Grand Bois Leather Handlebar Tape


I’ve been on the fence about leather handlebar tape. It’s expensive, and the leather-wrapped handlebars of the 1980s were slippery when wet. However, my friend Hahn has used Brooks leather bar tape and found that he liked it. (Except the wooden bar-end plugs, which came apart the first time they got wet.)

When Grand Bois introduced their leather handlebar tape, I gave a set to Hahn to test, so we could decide whether Compass Bicycles should carry it. His report was very positive. He liked that the tape is seamless, unlike the “other” leather handlebar tape, which is sewn from several pieces and can rip at the seams when you stretch it to wrap the bars. The Grand Bois tape has proved very durable, and it has acquired a nice patina with age. (If you prefer your tape totally colorfast, this tape is not for you.)


Hahn also like the bar-end plugs, which are machined from aluminum and tighten with a small Allen wrench. The photos show his Grand Bois tape after more than a year of randonneuring, showing that the tape lasts well. On a per-mile basis, this tape appears to cost about the same as cork tape: more expensive initially, but it also lasts much longer.


Grand Bois handlebar tape is now available in black (as on Hahn’s bike) and honey (above). More information is here.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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17 Responses to Grand Bois Leather Handlebar Tape

  1. Sisyphus says:

    My concern with bar tape that is not replaced at reasonable intervals is that it can hide corrosion on aluminum handlebars caused by salt in sweat. When using bar tape that requires more frequent replacement, it allows for inspection of the bars and an opportunity to clean them before new wrap is applied. When using durable tape like the leather wrap mentioned in your blog, it would be wise to unwrap the bars a couple times a year to give the bars an inspection and clean.

    • I haven’t seen much corrosion even on very old aluminum bars that were wrapped in cloth bar tape. Of course, much of it is covered with shellac, which may form a barrier.

      • josh says:

        I work in a bike shop and I can assure you that this is a very real thing. It’s something I encounter on a somewhat regular basis, and I have a handful of customers for whom changing their bartape is a quarterly necessity, since they have previously corroded their aluminum handlebars (yes, even Nitto) due to their seemingly toxic sweat in not a small amount of time.

        Probably though, these people are just heavy, heavy sweaters, and the sweat they produce seems to be more saline than others (obviously I haven’t measured this scientifically, but it’s a reasonably assumption). If you’re this type of rider, then this is probably not the tape for you, or you should follow the OP’s advice and let the tape “air out” from time-to-time.

      • Rolly says:

        I’m glad I now know this. I’ve seen aluminum corrosion on a navy ship – the sea water actually reduced some aluminum to a white pasty substance! It presumably took seven years for this to happen and the seawater was pooled in a crevice that was 40 feet below where it could’ve entered.

        Thanks, Sisyphus above and Josh below.

        — Rolly

      • Bill Gobie says:

        This is galvanic corrosion. Two dissimilar metals in contact (aluminum and steel — the ship) plus an electrolyte — seawater — make a battery. The aluminum dissolved because it was the more anodic metal. “Sacrificial” zinc anodes are commonly used on boats to keep expensive and critical parts like bronze propellors and through-hull fittings from dissolving.

        Handlebar corrosion is probably a case of “poultice” corrosion, caused by differences in salt concentration between the hand positions the rider uses the most and the rest of the bar. The most corroded areas should be at the edges of the most frequently used hand positions. It would be interesting to hear whether this is what is observed.

        I bet a sacrificial strip of zinc tape between the handlebar and wrap would prevent the aluminum from corroding. Wrapping the whole bar in zinc is probably unnecessary. A strip laid along the top should do. The zinc would dissolve and need to be replaced, ideally before gaps in the tape appear.

  2. Bill Gobie says:

    This tape appears to be chamfered. If it is, you should mention that in your ad copy. I am told chamfered edges provide a comfort advantage the very traditional company’s tape has over the upstart company’s tape.

    • The edges of the Grand Bois tape are chamfered. I think Brooks tape now also has chamfered edges. The first Brooks tape we had on a test bike had very pronounced ridges where the tape overlapped, which I found uncomfortable. A more recent test bike with Brooks tape didn’t suffer from that problem.

  3. Charlie Coffey says:

    Leather tape with Marsas padding underneath is a great combination for long distance riding (the Marsas is not bulky, so the tape doesn’t look much like it has padding underneath).

  4. Andrew says:

    I bought a bike about 5 years ago that came with brooks tape, that tape is still going strong, with only a rewrapping required on one side after it slipped with use over time. Unless I crash on it, I can’t see it needing replacement for another 5 years at least. The overlaps are a bit pronounced and the seam is non ideal, but otherwise it’s pretty good.

    For those down under or looking for other options, DiPell in Melbourne also make a one piece, chamfered bar tape in a variety of plain/stitched/perforated finishes, fully dyed through in a number of colours. Feedback from users here has been very good. . (And if you want the ultimate in custom saddle / tape then Mick at Busyman Bicycles has you covered like no one else)

  5. Tony says:

    I agree with Sisyphus. I had a set of Belleri handlebars that became corroded under the tape (thick, multiple layers of cotton tape, but no shellac) and snapped on a rough section of road. Fortunately I did not crash. I now unwrap, inspect and clean my handlebars at least annually.

  6. DummyDiva says:

    The honey color would look great on my Sam! I have cork now but I will consider this next wrapping, especially since it’s chamfered.

  7. Steve Palincsar says:

    Brooks is not the only other vendor of leather bar wrap. You’ve not mentioned Handlebra, which in the opinion of many users is the best on the market, certainly far better than Brooks.

    • There is also Gilles Berthoud. We didn’t mean to provide a complete overview of all available handlebar tapes. We just wanted to compare the Grand Bois to the “market leader,” at least as far as advertising and availability in stores is concerned.

  8. josh says:

    Jan, I recall you stating some time ago (or perhaps it was another contributor) that you were a vegetarian. If that’s the case, I wonder how you feel about leathers good like this, or if it’s even relevant, since people can choose to be vegetarians for any number of reasons (not just the animal welfare issues that would be relevant to choosing leather).

    Since I know any mention of vegetarianism is the easiest known way to start an internet argument, let me emphasize that I am asking earnestly and sincerely, and not looking for individuals’ opinions about the validity of such a diet.

    • Everybody has their own preferences and beliefs, and I respect them. We are part of the food chain, and it’s perhaps natural to eat meat. I am not ready to condemn a lion for eating a zebra…

      My thought is that all sacrifices should be done thoughtfully, whether it’s pollution or killing an animal. I fly in airplanes, but only one intercontinental (or two North American) trips a year. Personally, I use leather if it’s the best material for the job, and if it is used in a way that makes long-lasting products.

  9. I’m not interested in leather tape, but I like the look of those bar plugs. At chance of selling them separately?

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