Nothing says “amateur” more than an imperfect handlebar tape job, a dirty bike or a nasty grimy chain. Conversely, a clean bike feels faster. And new handlebar tape and a clean chain imbue a rider with extra fortitude and a little extra snap in the legs.

The professionals don’t need to wrap their own bars-they have full- time mechanics who can do it blindfolded. No matter how carefully I did my handlebar tape around shop owner George, he would regard the job, and then cruelly shoot me a look that said “amateur!” I have studied him wrapping tape. It looks effortless and he might also be talking to a customer, mocking a minion, his mind on many things – but the final result is perfection.

This drives me crazy.

It should not be so hard. I replace my tape maybe two or three times a year, just seldom enough to forget how to do it properly.

The Velominati have spent a lot of energy debating bike color co-ordination (see Rule eight) and I had a bad tire/tape issue, so I had to go white (I don’t do black tape). There is no doubt white looks great; the question is how long will it look great?

The bike shop I like to use, close to us, did not carry my favorite Fizik tape. It is bombproof and magically never ever gets dirty. So I bought what they carried, some white Deda tape.

I stripped off the old and tried to put on the new. After three attempts of rewrapping with more tension and less overlap each time, I was still short on one side. The tape was so stretched I might as well have been wrapping my bars with plastic wrap or the old Benotto cello tape. Son-of-a-bee-aatch!! (F’ing Italians, would it kill them to give me another few centimeters? The other side was better – could they be different lengths? F’ing Italians!) The only way to make it even meant both sides ended up short and too far from the stem-completely unacceptable! This put me in a mood most foul.

I called the other shop within riding distance, a Specialized shop, and was told they had three kinds of white Specialized tape. Three kinds- really? Of course when I got there, it wasn’t so-but the one they did carry has rocked my world. Specialized S-Wrap Classic 3 ply fake leather with some sweet dot perforations. It is $25 but supplies more than enough tape for the perfect wrap. It’s mighty fine looking and feels perfect; perfect cushion, perfect grip, oh, I’m in love. But, will it stay white? How bad will it look in a month? Two weeks of fair weather riding leaves the tape still bright white.

Again Specialized has impressed me with their form and function. I have some Specialized S-Works road shoes and a pair of their leg warmers and they are great. Their glue-less inner tube patches: the jury is out. Sure they lose some cachet because their items are made in China not Italy but until the Italians give me a little more tape, I’m an S-Wrap boy.

*Is it wrong to be this excited about handlebar tape? Is it dangerous to ask this question? I’m hesitant to answer either of these. And yes, Rules violations in photo, how many can you find?

Specialized S-Works Classic Tape

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126 Replies to “Tape-O-Philia*”

  1. Those tyres are a violation unto themselves!

    Saddle bag. Frame pump. Red tape on seatpost. Black saddle/white tape (but that’s becoming acceptable)… shitty Easton bar and stem.

  2. @brett
    And there is a Campy sticker on the seat tube, that must be a violation but I’m too lazy to go through the Rules to find out. Also, there is a thin spacer between the headset and the stem, unseen. Fuck it, I’m a sinner.

  3. John, it is a requirement that all Velominati are this excited over taping issues. Absorb Brett’s reaction. Those of lesser passion would not react thus. It is our way.

    Myself, I learned from the master. And I mean The Master when it comes to taping the bars. This gent came from South Limberg (of Amstel fame) – near the Belgian border. He spoke with a “soft g” (Brett, ask Marjolein about this the zacht g) but the dood was a stud. Head mechanic for Helvecia La Suisse, picked up my dad’s custom Merckx from Merckx himself at the factory. STUD. Dude trued wheels with a custom stand fixed with a micrometer.

    He taught me all about the art of taping, “The most important part of the bike is where you touch it – that means the saddle and the bars. The tape and saddle must be perfect.” This was the days of full leather saddles and he taught me to grease the saddle so it gleamed just so. Slick enough to slide, but sticky enough for grip. And the tape. It is artwork. I absorbed it all like a 17 year old girl who snuck into a bar on prom night absorbs booze. To this day, I’ll take anyone on in a bar taping challenge.

    You see, my dad, on a return trip to Dutchland with the bike – to ride Liege with me – insisted on having him mount and tape a set of Scott Drop-ins. An abomination, yes, but also a challenge to wrap. You think your Italian Douches at Deda didn’t leave you enough tape? Try taping a bar with Cinelli that has a whole extra length of shitty, useless tubing on it? Well, this artisian taught me to splice two rolls of tape together without so much as a lump. It was inspirational. I’ll get some photos scanned when next I return home.

  4. @brett
    No rule against tape on the seatpost.


    The tires are…unacceptable. Switch them immediately. The only redeeming fact is that they are Stelvios. Not a fan of the stem, but I have those bars on one of my bikes and I love ’em. They were state of the art at the time, and I still appreciate the additional positions the extra bend give ’em.

    I won’t dump those bars till I break ’em.

  5. And there is a Campy sticker on the seat tube, that must be a violation but I’m too lazy to go through the Rules to find out. Also, there is a thin spacer between the headset and the stem, unseen. Fuck it, I’m a sinner.

    *SLAP!!* John! Wake up!! One must never be “too lazy” to go through the rules. It is not a sticker if it is “campy” and thus it is not in violation of anything other than the unwritten rule of being “too awesome”!

    You must be delirious from your intense effort of write this excellent post!

  6. Ok, the bars are fine, but the stem is U G L Y, you ain’t got no alibi.

    Tape on the post? hmmm, ok, if you must, but black only. How often are you guys taking your seatpost out anyway?

    And John, great post, love the passion for the taping. Josh, sometime reader and poster here and my workmate, is a master taper, from his junior days at a shop where he was “tape bitch”.

  7. @frank

    The tires are…unacceptable. Switch them immediately. The only redeeming fact is that they are Stelvios

    och aye, tires are cast offs from wife’s Merlin, still usable…hence the Rules 8 troubles. I’m HOT to go tubeless via new Campy “2 way fit” clinchers and Hutchinson tubeless tires but alas, it can’t be swung right now. So I reckon I will purchase a pair of new regular clinchers for now. Tire suggestions anyone? I’ve been a longtime Michelin user, most recently Pro 3.

  8. @brett
    You are right, stem is ugly and has shitty rusty chromed bolts, unacceptable. I can afford a new stem, oh goody, I can research new stems. Tape on post comes from shipping bike around a few times a year but that is really not happening either so it can go. Saddle bag could go too, I’ll try it but until I go tubeless I am not giving up my frame pump. It’s so carbone!

    Being “tape bitch” has it’s pay-off. You learn the skill.

  9. I hate taping bars. I use black cinelli, once a year, when the weather is foul and perhaps I’m in the grip of some debilitating gripe that has me pinned to the sofa and half-delirious on drugs.

    However, I appreciate that I could pay greater respect to the art. Indeed, I’d almost suggest we submit bike pics for the greater moderation, but given that I am, at worse, a serial cross-pollenator of Shimano and Campag products, I fear it may result in ejection from the site…

  10. It’s these types of posts that bring out the true velominati in us all and provide needed respite from the tension of the Super Prestige. This is also timely for me as I just retaped the bars on the ALAN. After being forced to put the crappy Bonti bars and stem back on the ALAN after building the BMC and putting the K-wings on that, I found those shitty bars to be too narrow for my massive ham-fists. Upon reflection and pouring over pics of pro-builds for Roubaix and other cobbled classics, I decided to go with the double-wrap on the top half of the bars. This provides better ergo for the hands and a modicum of added shock absorption for dirt road riding. So I dug out some scraps of yellow tape I had laying around in the shop for some years and mated it up with some new black Deda tape. Here is the finished result. Let me know what you think.

  11. @Marko
    Worked for me. Just edited your previous comment to show that heinous bumble-bee abomination of a tape job. You’re dancing the line of Rule #8!

    Man, I love that Alan. Looks way mo bettah with the zero-rise stem.

  12. @frank

    Thanks for posting that for me. I know what you mean about the bumble-bee. I wasn’t sure what to think at first but it’s grown on me some. The color-scheme is in line with Rule #8 but it is “edgy”. Ultimately I’ll get some better bars and negate the issue.

  13. @john
    I’m all about the Fizik white tape myself. There are two types; the tacky version and the grippy version. I use the grippy one and it’s amazing. I’ve put a whole season into this particular role and it’s never gotten dirty. Amazing.

    But I have to restate; my favorite part of building a bike is the bar tape. It’s the finishing touch and it’s always left to last. I take lots of pride in it and have a special detail I do with a thin strip of colored tape just under the final ribbon.

    These are old shots from my pre-Campy days, but here are photos of a labor of love:

  14. @Marko
    As you can see, I’m on the K-Wing as well, but training on my other bikes all winter has me realizing the I think I like a round bar a bit better than the wings. They’re good for resting but not for gripping. Contemplating a classic round drop. Old school.

  15. @frank

    Really? I don’t mind the grip of the wings at all. The dished section near the hoods is really comfy and the angle of the drops suits me well. I don’t like the feeling of the tops out of the saddle but don’t ever really ride that way so it’s a non-issue for me. What I do like about the tops is resting my forearms on them aero-style on flats.

  16. @krx10
    Rarely do you see a picture of Dag Otto Lauritzen and The Donald in the same universe. Worlds Collide! I used to love the Cinelli too, it’s a pure classic Italian standard but be careful, if you try the Specialized, you may never go back.

  17. @frank

    To this day, I’ll take anyone on in a bar taping challenge.

    Frank, Frank, Frank. All is right with the world. If anyone else would be a tape fanatic if would be you. This is important, as you said, a crucial contact point with the bike. I like your tape history.

    That Fizik tape is amazing, considering how nasty looking all the cork and foam tapes get, that Fizik looks great forever. I’m hoping this S-Works stuff will too and white is the litmus test. I do not jest, try this out sometime on the Cervelo, it’s awesome.

  18. @Joe
    Put up photos of your bike at great peril. These lads are stern task masters, as you may have noticed.
    At least the black tape hides how dirty and how poorly it may be applied on your bike. As Brett mentioned, becoming a shops “tape bitch” is really the best way to master the skill; do anything 100 times and you get good at it. Baring that, you have to be at the top of your game, healthy, well rested, slightly caffeinated, around 9am and a calm spirit, that is the time to retape your bike.

  19. @Marko

    So I dug out some scraps of yellow tape I had laying around in the shop

    Hey you have violated one of my rules. Do not misuse lie and lay as you have just done. You had tape lying around the shop, not laying. Puh-lease.

    John’s wife

  20. @Beth
    So nice to have you aboard. Please swear more. It’s kind of what we do here.

    On an unrelated note, please don’t demean yourself as “John’s Wife”. You no doubt single-handedly led your floundering husband from Peugeot Purgatory into the Titanium frame, Campy Ultra-Shift 10spd Love Zone. Henceforth, you are to sign off as “Awesome Bitch”.

  21. @john
    Funny story. I was just down the shop, telling Saul and Gerek about how Krx10 will not let a cycling conversation pass without mention of Dag-Otto. And then he pull this shit off. LOVES IT.

  22. @Joe
    I don’t think there’s any Rule against mixing components. In fact, many a great bike companies have made a living of hand-choosing their components. Shimano “STI” actually stands for “Shimano Total Integration”. Before those fuckheads started messing with every bit of the component tree, there was an art to how to combine components and make the most perfectest bike. Simplex shifters with a Mavic derailleur and who-knows-what-chain-that-could-handle-the-power was Sean Kelly’s favorite combination aboard his stunning-yet flexy Carbon-Kevlar Vitus.

    Combining bits is de rigeur, if you ask me. Send me some shots and we’ll post ’em. Cheers.

  23. You guys kill me!

    It’s only recently I’ve been willing to commit allegiance to the church of white bar tape. For I quickly learned that commitment is what’s required once you take that road: dirty, dirty, dirty. With gloves, without gloves. Dirty.

    Indeed, following until-bedtime maintenance of #1 bike last night, I am about to clock off work early to get back in time to perform the final, crucial act in advance of tonight’s chain gang: the cleaning of the bar tape. It’s either that or take #2 bike instead.

    @John – it’s not wrong. It’s not dangerous. It’s required.

  24. @john
    Regarding stem choice, look into the Pro Vibe 7. I’m considering one myself; nice low rise (10 degrees), triangular shape for stiffness for the big lads like ourselves.

  25. @drfrot
    Try that Fizik tape out; the non-tacky one. No cleaning required; I have yet to clean it after a full season. Aces.

    And the Church of the White Tape is a good place to be. I never say Merckx ride with black bar tape.

  26. @frank
    At the end of last season I swapped from “Pro” white tape (a bitch to clean), to one of those three offerings from Specialized – the “Roubaix” stuff. Not too fat, just a bit spongy under the hands. Nice.

    Am pleased to report it’s v.easy to clean too. Do you guys have GT85, the very fine lube in a spray? That works a treat sprayed directly on and rubbed vigorously with a clean white cloth. Makes your whole bike (& house) smell shop-fresh too :¬)

  27. @drfrot
    Well Dr Frot, if that is your moniker, this white tape church is new again to me and it’s the only church I attend. Some white tapes are just too much work, like being a catholic. The Deda tape I used once, just to ride to the damn bike shop was already soiled(again, catholic problem). Fizik and Specialized seems to have come up with much better solutions; they rarely require any cleaning and look great! What a concept.

  28. Recently I taped my FSA K-Force bars. I got PRO on it and went for FSA bar wrap (black, with embossed FSA logos). Not only does it match the bar (consistency counts), it’s beautiful tape (try it), wraps well (unlike some) and looks sick (as I am the tape MASTER – I’ll take on all comers on that one).

  29. Back in my bike shop daze of the early ’80s, taping bars was my favorite part of a new bike build.

    After completing assembly, would wash my hands to remove any grease before unboxing the rolls of tape. Back then, it was cloth tape only. Then I’d carefully wrap the bars to perfection. Well, my idea of perfection anyway.

    My carbon Ibis sports the perfect tape job, if I can say so myself – though its a little dirty at the moment.

    My steel Ibis commuter weapon wears a total crap tape job from years ago – now complete with rips and horrible electrical tape finsh near the stem. I’ll get around to redoing it eventually.

    I’m all for matching saddle and tape colors – though I break that rule often.

  30. @Dan O
    I agree. A pro tape job is like shining the chrome on your motorbike’s exhaust pipes after givin’ ‘er a fresh wax.

    Am I the only one who wishes he could get his hands on some old Benoto bar wrap? I loved that stuff. Something about the way it shined that makes me want some. Not sure what I’d even do with it…

  31. @frank
    Oh it’s out there. Benotto but is seems like pretty worthless tape unless you are ‘core and want no cushion at all. Rob’s 753 Raleigh still has it I bet, or some cotton velux tape. He is old school but that bike was cutting edge when he was racing it. Sort of a nice celeste green as I remember. No decals to speak of, just light.

  32. @john
    Wow, dude. I’ve looked all over for this, I can’t believe it’s still there. I might just have to grab a few rolls of white just for some future rockin’ project. Thanks for that.

    Rob’s bike, I bet, has that nice redish-pinkish headtube color, too. I had a brown Raleigh like that. Lost it. Shit.

  33. Am I in heaven? John you are a genius no matter what they all say! And Frank thanks for asking -Benoto original tape – whoaaa!!! I am getting a box full so I will have it until I can no longer turn the cranks. Might get some Velux too. A friend did some work on the bike for me a few years ago and put on some thick punky corkie tape that I hate and have been to lazy to change – but now! If your seat is level we don’t need no stinkin padded tape.

    The old Raleigh started out life with team colors (she was an insurance settlement for being run over, but that’s another story). The next year because I rode for a small local team with Bianchi as a sponsor and was given a tank of a Bianchi the 753 became Celeste color to hide her pedigree. Three years ago it had finally gotten tired looking so it was sent to Jacksons for a paint job. In a misguided moment I had them paint it canary yellow. I like to be seen in traffic. Next time it will go back to Celeste or team colors. . .

    Whatever the color that bike is the love of my life. She took me to my highest highs (I saw god riding her at the top of Smugglers Notch). With the front derailleur off and 210 gram sew ups on light wheels she weighed 16 ½ lbs. and gave me 2 great rides up Mt. Washington. Plus many great crits, road races and time trials and I still ride her now – not so hard.

    I am sorry to go on but if there ever was a great bike this was it. Snaps to follow – soon.

  34. Thanks Joe, rereading, just have to clarify – that was “I saw God when I was riding her…” Not “I saw God riding her…”

    Note to self – Have to stop posting late at night.

  35. @Joe
    Yeah, I second that. And Joe – rumour has it that Rob also rode a modified racer with 20 inch wheels and did the Mt. Washington Hillclimb aboard a steed adroned with a BMX plastic saddle to save a few precious grams.

    Talk about Obeying Rule #61. Not to mention Rule #5. And Rule #6, I’m guessing.

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