Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Handlebar Tape: Friend or Foe?

With most of my cycling history centered around mountain bikes, I never had any experience with the drop-style handlebars until I found them on a few Saved from the Scrapheap bikes. Who can forget the Fuji Espree with its black hockey stick tape and booger finish?

 Equally unforgettable was the Fuji Gran Tourer with its Huffy handlebar grips.
These two bikes made me wonder: just how hard do owners of drop-style handlebar bikes try to avoid putting on new handlebar tape? I assumed it must be more difficult than installing BMX grips or the Gran Tourer would have looked a little differently when I bought it at the estate sale.

It wasn't long before I was able to test my theory: The 1998 Bike Friday New World Tourist I bought over the summer was my first non-scrapheap bike with these style handlebars, and they came with tape that looked like this:
They weren't the most attractive handlebars in the world, and between whatever globe-trotting the bike had done before and its own travels as part of my fleet, they were showing some wear.
Not wanting to see these grips unravel or cram on Huffy grips, I went to Danny's Cycles in Stamford and bought some red Bontrager Gel handlebar tape for about $20. It came with two rolls as well as two 4” pieces with 3M adhesive on the back that I didn't know what to do with. It also came with two bar end caps that I did know what to do with, but because my bike has old bar end shifters I put the end caps in a drawer...with about half a dozen other end caps.
I removed the black electrical tape at the top of the handlebars and unraveled the old tape, which told me that when I'd start wrapping the new tape I'd begin at the bar ends. I pulled up the black rubber brake hood as I unraveled the tape and found something that told me what the 4” pieces of handlebar tape were for.

After I replaced the 4” pieces with the new tape, I wrapped the new stuff around itself on the bar ends (using a piece of matching red electrical tape to give it some extra grip) before moving up the handlebars, covering about ½ of the tape with each pass. I briefly worried I wouldn't have enough to do the whole handlebars but my fears were unfounded. In minutes I made it to the GPS mount and sealed the deal with some more electrical tape. Before long, this is what I was left with.

Wait: that's the 'Before' picture. Here's the 'After.'
I'm rather new at this, so I'm sure there may be some drop-style handlebar fans out there who will moan at my technique, but I was rather amazed at how easy it was to put better looking and more comfortable grips on a road bike. Why someone had instead chosen to cram Huffy grips onto the Fuji Gran Tourer would forever remain a mystery.

(Follow me on Twitter at @michaelknorris)

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