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Paris-Roubaix glove and bar-tape strategies: Normal, double, or none? A WorldTour mechanic weighs in

‘For more cushioning, double wrap the bar tape. But another approach is to ride without gloves and even without handlebar tape,’ says WorldTour mechanic Raf Wittenberg.

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Of all the races on the WorldTour, none poses quite the gear conundrum of Paris-Roubaix, and every year it’s fun to see what gets brought to the start line.

Tires are the piece of prime importance — bigger, softer than at any other race — and frame materials and even suspension have been and continue to be explored.

But what about the hands? What is a rider to do to best protect against the brutal vibrations of the French cobblestones? There are two main schools of thought: add padding, or reduce vibration. They aren’t necessarily at odds, but they can be.

WorldTour mechanic Raf Wittenberg of Human Powered Health explains.

“It depends which approach riders want to take. If you like more cushioning, then I would suggest you can try double wrapping the bar tape. There are also riders who ride with two pairs of gloves,” Wittenberg said. “But another approach is to ride without gloves and even without handlebar tape, just so you have less friction, and the cushioning then comes from your tires.”

No gloves? Okay. But no bar tape on the tops? We’ll see if any Human Powered Health riders take to the start of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes with a set-up like this. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

While the jarring of the cobblestones is uncomfortable, the friction on the hands from the high-speed vibration can cause irritation to the point of blisters. The more the hands move, the more friction is created.

In past editions of Paris-Roubaix, we have seen riders take the start with double layers of bar tape, or gel padding underneath thick bar tape. Some riders use gloves; others, like the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes winner Lizzie Deignan, ride bare-handed.

Related: Retro Roubaix tech with dual-suspension designs from the 1994 Paris-Roubaix

“A lot of people were saying: ‘Why didn’t you wear gloves?'” Deignan said after the finish. “But I never wear gloves, because even when you wear gloves, you still get blisters because it’s all about the chafing and vibration between your fingers.”

We’ve also seen riders tape on or around the joints of their fingers, done in an effort to reduce the harsh vibration.

John Murphy, in 2011, taped his fingers and wrists for the bare-knuckled fistfight that is Paris-Roubaix. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

For Wittenberg, he counseled his team’s riders to try both the high-cushioning and the low-to-no-cushioning set-ups during their Roubaix recon.

“Their initial reactions? They think you’re crazy to ride with no gloves and no tape on top,” Wittenberg said. “But some are open to the idea.”

American Olympian and HPH rider Lily Williams said that while she is “inclined to believe anything Raf says, I’m a little skeptical about that one.”

Dutch HPH rider Evy Kuijpers, who is looking forward to her second Paris-Roubaix Femmes, said that she will definitely ride without gloves as she did in 2021, and is considering riding with a bare carbon bar top.

Evy Kuijpers rode the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes for Liv Racing without gloves. This year she races for Human Powered Health. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

“I really love the cobbles. I did [Paris-Roubaix Femmes] last year, but it was super hectic with the wet conditions,” she said, adding that she likes Witterberg’s low-friction idea.

“I rode last year without gloves and I didn’t have any blisters. The less material you have without gloves, or on your bar, the less friction you have,” Kuijpers said. “Your hands get heated up from all the friction, so maybe I am going to ride without [the tape on the tops]. But really, it’s a good tire and tire pressure that can really make the difference in Roubaix.”

All WorldTour teams spend time testing and dialing in the specific tire pressures for each rider for normal races, and especially for Roubaix. As with other teams, Human Powered Health keeps a detailed chart of front and rear pressure for each rider, and mechanics setting the tires to the desired specification before each race. 

But Wittenberg has taken the specificity one step further, customizing an inflation tool by building in a digital gauge that reads to the hundredth decimal point.

Wittenberg built a digital gauge he bought online into a Bosch cordless air compressor. “Many people have digital compressors, but the stock ones don’t give this level of detail,” he said.

VeloNews will be reporting from France throughout the weekend. Paris-Roubaix Femmes is Saturday and Paris-Roubaix is Sunday.