One of the unexpected benefits of sheltering in place during this year's pandemic is that I've had a lot of time on my hands to put my house in order. My kitchen spices are alphabetized, my socks are organized by temperature and activity, and the shirts in my closet are organized by Pantone. I've also spent more time dialing in my bikes and adding bits of flare to make them unique.
If ever there was a time to focus on the details, this seems to be it. In addition to the normal routine of cleaning frames, degreasing drivetrains, and lubricating chains, I recently replaced the handlebar tape on all of my dropbar bikes. Some of which have been wrapped in the same sweat and energy-drink encrusted tape for longer than I'm willing to admit. My gravel bikes are the worst of the bunch. Triathletes, I'm sorry you get so much flack for having disgustingly dirty bikes. You've earned it, of course. But after overhauling my entire bike quiver, I'm convinced gravel bikes, and those who ride them, subject their machines to much more filth than any Ironman's rig.
Related: Best handlebar Wrap jobs - post your pics
New bar tape has a wonderful way of rejuvenating old bikes and there's a zen-like satisfaction to be had in achieving a perfect handlebar wrap. I've never been a fan of the cheap plastic bar caps that come with handlebar tap. Too often, they rattle loose and end up as litter on the side of the road. Not only is the lack of a bar plug an invitation to loose bar tape, but the void left behind is also a safety hazard in the event of a crash-nobody wants to take a core sample of their thigh.
Related: DIY handlebar plug thread in the Roadbikereview forum
If you're a classically-inclined cyclist, a pair of Chimay beer bottle corks is the preferred method for a vintage look. If you're up to speed on a modern road, 'cross or gravel bike, alloy end plugs with an expanding wedge are they way to go.
I've spruced up my fleet with anodized aluminum end plugs from Domain Cycling. They come in a rainbow of colors and the expansion system in these plugs does a great job of keeping the handlebar tape firmly in place.
Rather than a simple wedge, these end plugs feature expanding collets that provide more surface area to push against bar tape. Once installed, your bar tape will not budge.
The downside? At 32.2g per pair and $15.99, these handlebar plugs are heavier and more expensive than the cheap plastic bar plugs than come with bar tape. This is a trade-off I'm willing to make for the sake of style and a securely-wrapped handlebar.