Hands up if you have ever suffered with pain or discomfort in the wrist and hand areas when cycling?
If your hand is in the air, then you will understand how painful and frustrating this can be. At one end of the scale it can be annoying, with the other end ruining your ride, and even causing you to take time off the bike! Time off the bike is that last thing any of us wants to happen.
So what is all this pain about?
It can manifest itself in different ways; common symptoms are numbness, stiffness, tingling, feeling weak or struggling to hold the bars, and in some cases, just bloody painful! Sometimes there are reasonable explanations; a longer than usual ride or maybe you haven't been out riding for a long time. And if that is the case - take it easy and ease your body in gently. It is sending you a message! If you don't fall into that bracket, then you need to delve a little deeper, as no one should have to endure pain as part of a normal day to day bike ride. There are a range of options to help. Now, before you start spending money on the latest equipment, there is one thing you need to get checked out. Make sure your bike setup & position is spot on - and use a professional bike fitter if required. You cannot under estimate the importance of this. If you tick that box and are happy, then it is time to try to make your cycling that little more comfortable.
There is a market for handlebar grips and tape. These come in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials. Some of these are thicker than the norm, and are specifically that way to improve comfort and help prevent pain. And if you haven't already guessed from the title, this article is all about a handlebar grip I was sent earlier this year to try out. It is called Fat Wrap, and as you can imagine, this stuff is pretty fat, designed to give any cyclist (not just touring cyclists) greater comfort and hopefully prevent and reduce or eradicate any discomfort when cycling. And if you double wrap your handlebar tape today, then do read on - Fat Wrap could mean an end to that. Lets find out!
I first heard about Fat Wrap when Kent, the owner of Tasis Bikes (creator the Fat Wrap bar tape), got in contact to publish a great article he wrote about the many handlebar choices for Bicycle Touring. A fantastic article that talks you through all the weird and wonderful handlebars choices out there, with a steer towards cycle touring. Do check it out if you are thinking about handlebar choices, or would just like some general advice.
Fat Wrap is aimed at a multitude of people; those who suffer with the discomfort I mentioned earlier, and for people who are looking for a way of preventing it from ever happening, or those who just want a little extra comfort. Fat Wrap is marketed at the bicycle touring market, which by the nature of the hobby, often entails multiple days cycling long distances. Even those of us that don't suffer discomfort when out cycling our regular local rides, may still be susceptible, especially when you throw in a sudden change to distance or consecutive days in the saddle.
What Kent didn't realise when he kindly sent me some Fat Wrap was that I suffer from pain when riding my road bike over longer distances (60+ miles), and when I steer away from the road to slightly off road. I don't use my road bike for touring, however longer Audax or similar rides are something I enjoy and can mean 8+ hours in the saddle. For me it starts with mild stiffness in the wrists and across the top of my hands, and if I don't keep changing position it can result with a little numbness. Nothing too serious and it never stops me riding, but all the same, a bit of a pain (excuse the pun!). Changing position, stretching and taking regular breaks works well, but the only real way to stop it is to stop riding. And I don't want to do that! I have tried different tape products in the past, and to be fair the slightly thicker varieties have been okay, especially when they are brand new and haven't lost their newness. I know my bike fit is pretty good, it is just the extra long distances when it happens. And especially when I ride long tracks and badly kept paths - not ideal for a road bike I know, but good fun all the same!
It has arrived!
Arriving through my letterbox was a small parcel of Fat Wrap. Inside two perfectly rolled pieces of handlebar tape, along with the usual extra strips for brake hoods, and some tape to hold it in place. Giving it a quick squeeze, it's apparent how thick this stuff is, especially when rolled up! Fat Wrap is a cork-eva based wrap, with the website stating it is the 'fattest' on the market. One minor niggle is that it doesn't come with bar end plugs. I like to change these when I switch wraps, especially as I quite often lose them. Anyway, this was not major issue, I just re-used the existing ones. I do think including some Fat Wrap logo branded bar end plugs would be a great addition and wouldn't add too much cost to the manufacturing costs.
Bicycle out, I started stripping back my old wrap and cleaning the bars. It is always good to prepare the bars - it gives your new wrap a good start to life by having a clean contact area. If you haven't attempted to wrap handlebar tape on before, then just use YouTube. I found some specific instructions on the Fat Wrap site too. It was a good job I did too - Fat Wrap shouldn't overlap when you start by the bar ends, as common place with other brands. Due to it's thickness, it should be flush, otherwise the bar ends won't go in. Pleased with my handy work, I now had some seriously well padded handlebar tape on my bars. If my bicycle fell over and landed on the bars, it would now bounce for sure! Time to get out riding.
To do a fair test of Fat Wrap, I couldn't just pop out for one ride and report back, it needed a few months of road testing. Different terrains, weather and the test of time. So I pick this article up a few months after installing Fat Wrap. The good news is that it is still on there.
My first reaction to holding the bars after installation was that the thickness may be too much and might be weird handling the bike. Pleased to say that that fear disappeared instantly as I took the bicycle our for a ride. I had complete feeling and control over the bicycle and it felt normal to hold the bars after a minute or two. My grip on the bars was secure and I still felt as one with the bicycle.
Riding some of my usual short local routes over the first week or two, I got a real mix of both on the bars and the drops. On the bars it was great to have this extra cushion, especially when riding some the of pot hole and broken up roads in my area. There was a good reduction in the road vibrations coming through the bars and this can only be a good thing for the wrists. I have long believed road vibrations to be a contributor to my wrist pain after a long day in the saddle, the constant vibrations start to take toll. Switching to the drops felt pretty good too; I could control the bicycle well downhill and through the corners. And I could still grip the brake levers well and didn't notice any difference to my bike handling skills. It is fair to say Fat Wrap wasn't affecting my bicycle handling style in any way and at this early stage was improving comfort.
Over more challenging terrain is when I have really noticed the improvement. As I mentioned earlier I do love to take my road bike on tracks, off road routes and canal paths. These adventures off road are often a way to kick start discomfort, as I tend to over-grip the bars. With Fat Wrap I was now finding that I could ride along the bumpy canal paths and tracks with minimal discomfort, even after many miles. Not completely gone, but such an improvement - however, I was riding along almost willing discomfort to come, which makes you a little sensitive to anything and everything!
Back on the road and cycling a variety of distances ranging from 10-120 miles were also showing signs on improvement. It was only on the century rides where the last few miles when I felt any discomfort, which isn't unusual for those kind of distances, especially at my age!
In the rain Fat Wrap performed as well as any other tape product I have used. No slipping, still felt grippy - it carried on performing the same as in the dry, even when standing on the pedals and generally moving around more. Performance in the heat stayed the same as well - I felt no change in performance. However it is worth noting all my riding is in the U.K. where it is not exactly famous for the hot weather, so I cannot vouch for above around 28 degrees.
I think Fat Wrap is a great product. It is super super thick, durable and gave a consistent performance during my ongoing testing during the past few months over varying distance, terrain and weather conditions. And with over 3000 miles and no obvious sign of wear, all that lovely squidgyness is still there!
The reduction in the road vibrations whilst not affecting handling is the beauty of this product. It would be easy to make an even thicker product, but it would probably start to affect handling and take away your feeling of the road. And although it hasn't completely taken away the discomfort I sometimes suffer, I found that really helped with reducing vibrations and ultimately improved my cycling.
Cost wise, you are looking at $38 (price from Fat Wrap site), which is in the higher end of the scale for bar tape. But that could be a small price to pay if it helps you improve your ride.
All images of Fat Wrap.