£35 is a lot of money to pay for bar tape but believe me when I say that if you want increased comfort, excellent grip and smart looks then ENVE's handlebar tape might be one of the best upgrades ever for your drop-bar bike.
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ENVE says it has designed a special compound for the tape that provides grip, comfort, and stretch, and has backed it with a silicone strip that provides vibration damping. I’ve no idea what the compound is – it doesn’t say on the company's site but it is incredibly effective at doing all that is claimed and, as a bonus, it's pretty light at 112g uncut.
It's also a nice, long 250cm so it will play well with the current crop of wide gravel bars up to 50cm. I’ve tested the same tape on three different bars starting with the 48cm PNW Coast, followed by a Deda Gravel 46cm, and now on a 44cm Lauf Smoothie with no issues at all.
Being able to reuse handlebar tape from one bike to the next is a massive bonus for anybody with lots of bikes or if you're changing bars around, or just moving from your summer to winter bike. This is especially true when you consider the cost, and it is one of the advantages of modern silicone tapes. Now three bars in, I’m no longer worried about that cost. The tape can be removed and reused: as it’s silicone-backed there is no glue, only a tacky strip that keeps it in place when you wrap it. Despite this, I’ve never had any movement when hauling on the bars.
The tape is 3mm thick so not as thick as the Wolftooth 5mm tape, tested over on road.cc, but what it loses in the thickness stakes it makes up for with the ease of fitting, especially around the brake hoods, where it was one of the best I’ve used. It looks good too, with the subtle ENVE logo scrolling around the bar.
It comes with some fairly basic, branded rubber plugs, no posh expander system here, but they have stayed put from day one and yet were still easy to remove when I changed bars.
The other thing you get for £35 is the best finishing tape I’ve ever used with any bar tape. Normally I use electrician's tape to finish on the tops. I sometimes bother with the supplied stuff, but most of the time I don’t as it doesn’t stretch properly or last as long. This is not the case with the Enve tape which is both stretchy and has a very neat finish, like woven cloth tape from the 70s – and is also reusable. Did I say this set had done three bars and counting? That includes the finishing tape. I’ve never come across that before. Bonus!
I appreciate that not everybody will be switching bars around as we do for testing so this reusability might not be a super-high priority, but it is worth noting that it's not a use-once-and-throw-away tape – which is just as well for £35.
ENVE Handlebar Tape - The important bit
So it goes on easily, stays put, comes off and can be reused, and the accessories are actually worth it, but all of that is extra to how it feels in your hands. So what is it like to ride? In a word – fantastic!
It’s grippy regardless of whether you have gloves or not, or whether it’s raining or not. That embossed ENVE logo on the tape really does provide superb grip and a very secure connection between you and the bars, which gives plenty of confidence when moving around the bars descending nasty trails, even in the wet.
The vibration-damping silicone strip works like a charm and helps to reduce trail buzz better than any other tape I’ve used. I've ridden for hours on the washboard gravel on Salisbury Plain, and along the Kennet and Avon Canal, and I've never had happier hands. It's also perfect for the disgraceful state of the local roads around Wiltshire, reducing the buzz from the tarmac/asphalt without removing any feeling between you and your bike. You still feel completely connected with your handlebar for lightning-fast direction changes, you just feel less fatigued at the end of the ride.
Value and verdict
ENVE handlebar tape is expensive if you look at it as just another handlebar tape but, considering some tapes offer very little comfort or grip, I feel that we are almost talking about a different product here.
Comparing it to big comfy handlebar tapes we've tested over on road.cc gives us two offerings from Wolftooth; the 5mm Supple Bar Tape at £44 and the SuppleLite Bar Tape which is only 2.5mm at £29, both score highly for comfort. The Supple Bar Tape, however, is nearly twice the price of the Prime Comfort Handlebar tape, which Liam reviewed and thought was extremely comfortable and reusable, although some of the logos were rubbing off and it's not as long. Here on off.road there's the Spank Flare bar tape, gel pad and plug kit, which Matt reviewed recently, and which was comfortable but came up a little short at £40.
ENVE handlebar tape might seem pricey on paper before you’ve tried it, but even if you only use it on one bike, the grip, control and comfort are all class-leading making it worth the outlay. If like me, you swap bars or bikes around then the cost is no longer an issue. Highly recommended for any drop bar road or gravel bike.