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Nowadays, when you buy a bike, its bar tape is generally black and it’s easy to forget about it unless it starts getting loose or damaged. It’s pretty common to take care of the main components of the bike and forget about the handlebar tape, especially for new bike owners. But is it ok to leave it until it gets damaged? How long is bar tape supposed to last?
Bar tape can last between 1 month and 20 years depending on how often the bike is used, where it is stored, the quality of the tape, and how well it was put, whether you ride indoors/outdoors… However, it is best to change the bar tape regularly: once a year is ideal.
I will detail in the article below why you should consider changing your bar tape once a year, even if it looks ok, and in which conditions it’s essential not to wait longer.
How often should you change your bar tape?
Bar tape should be changed every 1 year if you ride more than 1250mi (2000km) per year, or if you ride indoors at times. Else, you can change the bar tape every 2 to 3 years.
Factors that can affect how long handlebar tape will last
- Number of miles your ride per year
- Length/duration of your rides
- Type of rides: indoor cycling, commuting, touring, mountain biking, road cycling…
- Accidental damages (bike falling off or bar tape being scratched against a wall)
- Quality & material of the bar tape
- How well the tape was put (too tight, it will get damaged or crack with time, else it will come loose)
- Color of the bar tape (lighter colors will get dirty easily and can be hard to clean)
- Comfort (with time the bar tape won’t be as efficient with dampening vibrations and can feel uncomfortable)
- Appearance (yes it’s an important factor for many cyclists)
Why should you change your bar tape regularly?
Bar tape is essential for grip and comfort when riding. With time, it will dry out, be torn out, or scratched, but it will also catch your sweat. After accumulating, the sweat will eventually damage the handlebars below, especially with indoor training. Keeping bar tape is also not very hygienic.
Reasons bar tape should be changed regularly
Bar tape can become smelly with time. It’s due to the bacteria from your sweat that will get stuck in your bar tape and proliferate. Of course, you can and you should clean your handlebar tape every couple of rides, but it’s not perfect. The bar tape is a bit like a sponge and sweat will be trapped in it.
Remember you will be putting your hands on the bars each time you ride, and then you might get some food out of your pockets and eat it. So it’s not very hygienic to keep an old bar tape on your bike, even if it looks ok. Especially if you don’t clean it regularly or leave it for a while in the sun after a ride to prevent the spread of bacteria, some harmful bacteria could develop in between your rides.
One of the roles of bar tape is to help dampen the vibrations from the road on your hands and make your ride more comfortable. So if you start having pains in your hands or shoulders you didn’t have before, or if you notice the tape is starting to wear where you put your hands, it’s time to change the tape.
Risk of corrosion of your handlebars
We have seen earlier that when riding, sweat will accumulate inside the handlebar tape. If you have metallic handlebars, this could corrode them due to the salt present in your sweat. This is particularly an issue with indoor riding. I will detail why in a dedicated paragraph later in this article.
Appearance is important. Who wants to have a lovely bike with dirty or damaged bar tape? Plus it’s a cheap and easy way to give a new look to your bike. For instance, a couple of years ago I decided to go for a red bar tape to go with my sports watch’s bracelet (see picture below).
You can find different types of handlebar tape available on the market with different patterns, colors, and textures… I particularly like this one from Fi’zi:k with the gradient of color. What do you think?
If you are looking for something cheaper, Cinelli cork bar tapes are quite good (here is the link to Cinelli’s store on Amazon if you want to have a look). Lots of colors and patterns to choose from.
I almost forgot: avoid white bar tapes because they won’t last more than two months. They get dirty much faster and are very difficult to clean.
Bar tape is cheap, from $8 to $45 for very fancy ones. So it’s easy to change it regularly.
Effect of indoor riding on bar tape
Let’s consider the case of indoor cycling: if you have a home trainer and ride indoors during the winter, you will sweat a lot more than outdoors, especially since there is no wind. Having a fan when riding can help but it’s not the same as riding outdoors. So, you will definitely sweat a lot on the home trainer and if you don’t protect your handlebars with a towel, this sweat will be absorbed by the bar tape – like a sponge. Then it will dry until your next workout and you will forget about it.
But sweat is salty and salt is very corrosive. So, if you ride a couple of times a week indoors during winter, your sweat can damage your handlebars by corroding them and you won’t even tell because all is happening below the bar tape. This is why if you have metallic bars, you should always change your handlebar tape at most once a year when you ride indoors. And I recommend you use a towel on top of the bar to reduce the amount of sweat that goes onto the bar tape.
If you are interested in other useful tips about riding on a home trainer, go have a look at this other article:
Can you reuse bar tape?
You can reuse bar tape. It’s quite common to do that if you need to change your cables or your handlebars. However, depending on the state of the tape, it can be difficult to wrap it again without breaking it. There is no point to reuse bar tape if it’s already damaged.
So it’s not uncommon to reuse your handlebar tape when you do a maintenance check on your bike. The risk is that the tape will get torn and break while you wrap it again because it won’t be as elastic as the first time you put it on. So you need to be more careful with the pressure you apply.
If it breaks, don’t worry, you can buy a new tape very quickly. Amazon for instance has plenty available starting around $8.
Remember to change your tape from time to time for the reasons I described above.
What to do if your bar tape is becoming loose?
If you ride and your tape starts to become loose, it’s probably because it wasn’t properly tightened when applied. Don’t worry you can just retighten and reposition the bar tape.
To do so, you need to remove the bit of electrical tape holding the bar tape. Then you can unwrap the bar tape until you reach an area tight enough. And then you can wrap it again correctly. Keep it tight enough. And finally, hold it with a new piece of electrical tape.