Condensed answer: It’s not recommended to use electrical tape as rim tape because it cannot handle high air pressure. Electrical tape is overly flexible and easily loses its shape and subsequently stability. Also, heat and moisture harm the adhesive side.
Nonetheless, electrical tape is a decent “bail out” method when nothing else is available. It works best on low PSI tires.
The Downsides of Using Electrical Tape As Rim Tape
1. It Can’t Handle High Air Pressure
Electrical tape is soft and stretchy. If you use high PSI tires, the inner tube may overpower the electrical tape and get into the spoke eyelets and come in contact with the threaded end of a spoke or a sharp edge.
Since spoke eyelets are rarely smooth and spokes’ ends are pointy, this may lead to multiple “internal” flat tires without a clear source.
The likelihood of this outcome increases along with the PSI of the tire. An MTB tire running at low PSI may be just fine with electrical tape instead of rim tape. But if you have a road tire operating at high PSI (e.g., 100), electrical tape may fail to do the job.
Since actual rim tape is much thicker and less flexible than electrical tape, it greatly reduces the possibility of flats caused by the rim and spokes.
2. Poor Heat Resistance
The rims on a bike with rim brakes tend to overheat on descents due to the friction between them and the brake shoes. The effect is even greater on a hot, sunny day.
High temperatures easily melt electrical tape’s adhesive. Without the glue, the tape may move around and “unmask” some of the spoke eyelets. Also, the melted residue will be difficult to remove later on.
Note: This effect is greatly reduced on bicycles with disc brakes because there’s no rubbing against the rim. The rotor is the one getting hotter and does not affect the tire’s temperature.
3. Unstable Positioning
Electrical tape isn’t very stable when installed on the rim. It’s possible to move it out of position when installing or removing a tire.
The Advantages of Using Electrical Tape as Rim Tape
Electrical tape has the following advantages:
- Widely available. Unlike regular rim strips and tape which can be bought only at bike shops, electrical tape could be found in all hardware and convenience stores.
- Works decently in the wilderness. If you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t source rim strips, electrical tape will work just fine as a temporary solution.
- Easy to Apply
Alternatives To Electrical Tape
1. Rim Tape
Ultimately, nothing beats actual rim tape because it’s designed specifically for the task. It’s reusable and fairly easy to remove if you have to replace a spoke or clean the wheel.
Unlike electrical tape, rim tape is firm and not very elastic. Those properties help it stay at place and protect the inner tube from the rim and spokes.
2. Duct Tape
Duct tape is thicker, has better adhesion and doesn’t stretch as much as electrical tape. As such, it’s more suitable as a rim tape substitute.
Unless you’re running ultra-fat tires, chances are that a classic roll of duct tape will be too wide for your rim.
You can use the following method to cut the duct tape to the proper width:
1. Measure your inner rim and mark the width on the duct tape.
2. Place a utility knife on an object that elevates the blade to the marked position. Press the knife against the roll.
3. Hold the utility knife against the duct tape and keep rotating the roll.
Once you have cut the duct tape to the required width and length, you can apply it on the rim.
The downsides of using duct tape are:
- Quality duct tape isn’t cheaper than rim tape.
- Duct tape leaves a difficult to remove sticky residue.
2. 3M Reinforced Strapping Tape
Another popular option is to use reinforced strapping tape. It’s light, sturdier than electrical tape and comes in more widths. Some people apply two layers for extra reinforcement.
Unfortunately, the adhesive on the tape leaves marks.
4. White Medical Tape
White medical tape is another alternative. However, it could end up being more expensive than dedicated rim tape.
5. Hockey Tape
Hockey players wrap the blade of their stick to protect it and increase friction. The tape that they use is known as “hockey tape” or “stick tape” and can serve as rim tape .
Just like the rest of tapes on the list, hockey tape will create a sticky situation if you try to remove it.
6. An Inner Tube
Some people like to make rim strips from old inner tubes.
The process is as follows:
1. Cut a piece of inner tube as wide as the internal part of the rim and almost as long as the circumference of the wheel.
2. Wrap the inner tube around the rim until the ends overlap by 2-3cm.
3. Roughen one end via a piece of sandpaper and apply rubber cement on it.
4. After 5-10 minutes, press the other end against the rubber cement. (The goal is to glue both ends to one another.)
5. Mark the center of the overlapping part and use a paper punch to make a hole for the valve.
Note: It’s important to place the valve hole within the part where both ends meet for two reasons:
- It’s the thickest area.
- The valve will strengthen the bond by acting as a connecting rod.
The downfall of this approach is that inner tubes are very flexible. If the pressure is high, the actual inner tube may overcome the homemade rim strip.
To minimize the chances of this outcome, you can put a top layer of electrical tape for extra support.
For video instructions, considering watching this video.
FAQ: Is it true that electrical tape is lighter than rim tape and strips?
It depends on the number of applied layers. In general, however, electrical tape is lighter than cloth rim tape.
That said, the difference amounts to double digit grams at best and matters only if you’re trying to set a record for the lightest bicycle on Earth.
Summary: What You Need To Know
1. Electrical tape isn’t as optimal as rim tape because it’s too flexible, thin and has adhesive that melts under heat.
2. The chances of experiencing problems with electrical tape (e.g., the tape moving out of place and uncovering spoke holes) is greater when you’re ride in hot weather and/or if you do lots of descents on a bike with rim brakes.
(The friction between the brake shoes and the rim heats the rim to melting temperatures).
3. Electrical tape may not be optimal, but it’s an acceptable temporary solution when nothing else is available. It’s recommended to run more than one layer for extra protection.
4. There are other household alternatives to rim tape such as duct tape, medical tape, strapping tape, hockey tape…etc. Their downfall is the price (some are more expensive than actual rim tape) and the sticky residue that they leave.
If you have to replace a spoke or a nipple, duct tape and similar products create inconvenience because you have to peel them off.
5. At the end of the day, rim tape works the best, and if you’re going on a long trip, it makes a lot of sense to include a spare unit in your emergency kit.