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Any recommendations for shock absorbing handlebar tape?

I have a very harsh bike with drop bars (cheap alum frame and HD wheels, frame limits tires to 28mm) so I'm doing what I can to minimize the harshness (short of getting a new bike). I will be getting some padded gloves but I won't always be using them.

I'm a commuter/day tripper. I think I've dialed in my positioning well enough, the only thing that hurts after a couple hours is my hands, and I do move their positions.

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    If your hands hurt, you're probably putting too much weight on them. Raising the handlebars is a great way to slacken your posture and place more weight on your saddle and feet. With the right quill stem this is pretty easy. With a threadless stem, you have to use spacers and sometimes different stems to get your handlebars higher. – WTHarper Dec 23 '12 at 22:01
  • What about anti-vibration work gloves like DeWalt's or others? They look good and sleek. – user23571 Nov 25 '15 at 16:31
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    I mentioned bike fit issues, but also Supacaz Super Sticky Kush Bar Tape has been really nice for a bit of extra cusion / shock absorbing. – Benzo Aug 22 '19 at 19:37
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I found that many drop bars are too skinny, putting a lot of pressure on a very small area of my hands. A wider gripping surface seemed to help relieve a lot of pressure. Consider adding some Bar Shapers under the tape.

You can also add some Bar Phat under the tape to give more gel-cushioning. Then you don't have to use your padded gloves all the time.

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    The links appear to be dead now. They lead me to Specialized's 404 page. – gschenk Dec 27 '19 at 0:55
  • @gschenk think the OP was referring to gel pads that you can position under the handlebar tape. At time of writing, I know Fizik makes these, and there may be other manufacturers that do so. – Weiwen Ng Dec 27 '19 at 7:20
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Try adjusting the angle of your seat, so that the front of your saddle is level to the back of the saddle. This will change your riding position and encourage you to lean forward less.

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I use the foam grips on my Miyata 1000 LT touring bike. They seem to last forever. They are comfortable for short trips of 10 miles or so, without the use of padded gloves. They do give some insulation advantages in colder weather. They can also be wrapped with cloth tape if you desire to compress the foam a little bit to protect it or if your hands are on the small side. It can be a bit of trouble installing or removing, but Sheldon Brown has some tips on the Harris Cyclery website for working with this type of grip.

http://sheldonbrown.com/handlebar-tape.html

http://harriscyclery.net/product/grab-on-grab-on-maxi-grip-set-424.htm

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I once worked through the math, and in order to reduce the pressure on your hands to where you can maintain blood circulation in an average drop bar situation you need bar pads that are about 5" in diameter (which is, obviously, somewhere between impractical and impossible). And standard padded gloves have no different effect from padded bars in this sense.

What you need is to move the hands around enough that blood flow is not cut off from any one area for more than a minute or two, and over-padded bars/gloves make it harder to do this.

I once had some Sorbothane-padded gloves that solved the problem by having ribs in the Sorbothane elastomer -- these were excellent and totally banished hand pain (which is no doubt why they are no longer made). I also experimented with a longitudinally ribbed bar pad which worked very well, only the rubber I used (bathtub caulk) was not sufficiently durable, and only lasted about a month.

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  • I'll add that I've always felt there was a business opportunity for someone to develop ribbed rubber pieces that could be glued onto handlebars. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 26 '19 at 23:44
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In addition to adjusting the posture (primarily seat) on the bike, you may also experiment with using slightly less air in your tires, as this will reduce the harshness of ride more than frame material. Bicycle Quarterly has a nice chart on recommended inflation pressures based on weight and bicycle type:

http://www.bikequarterly.com/images/TireDrop.pdf

For extra bar padding, I'd recommend doubling up on the ubiquitous cork tape as it's cheap and, if done right, will hold up for the entire season.

One nice thing about gloves is they help mitigate the perspiration. Also, snot-rockets notwithstanding, having a soft, terry cloth thumb to wipe the nose is a nice creature comfort. :-)

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Thanks for the responses everyone. I'm going to try one of these shorter and higher stems:

http://www.amazon.com/Avenir-Degree-Handlebar-Shims-Black/dp/B002BVW4XC/ref=sr_1_3?s=cycling&ie=UTF8&qid=1356462511&sr=1-3

but I'd still like a little extra padding. My hands have always seemed to suffer more than most peoples, even with more upright postures. And like I said this is a fairly harsh bike (when I got my 36 spoke HD wheels I noticed an immediate increase in the harshness, but I really prefer the stronger wheels).

From amazon link

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  • Did you ever find a way to provide the cushioned bartape that you initially asked for? This is a fix, but doesn't meet your original desire for bartape with more padding. – Criggie Dec 27 '19 at 23:35
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This is an attempt to update the existing answers and to answer more generally. As stated in the FAQ, specific product recommendations are off topic for Stack Exchange, in part because the links to them can go stale. We can, however, discuss specific product categories that may be helpful. Any products I mention in this post are ones I know about, and remember that I don't know everything. In some cases, I mention products that I have used. I have no financial conflicts to disclose.

The OP asked specifically about tape to make the road feel at the handlebars more comfortable. Handlebar tape is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to do that. This article by Cyclingtips discusses the history of bar tape. Relevant to our discussion here, cushioned foam bar tape has been available for a long time, starting in the early 1980s. These tapes may be a blend of cork tape with ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam. Some current (i.e. 2010 and later) bar tapes are made of synthetic materials like microfiber, which can also be combined with foam (e.g. many of the tapes made by Fizik). Other modern bar tape materials that offer cushioning include silicone tapes (e.g. Silca) and polyurethane (e.g. Supacaz and Lizard Skins).

Some of these manufacturers offer tapes in varying thicknesses. Common ones include 1.8mm, 2.5mm, and 3.2mm. For the purposes stated in the original post, I'd direct riders to 3.2mm or 2.5mm tapes. Some road racers or cyclocross riders may want thinner tapes; in some contexts, the feel of the road or the course is important to race decision making, and they may want the tactile feedback.

The accepted answer pointed to gel pads that can be put under the handlebar tape in key locations (e.g. bar tops and drops). To my knowledge, Specialized and Fizik make/made these pads, and there are likely to be some other companies doing so. My sense is that combining these with a 3.2mm tape would be superfluous. I have used these pads with 1.8mm tape in the past.

Riders in the OP's situation may want to take note of the amount of padding in their cycling gloves as well. Also, the OP stated that their bike could clear 28mm tires. Tires have a big impact on the bike's comfort, and bigger tires generally have less rolling resistance than narrower ones. Riders should inflate tires to the minimum pressure needed. Even today, I see a lot of people running too high pressures, so this is an area that one should experiment on. A technical treatment is available on this Silca blog post.

Because I'm a performance-oriented cyclist, I'm going to mention some more expensive solutions for completeness. Carbon handlebars, stems, and seatposts can offer some additional vibration damping. Additionally, suspension stems (e.g. Redshift) and seatposts (e.g. Canyon, Specialized) exist and can offer some actual suspension, although these seem to mainly be used on gravel bikes. These would be overkill for the OP's use case.

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Grab on maxi-grips. I have been using them for 40 years. They work, they last (some of mine are 20 years old and still useable (I don't leave bike in sun for long term storage).
Not too expensive ... up to $20 now (originally I paid about $5).

I started using them after getting nerve damage on a long tour. I am big (203cm and thus put a lot of weight on hands.)

Cuts the high pressure points. Sometimes I also wear gloves. Make sure you have gloves available for tours / long days.

Have to laugh at the 5" diameter 'math'.

Get Grab-on Maxi and use a padded glove (gel or sorbothane).

Then when you are old ... you will still have all the feeling in your hands. I developed numb little fingers in the days before Grab on and heavily padded gloves (early 1970's) ... still the same slight loss of feeling today.

Once you get nerve damage ... it does not get better.


Keep reasonable weight on hands ... otherwise your prostate pays. It also shifts weight forward on bicycle.

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    Welcome to SE - there appear to be a number of "maxi-grip" products. Could you find a link to the ones you mean and edit them into your answer? Some are "under bartape EPDM foam inserts" and some are pipe insulation tubes. Also consider OP is asking about drop bars, so flat-bar grips won't suit. – Criggie Dec 26 '19 at 23:24

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