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The Park Tool Handlebar Tape Installation guide suggests that the direction of wrapping can be either self tightening or prone to loosening. Its basic instructions make the tape self-tightening on the tops. The guide also describes how to start wrapping in a direction that makes the tape self-tightening in the drops, and then at the brake levers to switch to a direction that makes the tape self-tightening on the tops.

How much of a difference does the direction of wrapping make in practice? Is loosening of handlebar wrap a common problem? Are there any downsides to reversing the direction of handlebar tape at the brake levers, and if so, is it worth it?

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Note that "self tightening" occurs due to the forces from the hands. As you ride your hands will tend to exert force that rotates in the direction the fingers are pointing. If that direction tends to loosen the wrap it will come off in a jumble. (Of course, I skip the whole mess by wrapping my bars with hockey tape.) –  Daniel R Hicks May 9 '12 at 20:56
    
@DanielRHicks: if it is just about the direction that the fingers are pointing, then there is no need to reverse directions. The claim from Park Tool is that riders tend to push toward the fingers in the drops and pull toward the wrist in the drops. –  amcnabb May 9 '12 at 22:43
    
In addition to the force in the radial direction, there is the axial force. This will tend to be forward on the curves of a drop bar, obviously (most strongly on the top), and probably slightly outward on the flat. The significant factor here is that you don't want the exposed edge of the tape to be "upstream". –  Daniel R Hicks May 9 '12 at 22:48
    
(A lot depends on the tape. Some is self-adhering to a pretty good degree, while some is not secured at all except for the tape at the start and the plugs at the end.) –  Daniel R Hicks May 9 '12 at 22:51
    
@DanielRHicks, you have some very interesting thoughts. Would you consider adding an answer that combines your observations with a recommendation for the best way to wrap? –  amcnabb May 9 '12 at 22:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, it is worth it, because it adds to the longevity of the useful period of utility for your tape, and is more likely to be comfortable and stable in the bargain.

Ideally, you wrap to the outside of the drops, figure 8 around the hoods, which will leave you wrapping from back to front on the tops.

In other words, starting your wrap from the bar end at the bottom of the drop, you wrap the tape so that it crosses from the frame side to the outside of the bar. This direction will necessarily be opposite on the other side of the bar.

So counter-clockwise from the rear of the drop on the non drive side of the bike, and clockwise on the drive side. On the tops of the bars, the tape should pass under the bar toward the bike, and over the bar away from the bike.

That fits the rotation direction of your grip, and will hold the tape in place, rather than forcing it looser (or off).

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Just to clarify, when you say "wrap to the outside of the drops", does that mean clockwise on the right side and counter-clockwise on the left side (from the perspective of the saddle)? I'm not even sure what's the best way to disambiguate the direction of rotation on the tops. :) –  amcnabb May 10 '12 at 17:36
    
It means that starting your wrap from the bar end at the bottom of the drop, you wrap the tape so that it crosses frome the frame side toe outside of the bar. This direction will necessarily be opposite on th other side of the bar. So counter clockwise from the rear of the drop on the non drive side of the bike, and clockwise on the drive side. On the tops of the bars, the tape should pass under the bar toward the bike, and over the bar away from the bike. (@RobertCartaino: Man, I wish we could embed video in our answers!) –  zenbike May 11 '12 at 6:10
    
FWIW, I just looked at the park tool page, and their photos show a different methodology, which is the reverse of what I was taught. I will do some research into why that might be. –  zenbike May 11 '12 at 6:34
    
The advanced technique on the Park Tool page matches your description here, as far as I can tell. –  amcnabb May 18 '12 at 23:19
    
Except for the figure-8 recommendation: the figure-8 "makes a very bulky area and is not needed or recommended with the commonly available thick tape". Also, I have brakes with upper-bar levers, so there is an axle sicking out on the inside of the brake. I think this will prevent a figure-8 because the tape would have to reverse direction on the inside of the brake, where the lever is. I might get away with it if I put a thicker washer on the inside of the upper-bar lever. –  naught101 Sep 3 '13 at 0:47

I have wrapped bars both ways, and have never really noticed a difference. That said, I do now reverse the direction of the wraps due to personal preference.

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Would you mind elaborating on your personal preference? Is it about how it looks or feels, or is it something else? –  amcnabb May 9 '12 at 22:49
    
Like lining up your tire's label with the valve stem, switching the direction of the handlebar tape to avoid unwrapping demonstrates both attention to detail and caring for the bicycle. Even if it doesn't make a difference, simply being the kind of person who cares about details like the direction of one's handlebar tap does. –  Stephen Touset May 10 '12 at 17:52

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