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It appeared to me that typically new bikes are sold with tape already installed on the bars. That is both buying from a local bike store (LBS) or online. (Please correct me if I'm wrong, I have not have had a road bike yet.)

However, it would be quite unlikely that the drop bars of a new bike would fit the new rider. Likewise is it not very likely that the levers are correctly positioned.

Since removing the glue from bars is rather arduous, it is not convenient for dealers to sell or return them. However, looking at advertised bikes, I did not get the impression that the bars are there only as proxies to hold the levers in the store.

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    I get the impression that the great majority of road bike buyers are happy with the stock handlebars and the position of the brake levers (or brifters). Whenever I've changed handlebar tape, there has been no glue; the last handlebar tape I installed came with something like double-sided cellophane tape that wasn't very sticky. The cellophane tape is probably there as a convenience; I think the handlebar tape would stay in place fairly well without it. – rclocher3 Nov 20 '16 at 18:33
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    Also, a bike looks damn strange with bare bars. Lack of pedals can be explained away by "everyone prefers their clipless style" and they stack better without pedals, and are less likely to bash the next bike over. But no bartape would make them look unfinished, and less appealing to the buyer. – Criggie Nov 20 '16 at 18:56
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    How do you expect people to take a test ride? – Batman Nov 20 '16 at 18:59
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    Cost to manufacturer of adding tape is very small - maybe 1/10 or a shop doing it. Cheaper to rip it off for the one in 20 riders who wants a custom bar/lever position/tape selection. Most of these 1/20 will do it themselves anyway, leaving the shop to do maybe 1/100 sales. (I made up numbers to make the point) – mattnz Nov 20 '16 at 19:04
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    Testing without tape is uncomfortable, and most bikes have a set of platform pedals on them for testing in shops. Swapping a set of pedals is a minute of work. Swapping tape after adjusting is much more, especially when the default will work for testing for pretty much everyone (and if they really want, they can swap it). Most people need to mostly re-angle the bars and raise/lower them for tests, not so much move the levers. – Batman Nov 20 '16 at 20:16
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The question was thouroughly answered in the comments. I shall try to summarise the points given.

  1. @rclocher mentioned that handlebar tape today can be removed easily without much residue. Thus making replacing bars and tape simple. This is contrary to my assumption which was based on limited and outdated experience. The tape is inexpensive for dealers and manufacturers (mentioned by @mattnz)

  2. In my question I overestimated the use to cyclists of having bars that differ from the original (@mattnz). The assumption that customers or dealers are willing to replace handlebars seems also unfounded (@mattnz, @batman)

  3. A typical fitting session typically includes only saddle height and position, stem spacers, and adjustable stems (@batman). More effort on this would erode the dealers profit margins and the patience of 80% of the customers (@mattnz). This is disputed since the typically high value of bikes and possibility to further service the customer is an incentive for the dealer to invest in good fitting (@andy256).

  4. A bike without tape would be uncomfortable to test ride (@batman) and would look bad in the showroom (@Criggie). It cannot be compared to bikes without pedals, since attaching pedals is done in a moment, taping however takes time (@batman).

In case I misrepresented someones comment or overlooked it all together, please be so kind to mention it in a comment on this answer. I do have a few questions on some of these point, which I shall also post below.

Than you very much for the very interesting comments, they were informational beyond the initial, somewhat trivial, question.

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    Pretty good summary. I think Batman's comment more implied uncomfortable to test ride rather than difficult. – andy256 Nov 21 '16 at 22:10
  • You answered my question I had with regard to point 3. in the other comments. In most bike stores i visited it seemed to me that it would not matter if a dealer spent half an hour on a customer and then waited two for the next one or just spent three hours making the first one happy with their expensive buy. – gschenk Nov 21 '16 at 23:05
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    Bar-tape usually lasts 6 months after which you replace it with the one you want. – Carel Nov 22 '16 at 18:37
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When the bike is sized for the new rider, the seat and neck is adjusted. The handle bar levers are fixed and the tape does not need to be changed.

Handle bar tape is typically used only for high end road bikes. Mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and middle, low-end and consumer grade all have rubber type slip on handle bar grips.

Consider it from a typical consumer standpoint:

Many high end road bike purchasers are light use riders and the stock handle bar tape will last for many years. Most high end road bikes are purchased completely assembled and ready-to-ride.

The stock handle bar tape installed by the manufacturer has been studied to be best fit and comfort for the typical consumer.

Pro and competitive road riders may opt to have the bike shop swap out tape to their chose brand, style and color.

  • Last sentence - need to add 'at the chosen price point'. :) – mattnz Nov 20 '16 at 19:02
  • Could you explain what you mean by "neck"? – ojs Nov 20 '16 at 19:06
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    @Jeffrey Michael thanks for the answer. Only a small point, i've specifically asked about road bikes. It seems that practically all bikes with drop bars come with tape, also at the very low end. Typically high-end bikes, when sold in a LBS are sold with a personal fitting session. I haven participated in one, but assuming that good fit is indeed achieved, that would require changing not only stem and saddle but also bars. Or are the manufacturers so good in guessing the shoulder width of a customer from the frame size? – gschenk Nov 20 '16 at 20:14
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    -1 Bar tape is by no means unique to "high-end" road bikes. In any case, the "typical consumer" is not buying a high-end bike. And [citation needed] for the claim that the supplied bar tape has been carefully researched, rather than being chosen because it's good enough and it's at the right price point. – David Richerby Nov 20 '16 at 20:26
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    Perhaps your idea of high end and light use is different to mine. For me mid range starts at $2k, and every bike I've assembled in the shop from that point up has needed bar tape, and been assembled according to client needs. Most of them go to serious / competition riders; definitely not light use. – andy256 Nov 20 '16 at 22:27

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