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.
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, but 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 $17, 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.
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.
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” 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, but 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 Handroll 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.
Here’s how we put ours on. 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 hand rail and worked down. Carefully peeling the adhesive backing paper off the strip on the back of the handlebar tape, 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, overwrapping the tape already on the handrail so that about two-thirds of the tape was exposed, and the last third was 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.
Now, if you were wrapping your bike handlebars, you’d simply stretch the remaining end of the tape into the hollow handlebar, and 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, so 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.
Now we grabbed the second roll of handlebar tape and proceeded to start placement at the middle of the grab handle, this time wrapping 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, and 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, and figured in a few months we’d probably have to go back and re-do 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.
All photos, R & T De Maris