Friday, July 10, 2009

Product Reviews: Handlebar Tape Mini Reviews.

I have used a few different bar tapes and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. While I believe in trial and error, I also believe that hearing what I have to say could allow you to avoid getting something that you will definitely not like.

Cinelli Cork Ribbon

For many years this was the benchmark by which other tapes were rated against. I have had lots of experience with this tape. In fact, due to an ordering glitch, I currently have this tape on my road bike.
The tape is easy enough to apply. It stretchs and conforms well enough. On problem in application is that the adhesive strip in the center of the tape can seperate from the tape when you stretch it out. While this is disconcerting and annoying, most of the adhesive remains in place and does its job. Once applied the tape remains in place.
The tape offers good vibration dampening and decent grip when dry.
The problems start when it gets wet. The tape becomes slippery when wet. Gloved, barhanded, it doesn't matter, it is slick. Think sweaty summer crits, intense trainer session, passing showers or driving rain: in any scenario, your grip will suck. In fact, if you are riding without gloves and get caught out in the rain, you should pull over and wait for the dampness to pass lest your hands slip when you hit a bump and you knock your teeffs out.
Another issue is the bits of cork in the tape. Even out of the box, the "white" tape is not Kyle Smith, gleaming white. For many this is not an issue. It puts me off. Kyle probably would ride tapeless...That said, the tape cleans up well enough, so you can bring it back to its original "whiteness" with a quick scrub.
The tape does not appear to collect bacteria. Sweat seems to stay on the surfuce instead of burrowing in and causing stink.

Stella Azzura Techno Spungna

For years this was my goto tape. It has great vibration dampening, it is gleaming white and it has great grip when dry, gloved and bare handed. In the rain or with a sweat I would rate the barehanded grip as just over the acceptable line. With gloves in the damp/wet grip it acceptable to good.
When wrapping bars, I have found that this tape will tear if you pull too hard on it. But you'd have to pull real hard to rip it.
Amongst its disadvantages are its releative obscurity; few local shops stock it and those that due are often running low.
Also, it does not clean up well. Once you sleaze it, it will never be the same. I have experimented with various cleaning methods and products and the best that I could do was get a light grey to off white after many minutes of scubbing with strong cleaners.
As with Cinelli tape, this does not collect stinky bacteria.

Fizik Microtex

I have given this full review already.
It has great grip in all conditions with moderate vibration dampening. It is difficult to apply, but once you get it on it looks great. You can clean it easily.
The only real problem is the stink. It has a serious BO problem if you use it on the trainer. The micro perforations allow sweat in. And most of us don't hose down and scrub the bike after an indoor training session, so the sweat festers inside. Enough said.
Insane though it is, the tape will look PRO but stink like a piss bum. After the stink sets in, you can't scrub it out, believe me, I tried everything, bleach, degreaser, worse.

SRAM Superlight

This tape has many of the positive attributes of the Microtex, often surpassing it, but it doesn't appear to collect stink.
It has great grip in all conditions and better vibration dampening than Fizik, though it does not approach the cushiness of Stella Azurra or Cinelli Cork tape.
I actually find the grip on this tape to be best in class. It has a confidence inspiring suede texture. I have never slipped on this tape.
I got grey bartape, put it on my cross bike. I have not noticed any change in color, so I can not comment on whether the tape cleans up or not. But I imagine that the lighter colored tapes may be difficult to clean because of the grippy texture. Grippy texture grips dirt too.
My biggest complaint was how stiff the tape was when trying to wrap the bars. It does not conform easily. It has a tendency to crease and fold unattractively instead of molding around obstactles such as brake hoods. If you are an expert handbar wrapper, you will work it out. If you are starting out, practice on something more pliable first. I found it frustrating, but after a couple of attempts I achieved an acceptable wrap.

Deda Elementi

I have this on my track bike. I only use this with gloves in dry conditions. I have never slipped, so the grip is perfect for normal track racing. It has decent vibration dampening (not really necesary on the track), cleans up well enough.
Since this tape has seen limited usage, I can't discuss whether it will perform well in adverse weather.

You should also see Justin Spinelli's tutorial on wrapping handlebars so that no matter which bartape you choose, it will be properly applied.