Leather goods, as any owner of new shoes – or a new leather cycle saddle for that matter – can usually be expected to improve with age, becoming supple and more visually pleasing as they are used, bashed around and buffed back to an attractive finish. Perhaps the most innovative, yet also complicated, example of this is Brooks leather bar tape from England. But what makes Brooks leather bar tape so durable?
Brooks saddles are known to last a quarter of a century or more and there’s no reason to suppose the tape won’t do the same. Black tape can be removed and refitted without impairing the appearance, although it looks better a couple of weeks later. Most important of all from the longevity viewpoint is its resistance to crashing.
In this guide, we are going to take a fair and accurate look at Brooks leather bar tape for MTB handlebars. We will discuss its advantages and disadvantages, and take a closer look at what it is and how it compares to other alternatives.
Overview of Brooks Leather Bar Tape
As one of the main contact points between you and your bike, handlebar tape can play a significant role in keeping you comfortable and in control when out riding.
Shock absorption and cushioning are often the main priority when considering what bar tape to buy because these will have the biggest impact on keeping your hands comfortable. Material choice can also affect grip when riding in the wet, and durability too.
But Brooks leather bar tape is not always a great option.
Once fitted to a pair of handlebars, of course, it does not get flexed at all. The only bashing around it is likely to get is on hitting the ground in the event of a fall, leaving exposure to the elements and the grip – sweaty or otherwise – of its proud owner as the main agents by which it ‘weathers’.
You’d better be proud of the stuff should you have it on your bike since it is no small sum to spend when a synthetic alternative can be found for less than one fifth of the amount. But, then, synthetic bar tape, high-priced or low, simply does not have the longevity or feel of leather, both of which make it an attractive proposition.
First up, however, is the question of looks. Brooks tape comes in Brown, Honey and Black shades, which is a bit of a narrow choice. All three are now only available with perforations, which leave the bars looking a bit like an old tennis racket handle. There is, nonetheless, an air of – I don’t know – expensive car interior – about the perforated tape.
The new style tape also comes with cork and wood end plugs and fabric finishing tape, although insulating tape is still hard to beat for the job.
The older non-perforated stuff, on the other hand, looks superb both immediately after fitment and once it has properly worn in. Sadly, the ‘Honey’ tint, memorably described by RCUK regular Adam Tranter as looking like ‘Dale Winton’s sun tan’, fades to an indeterminate although not entirely unattractive shade of beige; black, however, not only stays black but acquires the dull sheen of a raven’s back and after 18 months’ wear looks better than new.
How long might the stuff last? Leather is, of course, used for motorcycle riding gear for precisely this attribute and, although any contact with abrasive Tarmac will scuff the tape, it is many times more resistant to crash damage than any synthetic tape, as we found after a couple of ‘offs’ left minimal visual evidence.
Not that every owner is going to fall off, of course, but given its toughness and durability, Brooks tape may be considered a long-term purchase and, therefore, not expensive in comparison to synthetic bar tape. It is also very comfortable, although it does not absorb vibration to any great extent.
This can be addressed by placing pieces of foam tape under the leather where required, this having the additional benefit of giving a more ergonomic shape to the bars. Leather tape has a slightly ‘waxy’ feel when new that never quite goes away even if the tape is not treated with Brooks’own ‘Proofide’ or a similar leather treatment.
The tactile sensation is probably beyond accurate description, falling somewhere between squidgy and rubbery, but is firm and very pleasant. Even when wet, the tape remains comfortable for bare hands and quickly warms to the touch.
Is there a disadvantage to leather bar tape? It is not as light as synthetic tape, especially when it gets wet, which will put off the weight-obsessed. The fact that it is leather will make it entirely unacceptable to vegans, but for anyone wanting comfort, good looks and a touch of luxury about their machine, here it is.
Upgrading to the best bar tape may not seem like an obvious way to improve the feel of your bike, but alongside your saddle and pedals, the handlebar is your main contact point. If you want to make a big difference to feel, one of the easiest things you can do is switch out for a bar tape that offers an increase in comfort, added grip, and improved durability. Or, let’s be honest, you might simply want to add a splash of color to your bike!
Considering that your hands will be in contact with your handlebar tape for the duration of every ride, this often overlooked detail can make a big difference to your riding experience, and for a relatively cheap outlay too. You could invest in the best road handlebars for your bike, but you will quickly undo their performance if your bar tape is unsuitable for your needs.
To aid with shock absorption and comfort, bar tape comes in a range of thicknesses, and the materials used will usually affect the amount of grip, durability and weatherproofing on offer. Many brands offer their bar tape in various colours, allowing riders to match their bar tape to their bike or their kit.
What Is Good About Brooks Leather Bar Tape?
The good news is that there are hundreds of manufacturers out there creating handlebar tape catering to all requirements, but separating the best bar tape from the rest can be a difficult task.
Brooks Leather bar tape caters perfectly for those seeking a retro feel or a bar tape that matches their faithful Brooks saddle.
The tape is perforated to provide some texture and ventilation and offers a firm bar feel. If you prefer more padding it would be worth pairing with some gel pads or a softer bar tape underneath.
As with all leather products, this bar tape is very hard-wearing and should last a lot longer than synthetic counterparts, plus as it ages the bar tape will develop a patina giving your bike a pleasant weathered look. Two color matched rubber bar ends plugs and adhesive cloth strips are included with the tape to finish it off.
Of course, this tape will not appeal to all, however, Brooks does offer microfibre and rubber tape alternatives that match its animal-free saddles.
As with any purchase, you need to have a grasp of what you want to get out of the product you’re buying, and the same goes for bar tape. Bar tape, while a seemingly basic purchase at first glance, will throw up many different options, each of which serving a subtly different purpose, such as comfort, road feel and feedback, style, color, wet-weather grip, dry-weather grip, durability, and more.
So to get it right the first time, you’ll need to have a think about what you prioritise. To help you decide, here are a few common scenarios.
- If you’re riding full gas, tearing through tight corners in a short criterium, you might prefer a thin, grippy tape that offers increased road feedback and a more responsive feel.
- If you’re riding long distances or riding over rougher ground, you might prefer a thicker tape that offers increased vibration absorption.
- If you’re commuting all-year-round, and want a basic bar tape that will stand the test of time, you might want to look to leather tape for its durability.
- If you prioritise style over everything, then the best bar tape for you might be cotton or leather, since it offers a retro aesthetic.
- If you want to bling up your bike with a colour-matched style, look for synthetic tape available in various colours.
What Is the Best Bar Tape Material?
Bar tape material has come a long way since the early days, but none of the early materials have been made entirely redundant. Over the years, we’ve seen cotton, cork, leather, vinyl, foam, and more.
Cork and leather have been popular for decades for their levels of grip, comfort and for a classic look, but they do have limitations. The most commonly found bar tapes nowadays are made using synthetic materials which can be combined with foam or gel for padding.
These modern bar tapes offer improved comfort, all-weather grip and are available in a wider range of colours or designs.
What Is Tacky Bar Tape?
Whether you’re battling storms all year round or do your best to avoid the rain, grip is an important consideration when choosing the best bar tape for you.
Synthetic materials such as polyurethane can be made to have a tacky finish to provide grip in both wet or dry conditions for gloved or bare hands. Textured surfaces or perforations can also be used to give some extra purchase to the handlebar.
An element of breathability is also important to allow sweat and moisture to be drawn away from the hand and help maintain good levels of grip.
How Thick Should Bar Tape Be?
Bar tape comes in a variety of thicknesses to suit feel and comfort. The most common range is around 1.5mm to 4mm, although there are options outside of this, and the general rule is the greater the thickness, the greater the comfort.
Traditionally, the best bar tape for racers is at the thinner end of this spectrum, because it offers a closer road feel and a direct response on the bike. Conversely, gravel riders or endurance riders usually prefer thicker bar tape, which will lessen road buzz for more comfort and reduce potential numbness in the hands over a long distance.
For rides such as the Paris-Roubaix or gravel riding, an even thicker bar tape can be used to reduce fatigue and help with control on rough surfaces. To add additional comfort to a favourite bar tape, gel inserts can be added under the tape, and some will even opt to wrap their bars with two rolls, doubling the thickness, although this will add an element of bulk to the handlebar.
What Length Bar Tape Do I Need?
Along with thickness, the length of the tape is also an important consideration, especially if you’re using wide bars with more real estate to cover. If you pair a long tape with a narrow bar, you can be generous with your overlapping, increasing the thickness, or you can wrap it to the ideal thickness and cut off any excess.
The same cannot be said the other way round; if you pair a short tape with a wide bar, you’ll have to spread your tape more thinly, meaning smaller overlaps when wrapping, and thus, less overall thickness.
Which Color Bar Tape Will Last the Longest?
Most bar tape is available in a wide range of colors and styles to suit all tastes and fashions. Whether you want to play it safe with a simple black, color match with details on your bike, or stand out with an eye-catching fluro hue, there will be a bar tape that suits.
Remember lighter colors will quickly show dirt and grime and require a little extra care to keep looking at its best. If you’re looking to simply fit and forget, then a classic black will stay looking good for the longest time.
Can I Reuse Bar Tape?
On the underside of most bar tapes (with the exception of cotton) is a tacky strip that helps it grip to the bars and remain in place, and the way in which this tackiness is applied can be important.
If you’re a serial tinkerer when it comes to your bike setup, you might find that you need to unwrap your bar tape to move your shifters or replace brake and gear cables.
Some tapes use a sticky strip which means that they can only ever be wrapped once, and the tape will rip and tear when it comes time to remove it so that cheap job of replacing your brake cables quickly means you need a new roll of bar tape too.
The best bar tapes use alternate solutions such as a silicone strip, offering enough tackiness to hold, while also being re-wrappable and leaving no residue behind when removed.