The best gravel bar tape needs to do what any bar tape for drop bar bikes does, but just that bit better.
First and foremost, gravel bike bar tape needs to provide the grip you need for your hands to stay permanently attached to your bars, however rough or steep things become. It needs to do this whatever the conditions too: gravel biking has a reputation of keeping going over long distances however harsh the weather becomes.
That leads to the second need for the best bar tape for gravel: comfort for the long haul. Gravel bike suspension is rapidly becoming a thing and more and more gravel bikes now have active suspension built in. But gravel bike bar tape can add a lot to your hand comfort even so, helping to smooth out microvibrations and making for greater overall ride comfort.
New bar tape is one of the best gravel bike upgrades you can make, read on for our pick of the best gravel bar tape.
The Fizik Terra Microtex Bondcush Tacky bar tape is specifically formulated for gravel biking and comes in six different muted shades that fit well with the usual gravel bike aesthetic. In testing, I found the smooth surface facing of the Fizik tape to be really grippy, making for excellent bar grip wet or dry.
At 3mm thick, it's one of the thickest bar tapes out there, so it gives lots of cushioning as you ride. That does make it a bit tricky to position, but once there, I've found that the sticky central strip on the backing keeps the Fizik tape in place effectively.
If you're after ultimate thickness for your gravel bike bar tape, then the 3.5mm of Velox's tape is hard to beat. Its polyurethane foam has a soft feel too, so there's plenty of comfort, although since it extends quite close to the edges, which have a tendency to curl upwards, it's slightly more tricky to apply than some thinner tapes with more tapered edges.
The Velox tape has a nice grippy surface which helps to retain hold even over the roughest terrain. Although it comes in six colors they're mostly bright, which doesn't sit well with the usual gravel aesthetic of muted earth tones. There is a black option though, which is probably a good shout for staying clean-looking when your gravel gets down and dirty.
Zipp sells its Service Course bar tape in two versions: Road and CX. Whereas the Road tape is smooth the CX tape has a cross-hatched pattern to up your grip. There's no adhesive backer to the Zipp Service Course CX tape, which relies on the foam backing to hold the tape in place. That's a common approach with the best gravel bike bar tape and works well. It also means that it's easy to reposition the tape or even port it to a new set of the best gravel bike handlebars.
Selle Italia Smootape is designed with heavily chamfered edges so that rather than the normal ridges you get between turns of bar tape, the end result is a much smoother profile to your taping, adding to bar comfort particularly if you usually ride without gloves. The flip side of Selle Italia's design is that the tape isn't quite as thick as some of the other bar tapes for gravel.
The outer surface of the Smootape Gran Fondo is soft, with an embossed pattern that works well whatever the weather, while the tape stays in place well on the bars thanks to the two grippy gel lines that extend across most of the inner surface of the tape.
Brooks may be better known for its saddles, but its accessory range, including its bar tape, has a quality aspect. The Cambium rubber bar tape is thick, with a deep central padded area that tapers abruptly at its sides. That makes for good cushioning, but can lead to awkward overlaps at the bends and the levels that needs skill to get right.
Once in place, the Brooks Cambium Rubber tape is very effective though, with a grippy rubber surface that's weather resistant, while the dense foam padding below it adds comfort without feeling too squishy.
Deda is one of a couple of brands here that give you metal bar ends that can be tightened with a hex wrench, which may help keep them in place better than the more normal push-in design.
Its Loop tape has a cool design that starts off with a strong pattern of colored triangles at the bar ends, then goes to all black further up the bars. It comes with an adhesive central backing strip and nicely chamfered edges, but at 2.5mm it's not quite as thick as some bar tapes here and the surface isn't quite as grippy for riding in poor conditions.
Cinelli has loads of different bar tapes in its range. The 3D Ribbon tape comes with an array of tiny ridges for excellent grip, whether it's wet or dry. It's not the softest or thickest tape out there, with single density, but I've found that it still does a good job of reducing road vibrations transmitted to your hands.
Cinelli also sells a double density ribbon if you'd prefer more cushioning, but if that's not a priority for you, then the 3D Ribbon is a good option. It's available in lots of colors and there's even a reflective version for nighttime riders.
Shimano's PRO component brand makes this bar tape especially designed for gravel riders. It's got a similar grippy finely etched surface coating to the Cinelli tape, but the tape itself is slightly thicker at 3mm. It's not super-soft but still does a good job of upping bar comfort and lowering vibration.
That's helped by the tape's 2.3m length, which gives you around 30cm more tape to play with than some tapes, so you can overlap the tape that much more or apply it more easily to wide gravel bars. It's backed with a sticky gel that keeps the PRO tape in place well, although I've found managing the wide backing tape can be a bit fiddly when fixing the tape to your bars.
Spank's bar tape has a soft, silky feel to the outside, although it's not quite got the ultimate grip of some gravel bike bar tape. It's backed with 3mm PU foam that's ventilated to add comfort. It has a grippy silicone strip that holds it in place on the bars well but makes it easy to reposition the tape if you need to. At 220cm long, there's enough tape for good coverage of wider gravel bars too.
Spank also sells its bar tape with a set of gel pads for the tops and drops if you want some extra hand protection and it comes with quality bolt-in alloy end plugs to hold everything in place nicely.
The Prologo Onetouch Neutro tape comes in some nice gravel-friendly colors as well as black and white, although the supplied bright white bar plugs does rather clash with the gravel aesthetic.
It's one of the thinner tapes here and like the Cinelli and PRO tapes has a file-style surface which gives plenty of grip both in the dry and when it's wet. The tacky gel backing works well and it's well-chamfered for a comfortable bar feel.
Best bar tape for gravel: buyer's guide to what to look for
Do I need special tape for gravel?
All bar tape does the same things, adding comfort when you grip your bars and upping your hold. But gravel needs that more than most drop bar riding, as the surface is rougher than most roads and there's more need for steering precision, often over more tricky terrain than on road.
So brands that sell bar tape are increasingly offering gravel-specific tape that's either thicker than their standard road-going bar tape or adds extra grip - and often both. Having said that, you should be fine with any road-going bar tape too, as modern bar tape is a lot thicker and more technical than the cloth tape with which road bike bars used to be wrapped.
Your gravel bike bar tape is likely to get dirty, so you need a surface that's easy to clean. Bar tape is usually made of closed cell polyurethane foam with a tough surface, so it's relatively easy to clean up and even scrub to remove ingrained dirt. It's also usually removable and reusable and should have enough stretch to give a firm interface between the tape and the bars.
Some brands make their gravel bike bar tape a bit longer than the two meters that's more typical for road bike bar tape, which means there's a bit more available to wrap extra-wide gravel bike handlebars. You may still find you need to try a couple of times to get good coverage though. Fortunately, most gravel bike bar tape is designed so that you can wrap and unwrap it without degrading the grippy inner surface that holds it in place.
Does my gravel bike bar tape need to be extra thick?
Although the best bar tape for gravel that's been purpose-designed for off-road use tends to be thicker than standard tape at 2.5mm to 3mm thick, there's no reason why you do need this extra thickness if you're more comfortable with a thinner tape.
Some gravel bike bar tape is made of more dense foam than others, so although it may be thinner, it may be just as effective at soaking up vibration and might give you a more positive bar feel than plusher tape.
What about grip?
Grip is always going to be important if you're riding over unpredictable, rough ground, so the best bar tape for gravel is likely to major on this, even if it's not thick. Some will have a tacky surface, whereas other brands put a grippy pattern on the outer surface of their tape.
Whichever type of grip it uses, gravel bike bar tape needs to stay grippy when it's wet and cold, not just when it's warm, as many gravel bike riders are out in all conditions. Likewise, if it's really hot you want to keep your grip even if your hands are getting sweaty.
Does bar tape color matter?
Most bar tape is available in a whole range of colors. Some like the Velox are brights, whereas many brands have gone for muted earth tones. The latter are more likely to go well with gravel bikes and gravel bike clothing, where manufacturers have usually adopted a muted color palette.
At the end of the day, bar tape color is a secondary consideration and you can go with what suits you. But most bar tape is available in black, which is probably the best choice to avoid it showing the dirt. Modern bar tape is designed to be washable and black or dark colored tape means that you won't have to spend too long scrubbing it to keep it looking tidy.