Needless to say, the first thing one must do before taping handlebars is insert the bars into the steering stem.  This may seem to be a simple task but it can become very difficult if you do not know what you are doing.  The stem will always slip on without forcing it provided that you slide it slowly along the handlebars in the correct position.  Go slowly and move in small increments, rotating the stem on the bars until is slides easily.  If the stem jambs up, go back slightly, rotate a wee bit and try again.  It will go.  If you get frustrated and try to force the issue, the bars will become gouged.  A single gouge will weaken the handlebars.  A gouge in the precious pantographed area will destroy good looks, value and strength.

Begin by inserting the handlebar and steering stem assembly into the steering tube of the front forks.  Set the steering stem to the height you most want.  I am an old guy and I do not intend to race my vintage road bicycles.  With this in mind, I set my steering stem as high as I can without exceeding safe limits.  This allows me to enjoy a more upright riding position.  If I were into racing, I would probably want the stem set lower to encourage a more aerodynamic racing position.

On most steering stems, the safe limit for insertion is defined with a minimum insertion mark.  It is unwise to allow the steering stem to sit higher than this mark.  There is a possibility of two nasty things happening if the stem is too high.  It could snap off or it could damage delicate steering tube threads.  Follow the suggested minimum insertion mark to the letter and never allow it to be exposed once the stem is installed.

It is also important that the centerline of the steering stem line up with the center line of the front wheel.  This is a "sight it by eye" exercise and it just might take a couple of attempts to get it just right.  I might add that the longer the stem reach, the easier it is to align properly.  I should also add that the alignment might look good in the work stand but not so good on the test ride.  Take the appropriate tools along with you on the test ride to correct any misalignment.

The final thing to consider when mounting the handlebars is the slope of the bars themselves.  Do you want the bars to be level, tip up slightly or drop down.  There are advantages to each position and only you can decide which works best for you.  For my riding tastes, I keep the drops more or less parallel to the ground when I start out.  I can always adjust up or down slightly once I start riding the bike.

With the bars mounted to the bicycle, it is time to consider the rest of the controls.  The brake levers might be the only other controls installed but their position is critical to riding comfort.

Before even thinking about wrapping your bars with that sometimes expensive handlebar tape, ask yourself a simple question.  "Are the brake levers in the best position for me?"  Since you are the only one who knows the "best position", it will always be up to you to put them where they belong for you.  How far onto the drops bars should the levers be situated?  Should they be parallel to the centerline of the bicycle?  Tipped in?  Tipped out?  I have never run across a road bicycle with the levers tipped out.  I have, however, worked on several bicycles with one lever tipped in and the other not. It all comes down to what works best and feels best for each individual rider.  My preference is slightly tipped in.  You will have to try different positions to determine which is best for you.  That said, you cannot experiment easily with brake lever positions once the handlebars are wrapped with tape.

Start with the levers parallel to the centerline of the bike.  I use an ordinary ruler, clamped to underside of the drop.  I try to set the ruler up in the middle of and parallel with the drop.  I then rotate the slightly loose brake lever to line up with the middle of the ruler.  This is a good way to get the levers sort of parallel to the centerline of the bicycle, which is a good place to start when setting up your lever position.

Next, lever height needs to be determined.  Some effort must be made to set the levers, so that both are at the same height.  Using the same ruler set-up, the lever blade tips, fully extended, are set about 1/4" above the height of the ruler.  The 1/4" is a good start for me.  You might start at a different point, say level with the ruler, and go from there.

The tips of the brake levers should be pretty close to the bottom line of the drops at this point in the procedure, with the levers more or less parallel to each other and the centerline of the bicycle.    With the levers in this initial position, sit on the bicycle and see how they feel.  Can you reach the brakes easily when in top or bottom hand positions?  Does the grip feel better if you tip one, or both of the levers in slightly.  Once you have determined your initial "sweet spot", take a pencil and mark around the clamp, in several places.  These marks will offer an starting reference point and give you a mark to come back to, if you feel the need.

If the levers to be mounted are of aero design, then it will be necessary to securely and evenly position the brake cables for test riding purposes before applying bar tape.  I use short pieces of electrician's tape, placed strategically and symmetrically, to secure the cables before taping the bars.  As I position the aero brake cables, I constantly look back and forth at each cable run to ensure that I am achieving a reasonable degree of symmetry.

Now with the levers in their starting position it is time to take the bicycle out for a test ride.  Spend a bit of time trying the initial position out.  If you feel the need, move the levers to different positions until they feel just right.  The same applies to handlebar tip.  When satisfied that the levers are exactly where they are best for you, it is time to wrap the handlebars with handlebar tape.