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Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Why is bar tape so pricey?

  • By Lennard Zinn
  • Published Nov. 6, 2012
Industry experts address a reader question on the cost of handlebar tape. Photo: Caley Fretz | VeloNews.com

Editor’s Note: Lennard Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

Dear Lennard,

Why does handlebar tape cost so much? It is 7-8 feet of tape, and at my local bike shop that means $20-$25 for Fizik and up to $40 for Lizard Skins, which I would like to try but just can’t see paying that much. A role of duct tape costs $4-$5 and you get yards of it! I just don’t get it. What in their process costs so much?
— Gary

Dear Gary,
I forwarded your question to some purveyors of handlebar tape, and here are some responses.

Here is the answer from fi’zi:k:

“fi’zi:k bar tape is made of Microtex material. Microtex is a specific microfiber with high quality standard on abrasion and UV resistant. Microtex is the best material for that application: durable, strong, breathable and washable. The material itself and the process to make it cost money. This is the reason why it’s expensive. Of course in this kind of product you should consider the impact of shipping costs and dealer margin.” — Alberto Fonte, fi’zi:k Brand Director

And two from Deda:
1.

“For many years, Deda Elementi has offered good handlebar tape. We are so proud of that we call it with our name: Deda Tape. It comes in a wide variety of nice solid colors. Deda Elementi takes tape from the same shelf for you and for pro teams. MSRP in USA should be between $11 and $13. We respect money, because we respect the value of work. Our work, as well as the work of our customers.” — Fulvio Acquati, Deda Elementi director

2.

“I suspect that what happens is that tape, like inner tubes and razor blades, gets marked up much more than other, less-frequently replaced manufactured products. If it sells to the distributor for $3, the distributor might sell it regularly for as much as $9 (in his monthly special at $6) and the dealer could get $20 or more. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been either a dealer or a distributor, so things may have changed, but tape and tubes were big profit centers in the days when I had a shop and when I imported bar tape from Japan.” — Tom Franges, Deda USA director

From a former USA agent for Cinelli:

“Why do Crocs cost $75? Why does duct tape cost $8 a roll? I’m no longer working for Gruppo [a subsidiary of Gruppo SRL], so I can’t speak for them, but I’m flattered you asked me, and I’ve never shied away from questions like these, so here are my thoughts.

Yes, handlebar tape is a high-profit item. But it’s not nearly as profitable as duct tape, nor Crocs, nor hundreds of other hugely profitable consumer items.

It’s not just 7 feet of handlebar tape vs. 75 feet of duct tape. There are economies of scale. The number of people buying handlebar ribbon is infinitesimal compared to the number of people buying duct tape. So it’s going to cost more. If 100 million people bought bar tape every year, you can be sure the price would come down.

Further, consider all the various components involved in a box of handlebar tape, sourced from multiple vendors, plus the labor associated with assembly. To wit: the tape itself, the adhesive backing, the paper strip to cover the adhesive, the end caps, the stickers that go on the end caps, the finishing tape, and the box. You’ve then got the labor to put all the various bits together and to assemble them into a box.

Plus, you’ve also got to have several dozen different color combinations to satisfy consumer demand and hope, for example, that neon pink with those cute little skulls won’t go out of fashion before you move it.

Then, you’ve got to ship the tape to a distributor in the U.S. There’s duty and freight. The distributor makes a margin, and the bicycle shop makes a margin.

Play with some numbers, do some arithmetic. At the end of the day, it’s a wonder that retail price of tape is as little as $20.” — Tom Petrie, President, Velimpex Marketing Inc.

From Lizard Skins:

“Our processes and material are unique to Lizard Skins exclusively. Someone could ask why a Shimano Tourney derailleur costs $15 compared to a Dura-Ace derailleur at $260. Is there a difference? Absolutely! Lighter, stronger material, better actuation and aesthetics all add to the cost.

The same holds true with bar tape. Lizard Skins does not offer a synthetic cork tape; rather we developed and created DSP – DuraSoft Polymer. DSP bar tape by Lizard Skins is a unique product. The polymer material creates an unmatched feel that provides excellent durability, increased shock absorption and is the lightest bar tape.

For the past two years, Lizard Skins has sponsored two ProTour teams, Vacansoleil-DCM and Lotto-Belisol. Riders who have purchased and used DSP bar tape quickly realize the comfort and benefits that come from our unique tape.

Our slogan is, Touch it, feel it, love it!” — Brad Barker, General manager, Lizard Skins

― Lennard

FILED UNDER: Bikes and Tech / Technical FAQ TAGS:

Lennard Zinn

Lennard Zinn

Our longtime technical writer joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a framebuilder, a former U.S. National Team rider, and author of many bicycle books, including Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn's Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ.

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