in the mix and not that your handlebar tape is in any danger of exploding.
Silicone tape is the newest addition to your bar-covering choices and it's rapidly become extremely popular. Silicone is a synthetic polymer with a molecular backbone of silicon and oxygen atoms where more conventional polymers like polythene have a backbone of carbon atoms. Formed into bar tape it's grippy, easy to clean and can be made in various thicknesses depending on how much cushioning you want. It's also reusable, because its slight tackiness means it stays in place on handlebars without the glue backing usually used on other tapes. Silicone tapes are generally more expensive, but if you reuse it just once you'll usually break even.
To trace the origins of modern bar tape we have to go back to 1975 when Ermanno and Rosita Alberti founded La Spirale snc, to make a new handlebar tape that Ermanno had cooked up: Bike Ribbon. Ermanno's 'flash of genius' was the realisation that you could have thicker handlebar tape than the cloth or plastic tapes of the day if you tapered the edges so that overlapping the tape to wrap the bar will be tidy, even and not too thick.
La Spirale still makes Bike Ribbon in their small factory in Carate Brianza, north of Milan where Ermanno and Rosita's son Stefano is now at the helm. The guys at CyclingTips did a nice interview with him a few years ago.
Bike Ribbon uses pretty much all the materials and finishes mentioned above and makes bar tape for a lot of other brands. It's a good bet that many of the tapes above started life in Carate Brianza. Like many other tape makers they've also recently introduced silicone tapes.
Incidentally, the US Patent and Trademark Office no longer expects inventors to show that they had a "flash of creative genius" when they came up with their idea, acknowledging in the Patent Act of 1952 that patentable inventions can result from "long toil and experimentation" as well as lightbulb moments. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen the 2008 Marc Abraham movie Flash of Genius starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham and Alan Alda, I highly recommend it. Intermittent windscreen wipers have never been so dramatic.
A few companies offer slabs of gel material that you can fit under your tape for extra cushioning in the drops and on the tops. You can choose from Bike Ribbon or Fizik pads or Selle Italia does a bundle for pads and tape which Big Dave quite liked or you can buy the pads on their own.
In the package with your bar tape you'll find a couple of strips of adhesive-backed plastic to hold down the tape where it terminates by the stem. Many of these strips are frankly useless and you're better off using good-quality electrical tape (I like Nitto's). Props to Enve and Wolf Tooth for their reusable silicone finishing tape. Brooks use a nice cotton finishing tape which also works well.
Most handlebar tape comes with end plugs to hold the tape in place at the ends of your handlebar. We prefer plugs that use an expander mechanism; they tend to stay in place rather better than plugs that just push in. They do tend to be heavier and more expensive though — you can pay over £20 for a pair of stand-alone aluminium end plugs though you can get very similar widgets for a fiver from Amazon or eBay.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.