Keep the bars plugged to stay safe
Being concerned about the handlebar plugs might seem trivial, but it’s not. Because if a plug falls out, the open end of the handlebar is exposed, which has the ability to take a core sample out of you or another rider if you/they land on it after crashing. That’s why one of the most important parts of wrapping your handlebars is making sure your bar plugs stay in place.
Two ways to start your tape
There are two basic ways to start your handlebar tape. One is what Al asked about, tucking the tape inside the handlebar ends and holding it in place by pushing the plugs in.
The other way to do it is to start the tape flush with the end of the handlebars and use bar plugs that are large enough to stay in place in the bars on their own. That way, the tape isn’t held by the bar plugs.
Get the right type of bar plugs
To do the second method, you need either oversize bar plugs designed to stay in from friction alone, or the more-secure adjustable type (look for screw heads). By tightening the screws on the adjustable ones, the inside diameter expands, jamming them tightly in the bar ends.
Note though, that there are small- and large-diameter adjustable plugs. The large-diameter ones are what you want for wrapping your tape without tucking. The small-diameter adjustable plugs are actually made to work with tucked tape and they may not expand enough to stay put without tape inside the handlebar. If in doubt, you may need to buy and test fit the plugs in your setup.
Keep in mind that if your plugs are the type that just push into the handlebars (no screws), you may be able to change how they fit, too. If they have prongs on the ends, you can usually pull on the prongs all around the plugs to enlarge their diameter and make them fit tightly and stay put. And, if they don’t have prongs, you can make them fit more tightly by wrapping them with duct tape. You won’t see it once the plugs are pushed into the bar.
Wrapping by tucking the tape
This method usually requires some trial and error to fold the tape over and into the handlebar, push the plug in tightly and to get it looking as nice as you want. But it’s easy to do this as many times as needed, since you’ve just started wrapping.
Start by placing the end of the tape beneath the handlebar where it’s hidden, with about 2/3rds of the tape’s width sticking out past the handlebar (the part you’ll tuck in). As you make the first wrap, leave some tape overlapping the handlebar to tuck in all the way around the bar opening.
As you start the tape, hold it so it’s angled across the bar so that as you continue winding toward the top of the bar the tape winds all the way up nice and consistent, with even overlaps. Pull on the tape, too, to stretch it and make it lay flat. Just don’t pull too hard or you can break the tape. Keep wrapping a couple of times around the handlebar so that the tape at the beginning stays in place.
When you’ve got the angle of the tape just right, pulled the tape snug, and gotten the overlaps right, you’re ready to push in the plug. To do this, you keep holding and pulling on the end of the handlebar tape with one hand (so that the part you already wrapped doesn’t come loose), while with your free hand, you simultaneously fold over the tape and push in the plug to seal the deal. With a couple of tries you should nail it.
If you find it hard to hold the tape taut with one hand and plug the bar with the other hand, instead use some electrical tape to temporarily hold the bar tape onto the handlebar so that you can use both hands to get the tape to tuck in and finish by pressing in the plug.
On some setups you may need to hit the plug with something to get it to go all the way into the bar, but that’s fine. It ensures a good tight fit.
You put the plug in after you’ve wound the tape around the bar just a couple of times so that you make sure you like how the plug fits, and how the tucked-in tape looks – before you go to the trouble of wrapping any further. Because, if you keep wrapping and notice later that the tape isn’t tucked nicely, or is coming untucked, then you’ll have to completely unwrap your bar to fit it.
You’ll see that wrapping and tucking gets easier and easier the more you times you do it.
Wrapping without tucking the tape
This is the simpler way to wrap. First insert your plugs and make sure they’re tight. If they’re not as tight as you’d like, you can also glue them in place. It’ll make them harder to remove, but you probably won’t need to remove them for years.
With the bar plug in place, start wrapping by putting the end of the tape beneath the handlebar where it’s hidden. You can use a piece of adhesive tape to hold the bar tape from moving there, if you like. But, the pressure from the first overlap alone will hold it in place usually, too. As you start the tape, hold it so it’s angled across the bar so that it will cover the bar as you continue winding up toward the top.
But, look beneath the handlebar to make sure you haven’t left any bare spots. If the bar tape has bare spots the tape may creep later, messing up your wrap job.
Remember to pull to stretch the tape as you wrap and take care to lay it down with consistent overlaps with no bare spots all the way up. Enjoy your nice finished job with bar ends that stay put and keep you safe!
If you’ve got helpful tips for wrapping handlebar tape, please share them in our Comments.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.