Sunday, 29 January 2012

Getting A Grip

Most cyclists will know there are three points of contact a cyclist has with his/her standard bicycle. For those non-cyclists who might be reading (welcome) these are the: pedals, saddle and handlebars.

Three points of contact
Cyclists who cover lots of miles, be they primarily commuters, tourers, roadies or mountain bikers, will no doubt know the importance of getting these points of contact right. You need the correct settings so you are comfortable and efficient on the bike. This really goes without saying but it still surprises me the number of adults I see cycling with knees up around their chins because the saddle is too low or who are struggling to hold the bars comfortably - they being possibly set too low/high or too near/far. 

Some of these distances are dictated by size of bike frame. The wrong size frame is the wrong size frame and no amount of adjusting the seat post, saddle position or altering the number of bar risers is going to change that. However, not all is hunky dory when the distances are correct. How your body parts connect and interact with these points of contacts also comes into play.

Pedals can come in a bewildering array of configurations for the uninitiated. Flat, wide, studded, clipless (actually with clips, several different mechanisms and for either road or MTB). Likewise saddles can be a real pain in the bum to get right and stimulate reams of opposing opinion on various cycle forums. Still despite the wide choice, I would venture most regular cyclists will be aware of the different types of pedals and saddles and can choose accordingly. Bars on the other hand (or  preferably both hands) are a different matter altogether IMO. 

Most cycles come with the corresponding type of bar for the style of bike; drop bars for roadies, flattish bars for MTBs, swept back bars for cruisers. They also may have grips, bar tape or a combination of both. However, within each type of bike category there is still choice which can be made on: width, angle of rise, degree of curve etc. Bar ends can also be added ranging from 2-3 cm jobs to curving ends that would not look out of place on an antelope.

I thought I had chosen pretty well for my touring bike - a Santos Travelmaster. I went for Butterfly Bars (AKA touring bars) which are quite popular on the continent but rarely seen in the UK. I paired these with some Ergon Grips and have been more than happy with my choice until this week. You see I had a fall from my bike recently, damaging the bar tape and so needing to re-tape it. Not an urgent job but it has been a bike maintenance week this week so I got on with it.

When I first got the bike the bars had a slide-on foam tube which looked OK but was too compressible and quite easily prone to damage IMO so I changed this for some bar tape after a few months. This was far more durable but didn't really change the comfort levels which were quite satisfactory anyway. When I came to re-tape though I thought I would try out "double bar tape" as I'd heard it was useful for distance cyclists. What a revelation!

Butterfly Bars + Ergon Grips. Original bar sponge in place
I removed the existing bar tape and then reapplied it over the most used parts of the bar only, securing it with electrical tape. It didn't look nice but this was just the underlay. I then applied some Easton Cork Bar Tape (black) over the first layer.

The increased diameter makes it more far easier and more comfortable to grip the bars firmly and there is none of the spongy feeling associated with the original wide sponge tubing. I wish I'd done it two years ago. I would heartily recommend doubling your tape layer if you are having any comfort problems with the bar and maybe even trying this if you don't have any problems. For me, it is a dream upgrade for just a few pounds.

With double bar tape


  1. Interesting... I still use my foam - the stuff that was fitted before I cycled to Italy. It is wearing a little in some parts but nothing excessive. I have to say that I would have to be persuaded to use handlebar tape after the foam... I remain, however, very jealous of your Santos :)

  2. When my second bike was built up I used those little gel pads (like the stuff in the gloves). If a bike is from scratch I can see that being a cheap alternative.

    After I switched to drop bars I can see why so many use them over flat bar. Can imagine butterfly bars are the same.

  3. Can you tell us what make those bars are? It looks like you also have an adjustable stem - do you adjust this depending on what sort of riding you are doing?


  4. Don

    Yes. An adjustable stem and adjusted to perfection. Don't alter it at all now. The stem and butterfly bars are from Zoom.

  5. I use GrabOn foam grips on my hack road bike and have been very impressed with the effectiveness of the cushioning and their longevity; they're over 4 years old now and despite being exposed to the elements all year round they show no signs of decomposing like the cheaper variants are prone to. SJS cycles stock GrabOn.

    I have also used double layers of self adhesive 5mm x 3mm neoprene strip on the riser bars of my "distance commuting bike". It's very inexpensive to buy from ebay and can be over wrapped with thin conventional bar tape to form an extremely durable and comfortable grip.

  6. I read your reply above regarding the make of the bars (and stem) -'Zoom'. But when I looked online for them, the ones listed doesn't seem to have the bar-ends turn in on an angle (as seen on your bike with the hand grips). The photo's show the bar ends coming in together being straight. Is there another handlebar model Zoom sells where they turn in at a slight angle like yours? Or is the photo of your bike looking down on the cockpit just deceiving??? (photo of bike on grass).
    Thank you very much, ~ S