Brooks Leather Bar Tape reviewed
Brooks Leather Bar Tape £29.99
Leather goods, as any owner of new shoes – or a new leather cycle saddle for that matter – can usually be expected to improve with age, becoming supple and more visually pleasing as they are used, bashed around and buffed back to an attractive finish.
One and a half years after fitting Brooks leather bar tape to selected machines, RCUK can confidently pronounce that this is what precisely what happens to it over that period of regular usage, with one small proviso; it needs no buffing.
Once fitted to a pair of handlebars, of course, it does not get flexed at all. The only bashing around it is likely to get is on hitting the ground in the event of a fall, leaving exposure to the elements and the grip – sweaty or otherwise – of its proud owner as the main agents by which it ‘weathers’.
You’d better be proud of the stuff should you have it on your bike; £40 is no small sum to spend when a synthetic alternative can be found for less than one fifth of the amount. But, then, synthetic bar tape, high-priced or low, simply does not have the longevity or feel of leather, both of which make it an attractive proposition.
First up, however, is the question of looks. Brooks tape comes in Brown, Honey and Black shades, which is a bit of a narrow choice. All three are now only available with perforations, which leave the bars looking a bit like an old tennis racket handle. There is, nonetheless, an air of - I don’t know - expensive car interior – about the perforated tape. The new style tape also comes with cork and wood end plugs and fabric finishing tape, although insulating tape is still hard to beat for the job.
The older non-perforated stuff, on the other hand, looks superb both immediately after fitment and once it has properly worn in. Sadly, the ‘Honey’ tint, memorably described by RCUK regular Adam Tranter as looking like ‘Dale Winton’s sun tan’, fades to an indeterminate although not entirely unattractive shade of beige; black, however, not only stays black but acquires the dull sheen of a raven’s back and after 18 months’ wear looks better than new.
How long might the stuff last? Brooks saddles are known to last a quarter of a century or more and there’s no reason to suppose the tape won’t do the same. Black tape can be removed and refitted without impairing the appearance, although it looks better a couple of weeks later. Most important of all from the longevity viewpoint is its resistance to crashing. Leather is, of course, used for motorcycle riding gear for precisely this attribute and, although any contact with abrasive Tarmac will scuff the tape, it is many times more resistant to crash damage than any synthetic tape, as we found after a couple of ‘offs’ left minimal visual evidence.
Not that every owner is going to fall off, of course, but given its toughness and durability, Brooks tape may be considered a long-term purchase and, therefore, not expensive in comparison to synthetic bar tape. It is also very comfortable, although it does not absorb vibration to any great extent. This can be addressed by placing pieces of foam tape under the leather where required, this having the additional benefit of giving a more ergonomic shape to the bars. Leather tape has a slightly ‘waxy’ feel when new that never quite goes away even if the tape is not treated with Brooks’own ‘Proofide’ or a similar leather treatment. The tactile sensation is probably beyond accurate description, falling somewhere between squidgy and rubbery, but is firm and very pleasant. Even when wet, the tape remains comfortable for bare hands and quickly warms to the touch.
Is there a disadvantage to leather bar tape? It is not as light as synthetic tape, especially when it gets wet, which will put off the weight-obsessed. The fact that it is leather will make it entirely unacceptable to vegans, but for anyone wanting comfort, good looks and a touch of luxury about their machine, here it is.