Best gravel bar tape 2023: Comfort and style for the roughest rides

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(Image credit: Josh Ross)

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

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.  

Josh Ross

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.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx