Souma Leather Handlebar Tape
264g (uncut) £58.78
Souma Leather Handlebar Tape is made from top quality full grain cow hide and available in three classic, dare I say timeless, colours. The finishing kit is similarly refined, right down to the electrical tape. Aesthetics aside, grip improves with use - and, grip, there’s oodles of it - so it’ll accommodate contemporary flared drops. However, if you’re dressing a rough stuff tourer, or gravel bike’s bars, I’d employ a gel type underlay for greater shock absorbency. Fitting also requires patience.
Pros: Top quality leather & finishing kit, excellent grip in all conditions and improves with use, durable, relatively low maintenance.
Cons: Time consuming to fit, heavy & relatively pricey compared with synthetics.
The leather is top quality-full grain cowhide, to be precise. Full grain refers to the top layer of hide, just beneath the hairline, which is the most rugged and keeps leather’s most natural characteristics, while ageing better than other grades. Vegetable tanning continues this narrative. Vegetable tanning employs natural tannin and contributes to a thicker leather, compared to Chrome tanning (although chrome tanning has some benefits - leather used in wet, or humid contexts, for example.)
Ours was brown, but black and honey are the alternatives. Timeless colours are contrasted by very modern (generous) lengths and moderate, road typical thickness. Souma state length as being 210-215cm long (per roll), which should be ample for the broadest drops and allows for generous overlap. The hide is a more road typical 2.5mm thick, reducing to .6mm at the ends. 3M backing adhesive bodes well for durability and good tenure. Completing the package are colour coordinated end plugs, top quality electrical tape, waxed cotton twine and a tiny pot of hide food, complete the package.
My fixed gear winter/trainer runs these Generic D-Riser 4 Handlebars , which are arguably the most road centric model in their family, but still a little curvier than traditional drops. Being a road biased build, and fitted with this Redshift Sports Shockstop Suspension Stem . I decided to forgo any gel bar, or similar underlays - just to see how effective it would be against washboard tarmac, and general hand fatigue, especially on longer rides.
Ease Of Fitting 2.75/5
Souma told me they fed (pre-treated) the wrap before packaging and do so, for all customers. Theory goes this, (coupled with the fact it tapers down to .6mm) makes it supple and wrapping that little bit easier. Even so, and getting clean, flowing effect required several attempts and a patient, methodical approach. I had to prune the “cheater” strips with scissors, which wasn’t too difficult but added time. It took me 70 minutes all told, but some of you will doubtless breeze it aboard faster. I wasn’t overly taken with the waxed cotton twine, so left it off-would look great on a retro build, mind.
Though I’d never describe the finish as slippery, in common with an iconic British marque, the hide tends to become grippier with use and a bit of faint patina. Coming from tacky silicones, or polymer models, including the Ciclovation Grind Touch the hide initially felt a little slippery. Glove/palm materials play their part, and I wasn’t surprised to discover that genuine leather, including these cheerful Passport Crochet Back Cycling Mitts were the best union. Nonetheless, it only took a few miles for the Souma to begin feeling familiar, meaning, I could just grace the bars and concentrate on the ride.
I’m often out around dawn, which coincides nicely with other wildlife - kamikaze rabbits, red deer, and the odd badger. All who have been known to leap out, into my path, requiring some evasive action and the odd cuss word. No issues along a few winding descents and at 25mph and this only improved when the rains came. (To date, water retention, hasn’t been overly obvious but the test period hasn’t been unduly wet.) I’ve often taken shots from the saddle, at 17mph with my superzoom compact camera - such was my feeling of control.
Damping/Shock Absorption 3.25/5
Even allowing for the bike’s Redshift Sports Shock Stop Suspension Stem, carbon fork and generous overlap, things felt more direct at the bars, compared with silicones and polymers. Indeed, the now discontinued Bobbin Leather Handlebar Tape (made from Texan cowhide) afforded comparatively better grip and damping, although at 2.5mm thick, the Souma is closer to corks, on the comfort front and better than Brooks, which adorned a set of my bars for several years.
The Souma does a decent job of insulating against low-level vibration-pock marked town centres and washboard lanes I’ve never experienced any tingling, or fatigue, even on rides exceeding 70 odd miles - wearing the Passport Mitts, these full finger Specialized and the Primal Onyx . 250 miles in, I switched over to the Kinekt Suspension Stem, to see if this made any discernible difference.
Steve and I like the Kinekt Suspension Stem , although I found the travel a little plush in some contexts. However, the additional refinement made a welcome difference on longer rides.
That said, tourists who like to venture beyond asphalt for extended periods would probably benefit from some form of shock absorbing underlay. As an aside, I’d also be inclined to employ some kind of “parking brake” when leaning a heavily laden bike up, say against a wall, fence, or tree.
In common with other leather products, it tends to settle with use. Ours has developed some superficial patina, but any calling cards, resulting from being leaned against brickwork etc, is easily polished out using a soft cloth -o ld, clean sock will do fine. Souma suggest nourishing the tape yearly to keep it supple and lock the elements out. I tend to apply a light helping of water-based feed every six weeks or so, especially during winter.
Otherwise, allow the wrap to dry naturally following wet rides and store/park bike(s) away from direct sources of sunlight and heat. Again, assuming you’re not hanging bike(s) up, an old towel over the bar wouldn’t hurt. Decent quality adhesive means it’s very tolerant of being rewound, so cable changes and all things being equal, bar swaps shouldn’t present any issues.
The lion’s share of £60 is quite an investment. However, it’s on par with Brooks and Cycles Berthoud Calf Leather Handlebar Tape is also available in three colours and a good bit dearer at £74. However, those on a tighter budget and happy to go along with brown may find Temple Cycles Temple Leather Bar Wrap very enticing, at £40.00. Spa Cycles are another store brand and arguably even better value. Available in three colours (Black, brown and honey) its presently offered at £26 (MSP £39.99).
Aesthetics aside, durability is leather’s main advantage over modern synthetics. I’ve grown very fond of the Souma and at 2.5mm thick, it is still a luxurious and practical choice for classic road-biased bikes and tarmac biased riding. Given the length, there’s scope for running gel type cushioning beneath, extending the appeal to rough stuff touring and possibly, gravel. However, this hikes the cost still further, which may be a deal breaker for some.