By Sarah Bonner
From standard black and fluorescent pink to glow-in-the-dark, bar tape can be the finishing touch on your bike, but before you decide on style, make sure you also consider what bar tape is made of. Bar tape is primarily designed to give you more grip on the handlebars and to absorb vibrations from the road. The options available today are made from cork, leather, and synthetic materials and each offers a different feel on the bars.
Cork Gel Bar Tape
Although cork is blended with some synthetic materials, cork is the more traditional option. Introduced by Cinelli in the 1980s, the traditional look and feel of cork tape makes it a popular choice today. Being a thicker tape, it gives a firm but giving feel of comfort to the bars, but it can also be bought with a layer of gel padding, such as Bike Ribbon’s Cork Gel Bar Tape. While it can be tricky for a novice to install—since it can tear in the process—it tends to have a good life span and comes in a variety of designs and colours.
Leather Bar Tape
Leather bar tape, popular in the 1980s as well, also offers a more traditional look but doesn’t offer much cushioning. If you want leather but also want some cushioning, an underwrap, gel pads, or a layer of a gel-tape may be necessary. Leather bar tape, like Brooks England Leather Bar Tape, is expensive but can last many years.
Synthetic Bar Tape
Unlike cork and leather, synthetic tapes come in a range of different looks and feels. From Fizik’s microtex to Deda’s PU Compound, the materials differ, but synthetic materials are typically more durable, more forgiving during installation, and easier to keep clean. Synthetic tapes come in a variety of thicknesses, are measured in millimetres, and can be textured or smooth. If you’re looking for a more cushioned feel, look for a gel-tape or a tape with a foam layer like P.R.O.’s Gel Smart Silicon or Lizard Skin’s DuraSoft Polymer tape. While the price points between cork and synthetic are comparable, synthetic tape offers the most choice in colour and design, so they are an affordable way to customize or change your look.
Since all bar tapes offer different levels of comfort and grip, the choice comes down to rider preference. It’s best to go into a store and feel the different options before making a decision. Remember to consider what surfaces you ride on and whether you’ll be riding with or without gloves. Once you have found a bar tape material you like, stick to it but don’t be afraid to use bar tape to express your own style.
Sarah Bonner the author of a new e-article, The Clean Girl’s Guide to Cycling: How to Clean Everything from Bar Tape to Sports Bras, has lived and cycled in Canada, Africa, and Europe. Currently, she splits her time between the Netherlands and South Africa where she trains and competes at an amateur level. With a Masters in English and a Diploma in Sports Management, Sarah combines her love of writing and passion cycling to share honest advice and inspiring stories. Follow her at sarahkimbonner.wordpress.com
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