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How To Clean Your Bike Handlebar Tape

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It’s hard to describe, but clean bar tape has a certain something. It’s overflowing with potential and opportunities. It’s like having a lottery ticket in your pocket, a ticket that encourages daydreaming. It invites you to imagine the journeys and explorations you’ll have when you jump on your horse after work.

However, it won’t be long before that fresh, clean tape has its shiny appearance tarnished with the signs of being well used. Black smudges, brake dust, and road dirt result from your tire pinches, mashing the city streets, and the salsa and sour cream stains that happen with the burrito-on-the-go. Before you know it, your bike will be a real mess, like it’s been ridden around a lot.

Dirty bar tape won’t have any impact on your performance, but it might prevent you from having the fun of riding with clean bar tape, so today we’ll show you how to fix that. It’s time to clean up!

Fixed gear cyclist with tattoos white shirt and headphones riding a black and red fixed gear bike without brakes - why fixed gear bikes don't have brakes
Fixed Gear Cyclist With Tattoos Riding A Black And Red Fixed Gear Bike

The dirty, ~1300-mile bar tape in this photo ->


What You Must Have
In contrast to many bicycle repair jobs, this one requires few special tools, parts, or gear. Everything you need is:

mild liquid dish soap
a few moist sponges or towels
If you don’t have a sink nearby, use a Tupperware/bowl of water or a hose.
It’s likely that everything you need is already in your kitchen (or at least your parents have it, so ask first!).

“Wait, though,” you hear me say, “how can ‘light’ dish soap be serious?” To be honest, I’m not sure if there are different grades of dish soap out there, but I’ll never forget when I got my first lesson in bike cleaning and we were told to use “light” dish soap. I start by filling the tupperware with water and then adding a bit of soap to dilute it. Next, I stir the solution.

Well, here’s something different: soap that’s light.

the scrubbing motion
Now, to apply our first scrubber, we simply need to wet our scrubber with our light soap solution, wring out the excess, and scrub.

The bars are not being soaked; they’re just being made soapy enough to lift oils, stains, and residue from the tape. You only need to rinse it off again after soaking it in the soapy water and wringing it out, then you can go back to scrubbing!

And here’s a “before and after” image to get the party started.

For shaping complicated drop bars, bullhorns, and other such curves, I prefer rag routing over sponging. Make a few passes on the bar like you’re polishing a shoe.

If there are stubborn stains, you can try applying a bit of soap directly to the rag and scrubbing it in, but mostly you can just keep dipping the rag in your soapy water and scrubbing until the stains disappear. And rinse it is!

Of course, you could hose down the bike and wash everything else at the same time, if you’re doing a full cleaning right now. Though, if you’re just getting your tape fixed up before your bicycle date, you would prefer not to go over with wet bars.

Rather than do that, try using your second towel or sponge to wash the bars with plain water by wringing out the excess liquid and wiping the soap away.

Note: Don’t try to use this step with a red or brightly colored towel. You will get bright lint on your newly cleaned bars, which will have to be redone. Oops.

Since rinsing may require a longer soak in the sponge or rag, you will use a good amount of water to scrub the bars, but they will dry more quickly this way than if you had sprayed them with the hose.

Once the soap is done fizzing, your bar tape should be shiny and new again!

The last step is to get them dry, and the best way to do that is to go for a spin around the block a few times in the sun! Of course, you could use a third, dry towel (and it wouldn’t hurt, considering you don’t have an unlimited towel budget), but that’s not nearly as fun.


After you’ve cleaned your bars and dried them off, let the wind take care of the rest of the drying process. Don’t forget to keep your hands clean, or you’ll have to start all over again.

You’re bars are clean again, and your imagination is unshackled and free to daydream about your streets and the people you’ll meet while exploring them!


Make sure to have fun on the course, and don’t forget to say hello after the race!

Author avatar - Bradley Knight

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