A month or so ago, after riding the LHT for a year and 1300 miles or so, the cork tape that came with the bike started to get a little ratty looking. I started thinking about replacing the bar wrap and weighing my options. My first thought was Brooks’ bar wrap, but I couldn’t risk the $70 price tag on something I wasn’t positive I’d love. On the other end was cork tape, which I knew I’d have to replace again next year and Cotton tape, which looks nice, but I’ve heard does not have as much padding as cork. Right in the middle was Velo-Orange’s Elkhide Bar Wrap and Leather Bar tape. I would have considered the Bar Tape, but they don’t make it in my color.
I was originally drawn to the wrap for 2 reasons. First, I like natural materials and the way they evolve. I was looking forward to having bar wrap that would age like the saddle. Second, the one thing I hate about cork wrap is it’s fragility. I thought it would be nice to install new wrap and have it for several years, even if my bike’s bars scuffed on a concrete wall or – heaven forbid – the pavement. Here are my general impressions.
- Stitching on bar, slow and steady. I did a lot of backtracking, and restitching to make sure I got the tension perfect all the way around. It was a long and laborious process to get it consistent.
- The directions provided said that you should remove the brake lever and cut a square for the mounting bracket to go through, but I knew the modern levers I have wouldn’t fit well on the bar with the wrap material underneath. If I cut a hole large enough for the entire lever to pass through, the hole on the wrap would be far too large for the material to hold together. What I ended up doing was looping my stitch through 3 times at the top and the bottom and following the thread down the side of the wrap on either side of the hoods.
This has held together fine, and left the stitch in a nice position which never interfered with my grip in any way.
- After figuring out how to navigate around the brake hoods, the rest of the stitching was very straightforward. Just took my time to make sure everything was even.
- Wrap has good padding, feels very good on long rides.
- The Espresso wrap treated with Neatsfoot oil matches my aged Brooks brown saddle very well.
- Stitching looks very sophisticated. I got several compliments on the wrap the first 2 days I had it installed.
- The wrap holds very well on the top half of the bar with little twisting. This isn’t an area of the bar I frequent very often, but I’m trying to give as many good points as possible…
- Took longer than expected to install, first from me being paranoid and reading the directions 4 times before I started, second from me triple-guessing the way I was installing it for 3 hours straight.
- Wasn’t more than 50 miles before I realized I trimmed it way too short – even after all my second guessing. I stitched the wrap as tight as I could before it started to stretch out too much at the thread holes, but it still rode up on the bottom of the bars. – The inside of the wrap is lined with a piece of double sided tape, but it wasn’t enough to keep it from walking up on the bar with the normal down and forward pressure that your hands put on the drops while riding – it also rotates on the bar very easily at the bottom.
- A flat piece of material which is stitched around the bar could never grip the bar as tightly as a long strip of material (cloth, cork, leather, etc…) that is wound around the bar and overlapped.
- Moisture of any kind, either from rain or sweat from hands and arms makes the material expand slightly and become loose on the bar. Moisture also serves to loosen any bond between the double-sided tape and the wrap. Exacerbates #2&3.
- The espresso dye in the wrap stains my hands after regular riding (50-100 miles a week) This would probably be less of a problem the longer I use it since excess dye from materials like this tend to sublimate less over time.
50 miles after installation, as a kludgy fix for the wrap being way too short at the ends, I took one of the elkhide scraps and stitched a padded denim cover for it which I wrapped at the ends of the bars. They feel nice and provide a little extra padding, but they look ugly as sin – especially now that I’ve been riding them for 500 miles and all the dye and oil from the bar wrap has migrated to my hands and the pads.
At a minimum, I would suggest that there should be an addendum to the instructions provided reminding the installer of the forces which they will be placing on the bar as they are riding and how the material will move.
If I was to do another install, I would
- Experiment with as many ways as possible to secure the stitching at the end of the bar.
- Add lots more double-sided tape, or other adhesive to the underside of the wrap in the drops – One other thought I considered was wrapping the bar with a layer of old inner tube before installing the wrap. The elkhide would probably stay in place better against a rubber backing than against the smooth metal of the bars.
- After I finished my permanent stitching half way through the drops, I would find some way of provisionally stitching the material together at the ends of the bar, and…
- ride on a trainer for several hours, and try as hard as possible to naturally work the material till it stopped migrating up the bar.
- Only then would I finish stitching, trim the material and finish off the end.
After using for a few hundred miles, I’m left with the impression that the drawbacks in the practical application of this wrap make this best for bikes which are showpieces, or possibly for lighter riders who exert less force on the bars with their upper torso(?) For myself, I wish I had gone with shellac covered cotton tape, or maybe just stuck with a cork wrap. I’ve only had this stuff installed for a month, and even though it’d probably last for years, all I can think about each time I look at my bars is replacing it with something else.