Lately I've been thinking about wrapping handlebars (much easier than wrapping gifts I think), and it's among the most frequent and fun maintenance tasks on road bikes - so it's a good skill to work on and get good at. I taught myself how to do it and then learned the "proper" method working at a Schwinn shop in 1973. We sold 1,000 Varsity 10-speeds a year and taped every one the same way: top of the bars to the bottom of the bars.
Top-to-bottom or vise versa
To explain, when wrapping drop handlebars you have a choice. You can start at the top of the handlebars or you can start at the bottoms - the ends of the bars. Today, it's almost an absolute that you wrap bottom-to-top. Because this overlaps the tape like roof shingles.
And just like a proper shingle job keeps rain from getting under the shingles, wrapping handlebars bottom to top prevents the natural downward pressure of your hands from rolling and peeling your tape.
|This photo is borrowed from the awesome BikeCult site|
Plus, taping that way results in a super-clean look since there's nothing on the bars except bar tape. The ends of the tape get neatly tucked into the handlebar end caps that press in when you finish the job (also called plugs).
Speaking of handlebar plugs, here are some cool ones in Speedplay's Museum. It's too bad that you don't find stylish ones like these anymore.
Electrical tape is for electricians not bicycles
When you wrap the "right" way, bottom to top, you have to do something to secure the ends of the tape at the top. Tape comes with finishing strips, two adhesive pieces designed to be used for this purpose. But, it doesn't usually work very well. So most mechanics finish a tape job with plain old, rather boring electrical tape, albeit sometimes in a fancy fashion wrapping several different colors to provide a custom look.
A quick aside: In the BikeCult fancy tape photo above, the master taper avoids the issue of peeling, unraveling tape, and also the issue of having to finish the tape at the top by criss-crossing/weaving the tape on. This creates that wonderfully whimsical tape job but it takes some patience and skill to pull off. Note that they used cloth tape (great-feeling stuff if you've never ridden with it). You can also do it with non-padded thin plastic tape. We used to do it with Benotto.
Another trick to avoid finishing at the top is to wrap from the bottom to the brake lever and from the top to the brake lever and then hide the tape ends at the brake lever beneath the hoods. But that one's hard to do too and I've never mastered it.
Make it stand out or hide it
|The white finishing tape almost disappears|
Sometimes I will use a narrow strip on top of the first full strip in a contrasting color to add style points. But only if the tape job and bike call out for it. Often it looks best if the electrical tape is the same color as the handlebar tape and blends in when you're done.
Still, finishing with electrical tape bothers me. It's made for wiring, not bicycles, after all. You buy it in a hardware store not a bike shop. Now, you can alternatively glue the end of the tape to itself to finish a tape job, but it's hard to do it and have it look nice. And if the glue lets go, the tape comes loose and unravels when you're riding, which is a pain. That's the same issue when you use the provided finishing strips.
I should also note that some people like having the electrical tape as finishing tape because they feel it gives them something to fix things with if they have a mechanical while out riding. It could be used to patch a tire cut or to tape a broken spoke so it doesn't thrash your bike as you wobble home and so on.
The Rivendell way
But I am still thinking about a better way. Along that vein, watch this nice video to check out how Rivendell's wrenches finish the cloth tape jobs on their sweet rides. (The video won't display if you're reading this in your email, so please click the link to my blog to watch it.)
I might experiment with this technique on my bar tape with a colored nylon or plastic thread/string. Another thought is to make small carbon (?) collars that you would slip over the bars and tighten. Maybe I'll pitch that idea to a bar tape maker someday - a nice logo'd clamp like that would be a touch of class and they could make nicer bar ends to go with it while they're at it!
In closing, if any of you are using Lizard Skins DSP tape in a light color and have figured out how to clean it, I would love to know your secret. I have tried everything from water to acetone, from degreaser to bleach, and I can't clean mine. It's nice tape with a unique sticky grip and decent cushioning but not being able to clean it is a problem when you have a thing for yellow and white tape like I do. To see a pro mechanic wrap Lizard Skins tape really fast, watch this video.
Have fun with your bike this weekend,