How to Replace Bike Handlebar Tape In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

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Bike maintenance is a part of cycling, and there’s a lot to learn when it comes to keeping your bike in tip-top condition.

Many of our readers ask us for advice on how to maintain their bikes properly, and one of the most common questions is how to wrap bike handlebar tape properly. 

Having fresh bike handlebar tape on your road bike makes it feel brand new and adds to the riding experience. It comes with loads of great benefits and helps you add your own personal style to your bike.

In this article, we’re going to be discussing;

  • What Is Bar Tape?
  • 3 Reasons Why It might Be Time To change your bike handlebar tape
  • How to Replace Bike Handlebar Tape In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

Let’s dive in!

How To Wrap Bike Handlebar Tape: Title Image

What is Bike Handlebar Tape?

Bike handlebar tape is what is used to wrap around road and gravel bike drop handlebars to give the rider grip on multiple points of the bars.

It is often referred to as bike grip tape or bike bar tape. You will typically only see this used on road, gravel, and time-trial bikes. It is an excellent way of providing grip without adding much more than 100g in weight. 

Bike handlebar tape comes in one general size but can be seen in various materials such as polyurethane, nylon, cork, and leather. It also comes with a foam or gel core on the inside to help with installation.

Bike handlebar tape comes in thousands of different designs, and you will find lots of colors to match up to the rest of your bike. 

Worn bike handlebar tape ready to be removed.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

3 Reasons Why It might Be Time To change your bike handlebar tape

#1. It’s Worn out

Bike handlebar tape on road and gravel bikes wears out quicker than you might think.

Depending on how much you ride and the type of riding you do, you might find yourself changing your tape every season. When bike tape wears out, it can split, and then it doesn’t provide the grip you might want.

#2. To Freshen up the bike

New bar tape can really freshen up the look of a bike.

You might want to go plain black or spice it up with the same color as your frame or kit. When it comes to bar tape, we recommend a darker color as it looks cleaner for longer.

#3. Upgrade

You might want to invest in new bar tape as an upgrade for your bike.

Using a grippier tape can help your handling as it’s easier to hold onto the handlebars. You might want to use thicker bar tape if you plan on some rough gravel trails or if you’re going to be riding on places with lots of cobblestones to take the edge off the bumps.

Black and white photo of a bike's handlebars.

How to Replace Bike Handlebar Tape In 7 Steps [With Pictures]

Changing handlebar tape isn’t too challenging, but it can take a little practice to master how to do it neatly and properly.

When following this guide, we recommend you take your time and ensure it’s done properly. We are going to be changing the handlebar tape on a Lynskey gravel bike today.

Photo of the equipment you'll need to replace bike handlebar tape.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Typically, the better the bar tape you invest in, the easier this job will typically be. The tools you’ll need include:

  • Scissors 
  • Handlebar Tape
  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Electrical Tape

Step #1. Preparation

The first thing you will need to do is find a good place to work where you’re not in anyone’s way, and you have a place for your tools and can work safely.

If you have a bike stand, we recommend getting your bike in that, as it will make this job a lot easier. Ensure you have everything ready and within reach.

Step #2. Strip Off the old Bike Bar tape

Stripping off the old handlebar tape.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

The first thing to do is get the old bar tape off.

Remove the bar end plugs from each side using a screwdriver and fold back the rubber covers on the hoods. Peel off any finishing tape holding around the center of the bars.

Start slowly unraveling the old bar tape from the center of the handlebars. 

Once it is off, you might find that the old bar tape has left some glue or foam stuck to the bars. It’s good to get this off, and it should peel off pretty easily. Wipe the exposed handlebars down, then ensure they’re clean and dry.

It might also be worth adding some more electrical tape to secure the cables to the handlebars if they’re loose.

Step #3. Start Wrapping

Wrapping the drops with tape.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now for the fun bit – the wrapping!

Start at the bottom, at the end of the drops. Begin with one full wrap round to start, with a half-width of the bar tape overlapping the end of the bar.

The direction of the wrap matters. It should match the direction of twisting load applied while riding with your hands in the drops to reduce the chance of the tape unravelling or gaps forming.

Looking from the rider’s perspective, this means:

  • For the left side, wrap the tape counterclockwise.
  • For the right side, wrap clockwise.

On the top of the bars, this reverses – but we’ll come to that shortly.

Once you’ve done your first full circle around the bottom of the drop, continue wrapping, aiming at an angle to start working up the bars. Aim to overlap about a quarter of the tape each turn to ensure there are no gaps, and keep it nice and tight without too much strain on the bar tape itself.

Keep going until you approach the shifters, then proceed to the next step. 

Step #4. Wrapping around the hoods

The "figure-of-eight" method for wrapping around the shifters.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now the tricky bit. This can be challenging and might take a few attempts.

The Figure-of-Eight Wrap

There are a couple of different methods to wrap around the hoods. The “old school” method we’ll demonstrate here uses a figure-of-eight wrap. It works well in most cases as it’s very secure, but can be a bit too bulky if you’re using thick, heavily padded tape.

For the figure-of-eight wrap, bring the tape around the back of the bar, then wrap it over the top, past the shifter.

Then, wrap it back down around the shifter handle to the bottom. Bring the tape around the back again, and finally back over the top. The picture above shows this final stage, with the tape ready to continue along the top of the handlebar.

The “Up, Over, and Around” Wrap

An alternative method for thicker tape is the “up, over, and around”.

For this method, first cut a short section of tape and hold it against the back of the handlebar, covering the shifter clamp.

Then, as your handlebar tape reaches the shifter, wrap it upwards directly over the shifter handle (without first wrapping around the back as you do with the figure-of-eight).

Then simply continue along the top of the bar, making sure the short section of covering tape over the shifter clamp is held down securely.

Both of these methods reverse the direction of the wrap as it passes the shifter, which is ideal. Roll back down the rubber shifter hoods, check everything looks and feels right and there’s no exposed handlebar, and continue wrapping along the top.

This might take a few attempts to get right the first time you do it!

Step #5. Wrap and cut

Cutting the end of the handlebar tape.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Continue wrapping until you get to about an inch away from the center of the bars, where the stem is clamped. Remember, if you’re not happy at any point, you can go back and try again until it’s perfect.

Once you are satisfied, pull the tape nice and straight towards the front of the bike and cut at an angle so the edge is parallel with the front wheel (see photo above).

After cutting, pull the tape nice and tight. Get some electrical tape and wrap it around neatly until it’s secure and there’s no risk of it falling off. 

Step #6. Plug and repeat

Installing the bar end plugs.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Finally, take the overhanging bike bar tape where you started and push it into the handlebar end. While holding the excess bar tape in, install the bar end plug tightly. This might take some persuasion.

Now you have completed one side! Repeat the process on the other side, remembering to reverse the direction of the wrap from the one you’ve just finished (right side clockwise, left side counterclockwise).

Step #7. Check and clean

Once both sides of your handlebars are wrapped in bike grip tape, you’ll want to ensure there are no gaps, the tape covers everything it needs to, and it is secure.

Providing it’s all looking good, drop your bike out of the stand, clean away your mess, get out, and give it a good test!

Finished example of bike handlebar tape installation.
Credit: Robbie Ferri

Now you know how to wrap bike handlebar tape…

Bike handlebar tape plays a big part when it comes to having full control of the bike.

Fitting it to start with can be a little challenging, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to do and quite a lot of fun.

Now there’s no excuse for not having fresh bar tape on your bike!

Found this bike bar tape guide helpful? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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