Make Your Own Foam Grips for Drop Handlebars





Introduction: Make Your Own Foam Grips for Drop Handlebars

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

My new bike came with some wonderful padded handlebar tape. After nearly 5,000 miles it is time to replace the tape. Similar tape is about $30. As good as that tape was, my hands still went tingly and numb after a dozen miles, but not from needing a shorter or higher stem.

I have foam grips on another bike with drop bars and like the foam very much. Foam grips for drop bars are hard to find locally. I decided to make my own from a child's noodle flotation device used in swimming pools. A foam noodle costs less than $3.

Lime green and dayglo orange were the two choices for color. I chose orange. My tires already have blue sidewalls. Our local sports team uses blue and orange for its colors.

Step 1: Reduce the Diameter of the Noodle

The noodle is a bit too thick for a handlebar grip. I decided I could cut away an outer layer with a hot wire cutter I could improvise.

The photo shows the end of the noodle as it comes from the store (right side). The left side of the photo shows the noodle after it has been pressed down on the hot wire cutter and gently rotated. I pulled the core out a bit for viewing purposes. The internal hole in the noodle is just right for a handlebar.

Step 2: Set Up the Cutter and Cut

I already had some stainless steel wire I determined to be .018 inch thick. That is 25 gage. Testing it with my ohmmeter showed it to have a resistance of about 1/4 Ohm per foot. I made a feeble attempt to utilize Ohm's Law and calculated that eight feet of wire would dissipate the 1.5 Amp. output of my automobile battery trickle charger on the 6 Volt setting. But, the cutter generated no heat in the wire. I flipped the switch on the trickle charger to 12 Volts and 3 Amps. The ammeter on my digital meter told me the cicuit was drawing 3.8 Amps--a little over the rating of the transformer in my (homemade) trickle charger, but just under the rating of the 4 Amp. bridge rectifier I used in the charger.

The cutter really needed only about a foot of wire, but I wanted to avoid burning up my charger or making the wire so hot that it drooped or melted. So, I used eight feet of wire. The duck tape you see holds turns of the extra wire so the coiled turns do not touch one another and the full resistance of the wire could be utilized. It worked fine. I shut the trickle charger off and made sure it cooled completely before cutting the next noodle section down in diameter, just to be safe.

Step 3: A Bit More Detail on Cutting

Here you can see how I used small blocks of plywood on each side of the noodle sections to raise the hot wire above the bed surface so the right amount of noodle would be shaved off of the core.

Cut the noodle into sections with a serrated bread knife. Make each section about 11 inches long.

Roll the noodle section on the bed surface as the hot wire cuts the foam. Go at a slow speed that does not force the wire. Keep the center of the noodle directly over the wire.

Step 4: Install and Use

Remove the old bar tape and the end caps from the handlebars. They should pull out with your fingernails. Remove the brake/shifter combination from each side of the handlebars.

My brake/shifters are made by Shimano. To loosen and remove, peel back the forward edge of the rubber covering on the outer side about midway between top and bottom of the rubber. You will see a bolt head for a hex key wrench at an angle outward. Loosen it until you can slide the brake/shifter off of the end of the handlebar.

Clean the bits of old adhesive from the handlebars. Gently twist each piece of noodle into position on the handlebars. It is possible to be too aggressive and get a linear rip in the material. Saw it to its approximate length with a sharp knife. Slide the brake/shifters into place after the upper portions of noodle are in place and are cut to size. Eyeball their position so both are at the same height on the handlebars.

I did not try to feed the brake cables through the inside of the noodle sections, but taped them on the outside of the foam grips. I tried to place them so they would be under the bends in my fingers. I had bought some colored tape at Radio Shack for some project a long time back. The roll of orange tape came in handy here.

I taped each end of each grip. The end caps were loose, so I wrapped about two turns of vinyl electrical tape around them and pushed them into the ends of the handlebars.

I tried the new foam grips out on a 28 mile ride. They hold up well and are very comfortable. My hands did not even begin to numb.



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    You can also purchase foam for tool handles at big box Home Depot and Lowes. Still a cool and inventive instructable.

    I am impressed by your ingenuity, but if you want, you may also buy foam handlebar slips commercially made, for $7
    . It comes in 4 pieces (cut to fit), with bar end plugs. This is generally an item made for replacements on 1970's style road bikes, but works fine on STI equipped bikes.

    It will be interesting to see how durable your pads are, and how much drag they create. I expect they will be very long lasting but somewhat rough, and may cause noticeable drag at higher speeds. Perhaps you have hit on something though if they are really comfortable.

    There are lots of designer "ergonomic" sets out there that have pads which are adhered to the bars wtih double sided tape, then wrapped with conventional synthetic tape. Best of luck. If your hands or wrists are numb, it is possible your bike and tire combo does not dampen vibration enough, or that the bars are too far/low. For vibration, you might like "gel" handlebar tape.

    1 reply

    Thank you for your comment. My bike came with the gel tape, but I never really liked it. I had used commercially made foam grips on another bike with drop bars and still like them on that bike. I tried a set of foam grips on this bike, but they began to tear apart while I was putting them on. They were just a lot thinner and weaker than the others I had put on some years ago. Also, our nearest bike shop is now 30 minutes away, so I wanted to try a solution I could manage nearer to home. The grips shown here were pretty good for about a season. Then they had crushed down. They still worked, but not nearly as well. My bike has a carbon fork and carbon seat post, but an aluminum frame, so it transmits some vibration. I am not such a fast rider that I will ever need to worry about air resistance from something on my bars.

    Thank you, Osvaldo. I really liked these. But, they did not endure well. Since, I am using old inner tubes from the tires wrapped around my handlebars. The rubber inner tubes are not as soft as the foam swimming noodles, but endure well and give a good grip, even if they do not cushion my hands as well as the foam. I was pleased, though, about how well my spur of the moment hot wire cutter worked. Still, the foam lasted well for at least a season.

    I need a little help with putting tape on a bike's handlebars: I have some blue Roubaix foam tape, which claims to have adhesive on the underside. There is no adhesive. I wrap it around, and of course it doesn't stick. It came with 2 strips of black plastic which appear to be some sort of tape, which you peel off a piece of paper; it came with 2 short pieces of the same blue tape, which DOES have an adhesive on the back but isn't long enough to go around the entire handlebar as any sort of tape-down. There are no instructions. In fact, the 4 little extra bits aren't listed on the contents. I cannot find anything with Google to tell me how to make this $20 roll of tape STAY on my handlebars. There must be a trick I'm missing. Can somebody help me with this?

    2 replies

    Late to the party, but can't leave a stranded cyclist out there.  There should be a narrow strip of adhesive on the back of the bar tape.  It's usually covered by some sort of backing.  If not and there's no adhesive, take it back to the shop.  Also, if you pull the backing off to aggressively, it can pull the adhesive strip right off (did it myself the first time).  If you still have adhesive on there make sure that it comes in direct contact with the handlebars and doesn't just stick to the previous loop of tape as this will fall apart quickly.  Hope this helps though it is months late.

    A bit late to this diy idea but there is an "athletic wrap", foam wrap for the ankles or wrists that is much like "athletic tape" but from what I've seen is wider and inexpensive as well. This kind of wrap is already cut to just wrap them on the handle bars. I'm sure they can be functional, I'm not sure if they would be "nice looking." I have in fact used them on handlebars and they worked fine. They can even be, everyone ready?, shellacked as some people do that to handlebar tapes though being foam had the tendency to act some like a sponge but it did still work.

    Well done Phil. I made similar pads from thermal insulating foam tubing used for copper tubing coming from hot water tanks. It works well and comes in black too. This tubing can be found in any hardware or home DIY stores and comes with a slit. It really helps with my tingling too but as I age I require more frequent hand positions changes. I've done a few Century rides ( 100 mile rides) years ago without padding and never had a problem but that's not the case now, alas the savages of time.

    2 replies

    Excellent idea Phil. No noodles in the junkbox, but I did have some of that pipe insulating foam. After slipping it over the bars I wrapped it in sports tape, and covered it with tubes made from a $0.75 spandex book cover. I've ridden several hundred miles and so far the foam hasn't broken down, and it's more comfortable (to me) than the spenco grips that it replaced.

    Thanks, Bobblob. I have seen the foam insulating material for copper tubing, but wanted something without the slit. This is just an idea, but maybe the foam you mentioned could be covered with a bit of Ace bandage. It would absorb perspiration and would keep the slit closed. This morning I consciously changed hand positions quite often. The combination of the foam and changing positions frequently left my hands quite comfortable.

    I would go with the real deal. Specialized makes foam inserts that you then tape over. I would be afraid that the foam would rotate under your hands while you were on the tops. If your hands tingle so much I would point to the gloves as the culprit. Some questions to ask yourself: *When is the last time you bought a new pair? *Has your body changed a lot (weight loss/gain)? *Do you switch your hand position often (every 10-15 minutes)? For my two cents worth, I would suggest that you look at new gloves. As I have grown older (read heavier) I've had the same problem. I've found that specialized makes a great glove for me. They are only about $25, but alas my local bike store carries them intermittently. If you have any other questions poke around here. There is a guy who gives excellent advice. Just don't mention lubricants. He really gets worked up about what to lube your chain with :-) Good luck and please be careful! You only have one set of teeth at this point.

    5 replies

    Another outstanding reason to wear gloves is to be able to rub the front ( and rear ) tire immediately after going over glass or other potential flat causing debris. This can help remove any shards that may have been picked up but have not yet caused a flat. Back in the day I was told this was the main reason to wear gloves...

    Both my bikes do not have fenders.

    Not sure if you know about Bike NashBar for all things bicycle related.

    Thank you for your comments. I was unaware of the foam from Specialized. Is it in their catalog or on their web site or both? Actually, I now weigh about 25 pounds less than I did a couple of years ago. I try to change the position of my hands regularly, but found that is not anywhere nearly as critical with foam grips as with tape. I have never worn cyclists gloves. The foam grips have shown no tendency to roll when I am on the tops, even if I grab the grips and try to roll them. I finally found a chain lubrication routine that I really like. When I spent more time and effort cleaning and lubricating my chain, it lasted the equivalent of twenty one hundred mile rides. Now that I use a much simpler procedure it lasts two thousand miles.

    I would say gloves are a neccesity. They have many uses. The first is to keep moisture off the bar. Sweaty hands can slip off a bar/hoods when you hit a minor bump (personal experience.)

    Second, they have a terry clothe back that allows you to wipe the sweat off your brow, as well as clean up any mess from your nose or mouth. Sounds gross but it's true.

    Third, and this is important, is for crash protection. I have gone down plenty of times, and usually the first thing to hit is your palms. The gloves really do help absorb the impact. I've had really, really ugly crashes that scared my body. The gloves were ripped up, but my hands were fine.

    I had a watch on as well, and I tend to wear them with the face under the wrist. That was an accidental god send. I skidded on my left hand and down the watch. Timex took one hell of a beating. And yes, it did still keep tickin' It looked like I took a belt sander to it.

    And finally, gloves are meant to absorb high frequency road vibration that transmits from the tires to the rims, to the forks and yes, to the handlebars. It will cause your hands to tingle like mad.

    Get a pair. Almost all professionals and amateurs alike ride with them for a reason. I didn't use them for my first year of riding. My hands tingled during and after every ride. I eventually ponied up the cash. I was amazed by the difference gloves made to my comfort, enjoyment and relaxation on a bike.

    BG SUPER PHAT BAR GEL TAPE is the product I was talking about. Call around to your local shop and see if anyone knows who is a specialized dealer. It's worth it if your hands bother you that much.

    Good Luck

    You might want to lub your chain more often. 2,000 miles is about the lifespan of a chain. After that you can wear out the really expensive parts (like the gears.) SRAM makes great chains that cost about $8 if you shop around. Don't worry about name brand, as it most likely won't apply to your needs.

    leebryuk, thanks for the link on the Specialized bar gel tape. It looks better than the factory issue material I took off of my bars. Gloves may be a very good idea. I read something a few days ago about them being warm and holding perspiration. I may try a pair sometime in the future. It has been years since I crashed, though. Then it was my elbow that took the brunt of the crash. Perhaps I was unclear. I clean and lube my chain about every 100 miles. Once I used Simple Green to clean and then Super Lube after drying the chain. It was time consuming. Now I apply a fair amount of fresh motor oil to float the dirt, run the chain backwards a few turns, and crank it forward a few turns while absorbing all of the excess I can with some paper towelling. The new method is much easier and chain life is the same. It runs very quietly and shifts very smoothly after cleaning and lubricating the new way.

    I would say that you had the best idea when it came to cleaning your chain. The problem with the simple green/super lube method is that it took too long. However, thanks to our engineering counterparts we have:

    Chain Cleaners

    The device simply slips around the chain, you add your cleaner of choice, spin the chain backwards for 60 seconds or so. In that magic time, the gizmo will scrub, squeege and then sponge off extra cleaner. Take said gizmo off, run the chain through a cloth for a minute then Super Lube it (I assume that you are using the aerosol.) It'll take less than 5 minutes, and you won't have to repeat it nearly as often. The motor oil method will attract gunk as it is directly open to the road. Faster, fewer cleanings mean you'll get on your bike and do what its suppose to-ride!

    No. I am near Boise, Idaho.