By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Right up in the “neatest thing since sliced bread” category, for our family at least, are big assist handles that you can mount on the side of your RV. At the end of a long road day, or a long trail, being able to grab that handle and stabilize yourself heading up the steps into the rig has been a lifesaver.
Grips be gone!
Trouble is, the grips sold as standard on many of these units just don’t hold up too long. Maybe it’s UV light, maybe it’s the wind blowing over the handle as you blast down the highway. Sooner or later, the foam grip on the bar just gives up the ghost. This leaves you with an unsightly mess, and a more difficult situation. If your assist handle is wet, and you have no grip, you’re far more apt to slip off. On the other hand, if you grab hold that of handle on a HOT day, you can practically hear the palm flesh sizzle like a steak on a grill. Cold out? Maybe you’ll stick like a tongue on a frozen flagpole.
We’ve looked into the “standard” answer that one of those assist handle manufacturers offer. A piece of “replacement” rubber wrap that you wind around the bar. That’s great, until you consider the price of the wrap, enough to cover 12″ of the bar carries a list price of close to $25, and add shipping on top. If you want to cover the entire bar, you’ll need at least two packages – pretty close to the price of a whole bar. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.
Alternatives that don’t work
A couple of years ago when our original wrap ratted out, we tried an alternative. We removed the old, worn out wrap, and in its place, glued on a chunk of foam-rubber pipe insulation. It was inexpensive, gave a good grip, and promptly deteriorated in the weather within a few months. Next we tried using a small foam rubber “swim noodle,” which we cut a lengthwise slit down to put it over the rail, and adhered it with glue. Aside from the fact that it looked pretty strange—a brilliant, neon blue against our white rig—it had a lifespan similar to the pipe insulation.
And one that does work
Finally, it dawned. Forget foam rubber. This time a quick stop in a big box department store sporting goods section found a box containing “road handlebar tape”. It’s designed for making the grip on a bicycle’s handlebars far more comfortable. For about $8 and no shipping charges, we had enough “soft and durable, antishock” tape to wrap around the entire RV assist bar. We’d already done a little research on handlebar tape. There’s a huge variety of the stuff. What we were concerned about is that whatever bar tape we used, it had to have an adhesive strip on the back to help hold it in place. What we bought, Bell Hand Roll 300, didn’t have a description on the box, so (a pardon to our pals at Walmart) we brazenly opened the package and unrolled a couple of inches of the tape to ensure the adhesive was present—and it was.
Our “putting it on” experience
Since we’d previously used glue to hold on the “alternative treatments,” we did have a bit of a mess to clean up. The glue didn’t respond well to mineral spirits, so what was left on the assist handle we carefully sanded off, working hard not to chew up the paint. With the old glue knocked off, we were ready for the install.
The handlebar tape we bought came in two rolls—one for each side of your bicycle handlebars. Since we were heading for a single installation, we started the wrapping at the middle of the assist bar and worked down. First, we carefully peeled the adhesive backing paper off the strip on the back of the handlebar tape. Then we laid down and smoothed out the bar tape, slowly unraveling the new tape from the roll. We stretched the bar tape as we went. The trick is to overwrap the tape already on the handrail so that about two-thirds of the tape was exposed. That leaves the last third covered with new tape. By stretching and holding the roll firmly as we “placed” the new tape on the bar, we reached the bottom of the bar easily.
If you were wrapping your bike handlebars, you’d simply stretch the remaining end of the tape into the hollow handlebar. To keep it tight, you’d stuff a provided chrome trim plug into the end of the handlebar. This would hold the tape in place, and make the whole installation look sharp. However, there’s no place to “stuff” the end of the tape on an RV assist handle. Instead, we tightened the tape down at the end of the run, and then ran a few twists of the appropriate colored electrical tape around the handlebar tape to hold it in place. Since we picked black handlebar tape, we had plenty of black electrical tape to do the job.
Next we took the second roll of handlebar tape and proceeded to start placement at the middle of the grab handle. This time we wrapped the handle from the middle up to the top. We started the run on top of the already-placed handlebar tape that we’d put on for the “middle-going-down” run. It was a simple matter to repeat how we’d done that first run. Again, we finished off the top run with more wraps of electrical tape. If there’s any concern about the middle points staying in place, you could similarly wrap this junction with tape. In our case, it wasn’t necessary—everything stayed put without it.
We recognized that electrical tape isn’t the greatest weather resister. After a few months we’d probably have to go back and redo the spots with new tape. Actually, the electrical tape lasted better than a year before starting to come loose. A quick revamp and we’re good to go for another year. Way better than fussing with loose foam or spending far too much money for the “official” replacement grip.
Since we did the original install, market conditions have changed. You can still obtain Bell Hand Roll 300 from Amazon, but the price has—like everything—jumped. Amazon has a “similar” product called Alien Pros Bike Handlebar Tape. It comes in multiple solid colors, and in some other wild patterns. Trying to work the patterned stuff at the center junction of an assist bar might be a major challenge. But whatever you buy, in 2022 prices it’s $11.99 for two rolls. And yep, it’s an adhesive-back product like the Bell we used.
Photos, R & T De Maris
Maybe too late to suggest now, but if this were my project, I would try to sand off all the rust first, just to work towards longevity.
Two steps into my Airstream, I am always amazed at some of the big rigs with four or five steps to get in. A second entry door with a little elevator could be helpful.
Two years ago we replaced the grab stuff on our “old folks handle” (ahem) with that foam insulation for pipes. We put a piece of Gaffer Tape down the back, and it’s holding up fine. We park our trailer next to the house and it gets lots of NV sun. We also sat for seven months down in the Houston humidity. Still held up fine.
An alternative would be a silicon tape that sticks to itself sold on Amazon. It’s advertised for stopping leaking radiator hoses etc. in the Marines we used it for insulating electrical wiring bundles in aircraft frames so it’s tough, only thing I’ve never seen it in any color but brown.
I had considered this item because just the thought of trying to work the replacement foam onto the handle was horrifying!
But in my search for an alternative, I found grips that work great and much easier to put on. They are zip on (and off for washing or storage!) Neoprene grips. Several different sizes and colors.
We got ours on Amazon of course.
Look up “Silicone Rubber Grip Wrap for Tool Handles” on Amazon. No adhesive, easy to use, raised grip. Put mine on in early 2019, still hanging in there.
Instead of using electrical tape, you might try silicon tape – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MY0DO3B?ref=ppx_yo2_dt_b_product_details&th=1 – it comes in different colors, adheres to itself and is resistant to just about everything.
Or you could use “baseball bat tape” which cost about $5. Besides, you only need to wrap the vertical section and maybe the bottom half of the top angled section.
Looks great! Awesome idea!
Best to wrap from the bottom up if you are really wrapping correctly. Take a good look at a correctly wrapped bicycle handlebar, it is wrapped from the end of the bar to the top of the bar. This is done so water/sweat does not enter the overlap of the bar tape. Think of it like shingles on a house. They are set from the bottom to the roof peak for the same reason.
Good point John!