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The Souma Leather Handlebar Tape is made in Italy, offered in three colours and every bit as refined as price would suggest. In common with traditional leather saddles, performance improves with use – great looks, grip and durability are the rewards. However, even allowing for the tapered thickness it proved trickier to fit than several leather tapes I've used over the years.
Souma produces this from full grain cowhide. Full grain is widely regarded as premium quality leather. It's the strongest and most durable layer of hide, just beneath the hair. There's no buffing or correctional work, thus shows and retains the more natural characteristics of leather, and will develop patina as it ages.
Souma says this is between 210 and 215cm (about 7ft) long per reel, which I'd say is ample for the broadest bars and decent overlap - it also allows for gel type underlays. The Souma is 3mm wide and 2.5mm thick, but slims to 0.6mm at the ends so you can park it in the bar ends and tape it at the tops more readily.
It might not rival some synthetic gravel wraps, but it strikes a decent balance between bulk and damping – at least for road riding.
Some good 3M backing adhesive, fetching expander plugs, top quality electrical tape, waxed cotton and hide food complete the package.
I added another thin coating of water-based hide food, since I couldn't get the supplied stuff to flow nicely, especially at the ends. By contrast, Brooks, Bobbin and a store brand I've used over the years are much easier.
Around the hoods was the most complex, and I needed to trim down the 'cheater' strips using sharp kitchen scissors. I decided to forgo the waxed cotton detailing. There's nothing wrong with it per se: it could be the crowning touch for retro-inspired builds, but not my rough-stuff tourer.
I had ample tape left over, even with a shock absorbing underlay. Talking of underlays, I'd go for a gel, or similar if you were headed off road. The Souma's 3M backing is tacky rather than sticky, and I've had no issues unwrapping and reapplying ours a few times over the test period.
Overall performance is excellent and everything I'd expect from a tape at this price. However, leather coverings tend to bed in, and coming from a silicone, or polymer-based tape, things felt more 'direct' at the bars. It's not harsh or worse than Brooks and a couple of shop brands I've also used, and improves after 150 miles or so.
I'd advise against artificially hastening this process with products like neatsfoot oil; if you must, apply a light layer of water-based preserve, once weekly, for a month.
I used ours barehanded on a couple of ten-mile commutes, just to see, and had no issues with tingling or discomfort. With decent quality mitts I could blast along unmade roads and moderate trails/bridlepaths in similar comfort to with the Ergon BT Gravel Handlebar Tape.
Grip is impressive in gloves or bare hands, and continues to improve over time. Even on our first outing, the glossy hide offered reliable tenure, allowing me to concentrate on a steady cadence and obviously, my surroundings. This only improved as time went on and a superficial patina developed.
After a couple of hours in the rain the hide will hold onto moisture, but that has no negative implications grip-wise.
Souma suggests applying a hide dressing at least yearly. I find a light coating every six weeks keeps saddles, tapes and accessories nourished and in rude health. I've regularly leant ours against raw brickwork, concrete posts etc. Some dusty/abrasive stuff has stuck to the surface but easily dismissed, without marring the finish. Save for a major crash, there's no reason it shouldn't last several years hard use.
£58.73 is quite an outlay, but not outlandish compared with other leather tapes. Cycles Berthoud offers calf leather (which is much softer and theoretically easier to fit) in four colours – though it's only 2mm thick at the centre – for €74. That's currently around £64.
Brooks Leather Handlebar Tape is available in three colours and is £60.
Leather bar tapes are a luxury but still very practical and durable, given basic care, and this Souma tape is the most refined I've used to date. It's generous enough to work with a cushioning underlay and give great service off road too.
Luxurious and durable leather bar tape – it's expensive but the quality is impressive
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Souma Leather Handlebar Tape
Size tested: 210-215cm x 3cm x 2.5 mm
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Souma Leather says, "Bar tape is made from one piece of long lasting top quality full grain leather which provides unique all natural feel while riding. We have taken what we think makes great handlebar tape and made sure that our leather handlebar tape meets all the requirements."
It's a premium quality leather bar tape that is easily long enough to accommodate big, flared drops and gel underlay beneath. The finishing kit is similarly high quality.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Thickness: 2,5 mm
Tape is 2,5mm thick in the middle and thins down to 0,6mm on the ends. Thanks to this there is enough material to provide comfortable grip, while maintaining smooth transitions between each wrap.
To ensure that the tape stays in place it contains strong double-sided 3M tape on the bottom.
Quality tape has to be finished with equal bar-end plugs, that is why we are making our own. Which not only look cool, but also stay 100% in place.
Waxed cotton, electrical tape and hex key included with packaging for easy assembly are matter of course.
We are using only exquisite full grain vegetable tanned leather from the Walpier tannery in Tuscany, Italy for all of our products. Buttero is characterized by a smooth grain side surface with deep, rich colors. This naturally tanned leather is the best, lasting and most natural leather kind which is produced.
The colors which we are offering are BLACK, BROWN and HONEY and they are all great match for Brooks saddles.
Top quality hide, top quality finishing kit.
Trickier to fit than some, but grip is excellent regardless of weather or gloves. The 2.5mm density is more road-centric than some, so if you're a rough stuff tourist or gravel rider, I'd recommend a gel-type underlay.
Seems very rugged, and the 3M backing strip is tacky, rather than sticky, so very tolerant of being rewound. No reason to think it won't look good and last many years with basic care.
Uncut it's relatively weighty compared with polymer type wraps.
Generally very good, although it lacks the damping qualities of modern gel/polymer type bar wraps. However, generous lengths permit gel or EVA foam underlays.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Overall performance is very good. The grip is uniformly good, regardless of weather conditions or gloves. Used stock and with sensible overlap, damping is closer to cork than modern gel/polymer wraps; not really an issue for road duties, but a gel or EVA foam underlay would be wise for more adventurous touring or gravel.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Top quality leather and finishing kit.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Requires more patience than some to achieve a nice, uniform aesthetic.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
£58.73 is not outlandish compared with other leather tapes. Cycles Berthoud offers calf leather (which is much softer and theoretically, easier to fit) in four colours – though it's only 2mm thick at the centre – for €74 (currently around £64). Brooks Leather Handlebar Tape is available in three colours and is £60.
While the hide isn't so thick, shop-branded fare such as Temple Cycles Temple Leather Bar Wrap is cheaper at £40.00, while Spa Cycles offers its version in black, brown and honey for £39.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
This is a high-quality leather bar tape that should last many years, with basic care. It's expensive, but the quality matches expectations.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)