Wrapping bar tape – MTB edition

20 Feb 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I thought this week I’d take a little tangental follow-on from Rich the Roadie’s excellent guide for wrapping bar tape, and introduce the concept to those out there that ride dirt only, thus probably never even contemplated the idea, of using bar tape on their mountain bike.

First a bit of background…

To all those young spuds out there, you probably have never known anything other than ‘grips’, regardless of the shape or form. But back in the early to mid 90’s when mountain biking was making its mark, using bar tape on your bars was not unheard of. In some instances, such as with the still excellent Scott AT2-LF bars, you really had no other choice. As bars became straighter though, and motocross influence started to wipe away the remnants of road biking, tape died off to be ubiquitously replaced with slide on grips, as we all know today.

In the early days of grips, pre lock-on, there was less of an issue (as I saw it) as they were fairly slim and 100% cush, ie. there was only rubber between your hands and the bar. As lock-on grips became the norm though, that cush and svelteness subsided, as now between your hands and the bars was a layer of rubber, and, a plastic sleeve. Grips became firmer and bulkier, and in my personal opinion, a lot less comfy for your hands. A good example of this is comparing the standard, legendary, Oury grips which slide directly on the bars, to their lock on counterparts. Night and day.

Over the years I’ve noticed areas of my hands had started to become unusually sore while riding, as all the grips I had used did not afford a huge amount of cushion, my hands were being bombarded with even the smallest of vibrationcs. Further more, the added bulk of lock on grips demanded a firmer grip; for riders with smaller hands this has proven to be a bit of an issue.

So one day I had the bright idea to replace the grips with tape.

The way I figured it, I could wrap the tape to any thickness I wanted and with the large varieties of tape on the market, I could pretty much tweak the feel to just the way I wanted it.


tape for grips


The thinner leather tape wrapped better while feels just as good as the thicker synthetic

The practicalities:

Wrapping the tape was pretty easy. If you follow Rich’s guide you will be set but what I found was that I doubled up the wrap, so taped the width I wanted and then went over it again to pad it out. I used two different types of tape and found that one, the thinner of the two, doubled over better than the other to give a very clean finish.

With tape you are not limited in the width of the grip area either. I went a little wider, so I could clear the shifters that little bit more, yet still have a good grip area for my relatively large hands.

After a bit of trial and error, I decided to wrap starting from the inside. This allowed me to have a clean edge at the end of the bar where I started the return wrap.

I ‘tied’ off the wrap with black electrical tape but I would suggest finding something a little stickier.

The overall feel is great. The tape is firm and stays put (use only the tape with a reusable adhesive backing) but provides excellent cushion.

The down sides:

So far, I have found not a lot. The bars are a lot more comfortable than with the grips, though I suggest that the tape is probably not as durable as a rubber grip in a crash.

You’ll need a good bar plug to terminate the tape at. I used some aluminium ones I had spare and while they create a bit of an odd lip, I find that they act as good tactile locators when you are not looking.

The wraps are thinner than grips, part of the point really. If though you like chunky grips, you could try a third wrap (which will deliver a very plush feel) or stay with what you have.

But perhaps the biggest thing, at least with the tape I have used, is that it can be a little slippy. This should not be an issue with the right glove but with the POC’s I am using, I find until I get used to it again, my hand floats a little. I realise this is more the glove I am using, which is the older style POC DH glove and lacks a good grippy surface, but it is worth considering. With a more tactile glove, it should not be an issue at all.


use bar tape on mtn bars

You can tailor the feel to the way you like it


Using tape on your mtb bars is a viable option. We used to use it way back when and these days with plusher forks and the like, tape offers a level of comfort and choice that the range of rubber grips can not match. I would say if you are looking for a better feel at the bars, and/or a more tailored fit and feel, you should give tape a try.


Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.

I've run mtb events, distributed some legendary brands, ran my own cycling clothing brand, designed bikes and was a GM and head designer for a famous but sadly now extinct mtb marquee; and after 20 odd years I decided riding bikes was more fun than working with them.
Over that time though, I wrote (and some wrote for me) a lot of stuff about bikes, on blogs and the like. Some was good, some, well... not so much. Rather than loose it all when I shut everything down once and for all, I have kept some of my favourite, and more popular pieces here for... prosperity?
I also am working on new pieces as well...

Want to share?