Need recommendations for hand/handlebar interface and maintenance
September 13, 2019 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I seasonally commute on a road bike and currently use gloves and leather grip wraps, but after about three years the grip wraps have started to wear through. This might be a) normal operating limits (three years!) b) because I didn't do anything much to keep the leather or gloves clean or c) because I got cheapish equipment. Is there a better way??

My current setup consists of a set of padded, mesh-back weightlifting gloves (similar to these) and leather grip wraps (exactly these). I used to use more standard grip tape, but found that because of my grip, I would separate the overlapping tape from itself pretty quickly.

This pairing gives me adequate padding and grip for my approx 8mi each way urban bike commute but the right grip wrap has worn all the way through near my brake lever. I like the gloves because they're pretty comfortable to wear when biking through the summer in 70-90° heat.

The downsides are that the gloves do get sweaty during rides, even when its not that hot out and there doesn't seem to be an obvious way to keep them soaking through, and the grips are a pain to install (involves some contorted sewing if I don't want to detach my handlebars, which ideally I don't). I would love to know if I can do a better job maintaining similar equipment, get better or different equipment (or all of these things), or if 3 years is basically expected operating limits in this case.

Budget isn't necessarily a key concern, since this is my primary commuting method for about half the year. Installation complexity is more important—I don't have a bike shop near my apartment and am only moderately handy. Longevity, comfort-level, and ability to keep my sweaty hands gripping those bars are all of primary importance.
posted by lousywiththespirit to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is coming from someone who really doesn't wash her gloves anywhere near often enough, but: if your gloves are so filthy that you think they might be causing your handlebar tape to disintegrate, you need to wash your gloves more often. Gloves get really disgusting really fast and it's worth having a few pairs to swap out so you're not doing laundry all the time. Those aren't even expensive ones! Get spares. Sniff them regularly.

Also, the thick leather thing really might not be a great choice for the gloves. Those look super-hot. In my experience bike-specific gloves (my personal favorites are the Specialized Grail gloves, but YMMV) are overpriced but better at wicking sweat and keeping the sun from sous-vide cooking my hands.
posted by asperity at 1:18 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

That elk hide leather wrap looks considerably superior to anything else I've seen.

I'd want to try reinforcing the sections that you know will wear through at the next install, perhaps with pieces cut from old ones, but I think it might be important to allow the covered reinforced parts to breathe in order to avoid rot, and that might be tricky.
posted by jamjam at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

On thinking this over a bit more: the leather bar covers probably do need some extra care, either the stuff Velo Orange recommends and sells, or other stuff appropriate for leather care and probably sold for shoes/belts/bags/furniture. You'd also want to keep it out of the elements where you can. Avoid letting it sit in the sun and rain without something covering the handlebars, and if it gets wet while you're out, dry it when you stop.

You can get by with falling-apart bar covers/tape for quite a while if your gloves work well, though. Also, one of the purposes of gloves is that you don't have to grip so hard. If your gloves aren't providing extra friction and keeping the sweat from making your hands slip, they aren't doing their job. The palms should look a little fuzzy, not smooth and shiny.
posted by asperity at 2:10 PM on September 13, 2019

So I think I've got this right: you ride this bike 16 miles/day, 5 days a week, about half the year, and you've had the bar covers on for three years... so that's about 6,000 miles. That doesn't seem terrible to me?

Did you install your handlebar wrap tape before or did a bike shop do it? If you did it, maybe you didn't overlap it enough when you wrapped it?

Also, yeah, I'd get a few different pairs of gloves and alternate, at least every few days. I bike commute daily, on a much shorter ride than you, and I have different gloves that I wear depending on the weather. If I rode 16 miles and my gloves were soaked through, I would wash them. I have waterproof gloves that I wear pretty frequently and they tend to get pretty smelly after a week or two of consistent wear, so I wash them. I'd suggest getting cycling-specific gloves for hot weather since your hands are sweating so much. No leather.

Did you put that leather care stuff on the bar covers? Velo Orange is recommending that for rain. Your sweat is probably a bit more corrosive than plain rain water.

One low budget option: get some leather bar tape in roughly the same color and see if you can wrap it in the spot that's wearing. That should give you a bit more time with those covers.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:35 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I replace mine every year or two and I ride only about 1,000 miles a year. I think you've reached normal end of life.
posted by mcgsa at 2:37 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

That leather wrap is lovely, but I would consider that for sunny-day riding only.

Any kind of tape will wear out, and it sounds like you've gotten a good run out of yours. I'd recommend getting a cork-based tape. It is cheaper than leather, grippier, and more widely available (I've got Cinelli cork tape on my road bike; it's ancient and starting to get brittle, but I've gotten 20 years out of it). Although gloves aren't a bad idea in general, I think you'll find cork tape is grippy enough without gloves. I'm commuting in 100° heat with cork tape and no gloves, FWIW.

There is one correct way (OK, maybe more than one) to wrap bar tape and several less-correct ways, and if you don't wrap it correctly, you'll find that it slides around, which may be what you encountered before. This video goes into more depth on the subject than you might imagine possible (side note: that's a Park Tools video, and they have lots of other well-done videos on how to maintain your bike).
posted by adamrice at 2:53 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that leather bar covering is gorgeous, but I can’t imagine it lasting any longer than it has under those riding conditions. If you’re sort of handy, you should be able to learn to wrap bar tape pretty easily and put on new normal bar tape if you don’t want to spring for the beautiful hand-sewn leather bar covering again.
posted by The World Famous at 3:48 PM on September 13, 2019

Seconding and thirding the calls for multiple pairs of cycling gloves (Make sure there's a tery cloth patch on the thumb. Its utility will soon become apparent.) and regularly-replaced bar tape. Wrapping tape is a challenge, but by your third season you'll have it down. Fresh tape at the beginning of the season is always a treat. If you only ride in one position on the bars, you might consider a different bar shape that suits you better? There are multitudes of options nowadays, but some may require a new stem and control levers.

If it's been three years, you need to check your tires and chain for wear too. Chain links are 1/2" long. Hold a ruler alongside a taut chain, if 20 links of chain are 10 1/8" long, it is time to replace. You may also need a new cassette.
posted by St. Oops at 10:29 PM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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