When it comes to the best gravel bar tape, there’s not a tonne of difference compared to bar tape aimed at road riding. In fact, the riding I do tends to lend itself to using bar tape aimed at gravel on my road bike. As you head for longer, rougher rides it can be nice to have a bit of extra cushion under your hands, and the best gravel bar tape will do just that. Instead of thinking about this list as being gravel specific, you might want to think about it in terms of options designed for more cushion and the ability to take more abuse. It doesn’t matter if your riding is endurance road riding, all-road, or all-day gravel, you can find something that will work for you.
The thread that pulls all those situations together is rough roads and long days. Having the best bar tape can be a surprisingly big upgrade in those situations. The right gravel specific bar tape will last a long time, provide tons of cushion, and feel good on your hands. It doesn't hurt that there's tonnes of options for style to match the best gravel handlebars and the best gravel bikes. Also, this is an upgrade that won't break the bank.
Don’t overlook that price detail either. Unlike most bike upgrades the cost of entry with bar tape is low. You can spend time browsing and obsessing all you want. When you are ready to take the plunge it won’t break the bank. It only takes a short amount of time to replace the tape on your bike and when it’s done, your bike takes on a whole new shine. It’s a great way to get ready for a big ride or the new season and if you decide you hate your choice, no problem. You’ll have to replace your bar tape soon enough anyway and, again, the cost barrier is low. How many other things on your bike can be a big upgrade for not much money? If that sounds like the right idea then keep reading to see our favourite choices for bar tape upgrade options for your gravel bike.
The best gravel bar tape options available today
Best gravel bar tape overall
+ Long lasting
+ The best finishing tape around
+ Non-stretch rubber upper
+ Works in the wet
- Chunky bar end won’t always fit
The Brooks Cambium saddle wasn't something the brand expected to take over in the early days of gravel cycling the way it did. They discuss it as taking them by surprise but they recognized it and ran with the idea. The Cambium rubber bar tape is one piece of that. The feel of the top is very similar to the Rapha Brevet, since they are both synthetic rubber, however the Brooks option does a bit better in the wet and there are colour choices. The bar end plugs are also different and are a push-in style made from rubber instead of aluminium. I have run into some bars that they won't fit in though make sure you verify before tossing whatever you are using now.
What I really love about this bar tape is that it lasts forever and it’s always the same thickness. With most bar tapes, if you pull tighter the tape will stretch and provide less cushion. Getting an even wrap is harder and since the Cambium tape doesn’t stretch, it’s not something you have to worry about. It also lasts a really long time, at least in black, and I love the fabric finishing strip for the bit of class it adds.
You can read more details in our full Brooks Cambium Rubber handlebar tape review.
Best gravel bar tape on a budget
+ Plenty of colour options
- Not the best feeling option
The negative for this option from Deda is that it's not the best feeling, or at least that's how I feel about this style of bar tape. There are other people that love it and if you are one of them, it's a great choice. Deda has a range of gravel specific parts but its basic logo bar tape isn't actually part of that collection. I included it despite that because it fits the bill as a classic inexpensive foam bar tape. It doesn't cost a lot and it's not fancy but the price is right and it's well made. At 2.8mm thick, it also happens to be on the thicker side when it comes to these types of tapes. If you don’t like the idea of spending a lot of money on bar tape and just want something that works and looks good, this is it. It’s also nice to go this route if you like adding colour because coloured tape looks very dirty quickly and this makes the investment even lower.
Best gravel bar tape for style
+ High-quality bar ends
+ Very sticky
+ High quality finishing tape adds style
- Only one colour option
Rapha, as always, absolutely nails style. One of the most iconic colours in modern cycling is the high-viz pink in the brevet lineup and using it only as a secondary colour makes for a great look. You get to stick with black where your hands rest but the pink, and to a lesser extent the metallic silver are there in the background adding style. Along with the colour you will all also find the text "What matters is not how far you go, but how you get there." Of course, when wrapped it's a little tough to read but wrap carefully and it will be visible near the end of the drops.
Along with all the style features, the performance of the Brevet bar tape is top-of-the-line. The top feels like natural rubber and it's very sticky even when wet. There's not a lot of texture, plenty of padding, and all the extra finishing pieces are high quality. The only downside is that for all the style on tap, there’s only one colour option.
Best gravel bar tape when you want colour options
+ Colour options
+ Smooth and tacky
+ Arrangement of logos make it easy to wrap
- Low quality finishing pieces
Rapha might be a high-style option but it only has a single colour available in the Brevet line of bar tape. Fizik goes the opposite direction, and the Terra Microtex Bondcush bar tape is actually very plain. The texture is smooth and tacky with a foam construction that uses two different types of synthetic foam. There's plenty of grip when it's dry but it does diminish a bit when wet.
I’m including this despite that because, for me, that tradeoff is worth it. I never ride with gloves unless it’s raining and the Fizik Terra bar tape never leaves my hands feeling torn up no matter how long the ride. The 3mm foam only adds to that by helping kill any road buzz when on the pavement. Don’t expect this to be a gel tape though, as despite the mention of it in the description, it’s only a thin strip coated with adhesive. If you are looking for a gel backed bar tape, this is not the best choice for you. Given the excellent foam, that's not an issue as long as expectations are set. Also keep in mind that if you have a nice set of aluminium bar plugs, it might be worth holding on to them; the Fizik tape only has simple black plastic ones.
Best gravel bar tape for summer racing
+ Super comfortable against skin
+ Thicker than standard
+ Shrugs off dust
- Slick when wet
When gravel racer Alexey Vermeulen ran through his setup for the premier US race Unbound gravel in 2022, he had something unique included. Covering his sponsor provided bars was a roll of ESI silicone wrap. It's a completely unique product and after spending time with it, there's no doubt why he chose it. The company refers to it as wrap because there's no adhesive on the back, but what's really unique is the 3.5mm silicone construction. There's no gel, there's no foam, just an extra thick layer of silicone and a series of slits. The silicone already offers more cushion than other bar tape options, but the slits allow for extra compression and even more comfort. The silicone also laughs off dust and is easy to wash as well as being exceptionally soft against your hands. It does get a bit slick in the wet, but if you are looking for a summer gravel option this is a joy to ride with. This is also worth considering for your indoor riding setup. For me, those bar tapes don’t get changed much and I’ve found it can be a nightmare to scrape adhesive off of your bars when you do decide to change. Given that the ESI doesn’t use adhesive, it never puts you through that pain.
Best gravel bar tape if you are looking for gel pads also
+ Includes silicone padding
+ High quality expander plug
+ Excellent value
- Lacks behind the hood finishing piece
- Looks used quickly
I love adding some silicone padding to my bars. If you have a Campagnolo Ekar bike, or any Campy bike for that matter, it’s perfect for smoothing the transition between the hoods and the actual bars. It’s also great to just add wherever you tend to rest your hands the most.
In terms of finding gel padding to use, Fizik has it available as a standalone product but Spank sells it as part of a package. Instead of paying nearly the same price for gel and tape, the Spank package is only a small increase over the price of the tape alone. Once you’ve got the gel it tends to last for a long time so next time, you can buy the same tape without the gel also.
The bar tape itself is a fabric feeling foam construction that feels exactly the same when it's wet. It’s an ultra soft suede feel that is unlike anything else out there. The downside to it is that it behaves a bit like real suede and it gets smoother in the spot you hold your hands. Just like coloured tape, it won’t last as long as some of the other options on this list. On the upside, it’s plenty long enough to wrap wide gravel bars with lots of flare. Spank also includes really nice bar ends but it doesn't include a separate piece to use at the curve. In most cases you’ll be able to cut that off from the excess but gravel bars get awfully big sometimes and I always appreciate it when it’s included.
Best gravel bar tape for style on a budget
+ Bar end is gorgeous
+ Colours are vibrant and fun
+ Logo texture adds style without being overdone
+ Very sticky top
- Lacks behind the hood finishing piece
There are certainly less expensive options for bar tape but if you are looking for something better than basic foam, the PNW Coast is a bargain. The construction is 2.4mm foam with a top that feels very similar to something like the Rapha Brevet. That top also offers style choices such as seven bright and fun colours as well as a texture that's based on the logo but stays abstract. The bar ends are a high point as well. They have an anodized triangle pattern that matches the texture of the tape and looks great paired with any tape. In terms of longevity, I've personally covered over 2000 miles with this bar tape and it's only just starting to show a bit of wear. The only thing I'd like to see added is either extra length or an already cut piece for behind the controls.
Best gravel bar tape if you want a perfect wrap
+ Pattern is also a guide for neat and even wrapping
+ Extra thick but with a foam feel
+ Works in the wet
- No finishing for behind the controls and a plastic push in bar end
Ergon offers three bar tapes that range from 2mm for a road specific solution up to 3.5mm for their gravel option. You can pick or choose what works for you but I wanted to include the 3.5mm gravel option given it makes sense here. The only other option on this list that thick is the ESI and that's a drastically different feeling bar tape. The Ergon uses a standard foam construction but the top is stickier than a cork style. There's a texture that provides tackiness but it also helps you line up the tape as you wrap and even has options for how thick you want the final product. The back has a subtle angle difference and depending on how you layer it you'll get a ticker, or thinner, final product. However you end up doing it, if you like a foam construction with an adhesive back but you like the idea of a thicker bar tape then the Ergon BT Gravel is your best choice.
Best gravel bar tape with texture
+ Often on sale
+ Uniform texture
+ 3mm thickness
+ Colour options
- Lacks finishing strips
Most of the options I've included in this list are smooth. The option from PNW does have a texture but it's not uniform. There's also the Brooks Cambium, my favourite on the list, but not everyone is going to love the price of that one. That leaves a bit of a hole in the lineup for something that has texture for those that prefer it but also comes with a more reasonable price.
The FSA Powertouch bar tape hit's all the right notes. It's not the cheapest bar tape you can find but the price is on the lower end and it's often discounted. The 3mm tape is also available in a decent range of colours. Perhaps more importantly though, it feels really nice. The texture won't cause any pain in your hand, even without gloves, and it's very tacky. There's a bit of stretch to make wrapping easier but it's not so much that it's hard to get the thickness correct. There's also a silicone backing to help with wrapping but no adhesive to get stuck on the bars. The only thing I don't like is that, like many of the options here, there's no extra piece to go behind the controls.
What to think about when choosing the best gravel bar tape
Bar tape is one of the times that it makes a lot of sense to experiment. The cost barrier tends to be low, and you have to change it regularly even if you love it. The worst that will happen is uncomfortable hands for a ride or two and you can swap the bar tape again. What I like to look for is a nice thick bar tape with all the finishing pieces and a texture that won't bother my hands. That might mean smooth and tacky or it might mean a texture, but it shouldn't be overly noticeable.
Is there anything special about gravel bar tape?
No. If you have a bar tape you love it doesn't matter what it's called or what the manufacturer says it's for. The primary differentiator when companies add gravel specific bar tapes into their lineups is thickness. Gravel riding means rougher riding over rougher surfaces. Gravel riding has also tended to mean longer, more endurance focused, riding. The combination of riding for a long time over rough surfaces is a recipe for hand, arm, and shoulder fatigue. For the most part, the answer to that need is to add more material.
How thick should gravel bar tape be?
The obvious follow up question is if thicker is better, how thick should you go? Personally, I prefer as thick as possible. One of the reasons I prefer thicker bar tape is that I ride without gloves unless it's for warmth. Given that preference, I'll take as much cushion as possible. If you ride with gloves then you might not need as much cushion and the drawback of a thicker bar tape is that your finished handlebars will be larger. Those with smaller hands might prefer a thinner bar tape.
What finish is best for gravel bar tape?
Another point of preference is the feeling of the top of the bars. How sticky do you need it to be vs how soft? There's no right answer but it will, again, have a lot to do with your preference of gloves or no gloves. If you ride without gloves then you'll really need to think through the right balance. Too sticky can lead to sore hands on long rides and you might want to back off just a bit. You also have to think about performance in the wet even if it's for a summer bike because your hands will be wet and sweaty on every ride. For those that ride with gloves you probably want to look for the stickiest bar tape you can find.
Do I need adhesive on the back of gravel bar tape?
You could ask the same question of road bar tape but either way, those who are new to tape are going to wonder which is a better choice. Adhesive makes it easier to wrap bar tape because it helps hold it as you wrap. It does help but it's more minimal than you might think. You need to hold the bar tape as you wrap anyway and once it's on, the adhesive doesn't do anything. If you are new to wrapping bars, it's helpful to have but don't worry about it if you like something that doesn't have it. You’ll also want to consider that if you rarely change bars the adhesive can get stuck over time. I’ve had bars with adhesive so fused to them that it took me hours to get off.
Should I get a coloured gravel bar tape?
One of the best things about bar tape is that it's relatively inexpensive and it's temporary. You have to change bar tape often anyway so grab a colour and have fun. There are a couple of things to keep in mind though. Gravel riding is dirty and coloured bar tape will show it more than black bar tape. You'll really want to think about washability of the tape and no matter how washable it is, black bar tape will last longer. Colour is fun but it's going to need more frequent replacement.
How do you test gravel bar tape?
I mentioned multiple times that bar tape is something that needs to be changed regularly. That's even more true for me because I have to test handlebars and that means regularly changing the bar tape. Given how much I ride, and the frequent need to test parts, I change bar tape a lot and that means a lot of opportunity to test different options. Every gravel bar tape option I’ve included is something I’ve tested over a number of hours on a bike and something I’m proud to suggest.
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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutiae of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx