A bar tape orange

The pickings have been slim for rides lately, since I have a bunch of other things to take care of, and the rainy weather isn’t helping things. Consequently I haven’t had much time to dedicate to writing. Still, I mount Hyro on the turbo trainer and keep logging my miles that way…and I still make enough sweat to overwhelm my current cheap cork bar tape.

When I dropped by La Course Velo to return my demo pair of Northwaves, I picked up some bar tape they had in stock. One of their options is a brand new player to me called Ciclovation, based in Taichung City, Taiwan, in close proximity to many a bicycle manufacturing concern. Looking to make things look a smidge more interesting but without veering too far from Hyro’s color scheme, I went with orange.

As per the box, this is their “Advanced Bar Tape with Leather Touch,” and it retails for about PhP1400. Among synthetic bar tapes, it’s more expensive than Fizik and Fabric, but not quite as pricey as Supacaz.

Inside the box is your standard two rolls of bar tape, two bar end plugs, and two strips of finishing tape, laid out neatly in a separate cardboard tray. Notably, no extra strip is supplied for covering the brake lever clamp band, which makes Ciclovation’s bar tape decidedly for figure-of-eight wrap enthusiasts.

The tape itself is a nice hybrid of bar tapes from Selle Italia, Fabric, and Fizik. There is a pronounced taper toward either side of the bar tape, which means that, despite the rather thick 3 mm polyurethane material, this bar tape has minimal bunching or rippling on the overlaps. The backing uses a tacky silicone instead of the adhesive double-sided tape on most cheaper tape, rendering this bar tape reusable. Finally, the finish of the material is perforated and very pleasant to the touch.

Like the Fabric Knurl bar tape I had before, Ciclovation uses reusable plastic bar-end plugs, with a 3 mm hex bolt driving an expanding wedge. These are a little fussier to use, though. When I tried to wedge them into the ends of my drop handlebars, they kept on yanking the initial lap of bar tape with such purchase that it unraveled and ruined my wrapping job. I ended up having to repeat the wrap a couple times per side. Best to install the bar-end plugs and deal with their potential drama early on, before you wrap more than three laps worth of bar tape.

The orange doesn’t look too out of place next to Hyro’s black, red, and white.

When you do get to the end, I suggest at least trying out the supplied finishing tape. Usually I throw this in the garbage because vinyl electrical tape just does a better job. However, Ciclovation’s finishing tape is made of this satiny, rubbery material that has some stretch, and retains good adhesion even if you’ve taken it on and off a few times. Perfect for those of us with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, then, such as making sure the logos match a certain way, or that the finishing tape ends at the bottom of the bar where it won’t be disturbed by bored fingers.

I have yet to test this bar tape out on the road, but from prior experience with Fabric and Fizik I suspect this will act in a similarly satisfying manner. Overly aggressive bar end plugs aside, I think this is legitimately good stuff.

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When a Strava challenge pays off

Back in May, the Giro d’Italia was taking place, and popular cycling fitness app Strava happened to partner with cycling apparel brand Le Col with a challenge. If you successfully log 110 km of riding within twenty days in May 2019, you become eligible for a £50 (US$65) discount on Le Col’s wares.

I’ve been on Strava for six years now, but I’ve never had a challenge like this. I decided to sign up. Nothing to lose, right?

Long story short: I went out and finished it, clocking the 110 kilometers it asked for. I was half-expecting this to be a gag, but it was real – Le Col indeed offered a £50 discount on their very premium wares.

Mildly curious, I decided to order a jersey from them. I chose their Pro Hex Jersey in navy blue. This “summer” jersey normally retails for £105 (PhP6,700), but completing the challenge let me get it for £55 (PhP3,500). Even at the sale price, this is still a pretty penny for most people, so I might as well show you through what you’re getting.

Notably, this jersey is quite light and on the thinner side of the spectrum. Most of my locally sourced jerseys are of a relatively standard thickness; this feels like 2/3 or 5/8 of that. This is appropriate given Le Col’s claim that this is a “summer” jersey, meant for warmer days. It does mean that putting this jersey on takes a wee bit more care, as the material feels literally like that of a superhero costume and has to be coaxed into place a little to fit me.

The rear hem has a full-width silicone gripper, as normal these days with jerseys. However, the sleeves here are pretty interesting. They are relatively thin, but still gently elasticated and grippy on my puny cyclist arms, and they have the eponymous hex patterning on them.

Going through the whole thing, it’s the small touches that set Le Col’s jersey apart from almost everything else I own. The full-length “dull gold” zipper has this little garage of material on the inside that ensures the zipper pull doesn’t rub or chafe on your neck. That’s really thoughtful.

The wonders continue at the back. Like most jerseys, this has three pockets, and they’re of a good size and position (jerseys with back pockets set too high are a personal pet peeve). Unlike most jerseys, this has a overlaid fourth pocket that’s both zippered and water-resistant. It’s not big enough to store my 5.2-inch-screened smartphone, unfortunately; had it been able to, it would have also been able to let wired earphones through via a little port on the inside. Instead, I find this pocket more useful for storing my wallet, as credit cards and rainwater tend not to play nice with each other.

On the center pocket sits a big fat reflective stripe, set in a contrasting color to the navy blue of the rest of the jersey. Again, very thoughtful. Finally, there’s the embroidered Le Col logo just below the neck line.

So how is it out on the ride? The little refinements all over let me forget I was wearing it, while hewing to my form and not restricting my movements at the same time.

The dark navy blue material and its relative lack of thickness mean that sweat stains show themselves quite readily. I usually wear a Uniqlo AIRism shirt as base layer, rather thin on its own, and I still had some splotches of sweat on my person, although they go away on their own quickly enough. That also means, however, that sweat is better able to do its evaporative cooling role for your body…and this is definitely the coolest feeling jersey in my closet.

If you need even more ventilation on especially hot days in the mountains, Le Col will gladly sell you a Pro Air jersey that borders on see-through. I’m going to err on the side of caution, avoid public scandal, and let you keep your sanity by sparing you that review.

It’s uncanny how well a British outfit like Le Col judged this jersey for the Philippines’ decidedly tropical riding conditions and climate. Yeah, it’s an expensive bit of kit, even with the £50 discount that Strava brings…but it’s a comfortable and well-thought-out bit of kit. If you can think of it as a treat or bonus, especially after completing the relevant challenge on Strava, I’d say it’s a good incentive…if only to experience how much better road cycling clothing can get.

Giro Syntax MIPS helmet: In-depth look and review

After an early look at the Giro Syntax MIPS helmet, today I’m going to go more in-depth and give my final thoughts on it. As mentioned before, this thing benefits from the MIPS safety technology becoming increasingly more refined in its implementation over the four years since the earliest MIPS helmets were released.

I really dig this “midnight blue” colorway. Unfortunately there wasn’t any in stock.

FEATURES

  • Ventilation via 25 vents and internal channeling
  • Roc Loc 5 Air MIPS retention mechanism
  • In-mold construction
  • Weight: 290 g for a size Medium (55-59 cm head circumference)

IMPRESSIONS

A notable complaint I had with the Lazer Blade MIPS helmet, one such early implementation of the technology, was its relatively poor ventilation. It didn’t suffer from lack of venting, but helmet makers at the time just didn’t figure out how to most efficiently integrate this new MIPS slip liner. In 2015, helmets were essentially just retrofitting MIPS into old designs. On the Blade MIPS, while the liner didn’t block any external vents per se, it had covered up the otherwise well-designed air channeling cut into the inside of its EPS foam, negating much of that benefit and leading to many a sweaty head.

Giro had committed to making all its helmets MIPS-equipped as of 2016. Consequently, it had to thoroughly rethink how its helmets were designed and made, so that MIPS has minimal penalties to comfort. On the Syntax, they did this by smartly making the Roc Loc 5 Air retention mechanism act as the MIPS slip liner as well. Compared to the slip liner on the Blade, the Syntax has far less material and surface area, and is therefore better designed for airflow. MIPS is integral to this helmet, not tacked on after the fact.

This pays off while riding. I barely felt any heat buildup or sweat saturation on the Syntax’s pads after an hour’s ride in the late afternoon. While 290 g doesn’t make for a featherweight helmet, what weight it has is well distributed. This lid didn’t feel burdensome or noticeable at all; I just carried on with the business of riding.

While we’re on the underside of the helmet, Giro exploits a trick many premium helmets have: the polycarbonate shell coats almost all of the bottom edge of the Syntax. Neat. Cheaper helmets leave this in bare EPS foam.

The Roc Loc 5 Air MIPS retention system uses a ratcheting dial to tighten or loosen the internal cradle of the helmet…which is par for the course these days. It can also be adjusted up or down in three positions. I find it works as you’d expect, and I like that it offers a touch more rear coverage than many helmets intended for road cycling use.

The rest of the Syntax is fairly inoffensive. It fits my head well. Mine was the “Asian fit” version; any differences that it has compared to the “normal” version, I can’t say for sure unless I do a like-for-like comparison and break out the tape measure. Strap adjustments are easy and straightforward, and their material is nice, although nothing to write home about. My sweaty fingers did slip on the buckle while trying to undo it, though.

Photo taken with flash.

One of the things I’m not too hot about is the relative lack of reflective trinkets on the Syntax. Apart from a couple loops on the occipital cradle of the Roc Loc 5 Air MIPS system, I haven’t spotted any. Whatever reflective is there is also partially obscured, which is a shame.

Apparently, this helmet is approved by the Japan Cycling Federation.

CONCLUSIONS AND VERDICT

Giro has done well here, injecting many cool features found in more expensive brain buckets for a fraction of what those cost. It’s hard not to recommend the Syntax given what you’re getting. Yet, as great as the Syntax is…the PhP6,200 retail price is still a bit hard to swallow.

Then again, the price range on many cycling helmets has also started rising to unheard-of levels overall, so there’s that price of progress, perhaps. If you look at the Syntax as a premium helmet that just happens to be an attainable option, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.