The joys of bar tape, part 2: Fizik vs LizardSkins

The last time I demonstrated a handlebar wrapping job, I used LizardSkins’ famous DSP bar tape in the 2.5 mm thickness. I had no prior experience with using it, but I took a chance on it as the tape with the tacky material was well reviewed.

Unfortunately, not all reviews hold up to real-life scrutiny.

I always found it slightly odd that LizardSkins explicitly stated not to pull their bar tape. From a wrapping perspective, this is very counter-intuitive: The most significant thing holding most bar tape in place fast to the handlebars is the tension you apply to it while wrapping. Even with the adhesive gone, the tension is usually enough to avoid the tape unraveling from handlebar.

Well, as it turns out, LizardSkins’ tape really doesn’t like tension.

That span of bare handlebar was the result of the tape walking up and down from where it was supposed to have been wrapped…even with fresh adhesive.

And while I wholly expected white bar tape to get dirty just by my looking at it the wrong angle (yes, it’s that inevitable), I wasn’t prepared to see the tacky, textured DSP tape material flaking and peeling off its base in this rather ridiculous fashion. Not this quickly, either.

Adding insult to injury are the bar end plugs that absolutely refuse to stay seated.

What gives?

Apparently LizardSkins’ DSP handlebar tape isn’t really ideal for hot, humid countries like the Philippines. The stuff just delaminates and falls apart. Initially I thought this was just down to having an old roll. However, my friend Mario had cautioned me about it, and sure enough, all the expected negatives happened.

Oh well. Back to an old favorite, then.

Fizik’s 3 mm “Performance” handlebar tape is what my bars were wrapped with when I rode last year’s Subic-Masinloc-Subic 200 km randonnee. It’s made of a leathery microfiber material, and they offer it in a number of finishes and levels of tackiness.

The key to this tape is the layer of dense foam underneath, which seems to always be blue regardless of what color your actual bar tape is. This will add to the girth of your handlebar, making it a little beefier and more substantial to hold.

Even Fizik’s bar end plugs are very good. I have a few of them left over, and I sometimes use them with other brands of bar tape because they just do a great job of keeping their position. You may have to resort to a few thwacks of a rubber mallet to get them to swallow the Fizik 3 mm tape though.

Finally, it doesn’t require rocket science to wrap this around your handlebars. The tape works best with a fair bit of tension along its length, which means it’s not rocket science to wrap. Even if you do get it wrong, undoing and correcting any odd pockets is straightforward.

If it isn’t obvious by now: I highly recommend this particular bar tape. It’s a bit pricey, but unless you rip through the tape or scuff it very badly, it will last you many months of daily riding. By far, a better-value deal than LizardSkins anything, in my honest opinion.

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Dealing with static road hazards

Contrary to initial belief, a slick bicycle tire will handle most of the things you encounter while riding on the road – whether it is wet or dry. There are a few static hazards, however, that you will need to account for when riding in an urban environment, as they all have the potential to unsettle you from steady forward progress.

Even with slick tires, wet roads by themselves are generally not a problem on a bike.

ROAD FURNITURE

“Road furniture” consists of the many standard features of a modern road, such as manhole covers, painted markings, humps, speed bumps, and drain grates. In case of road works, this can also include safety cones.

A steel grate covering a drain located in the middle of a driveway.

The safest way of navigating drain grates and tram or train rails is to cross them with your front tire as perpendicular as possible. This avoids the chance of your wheels literally falling into them, especially if you run narrow rubber such as a 20 mm tire, as it can be impossible to get out once in. Running a wider tire helps here, such as a 25 mm or 28 mm slick.

Painted markings and manhole covers, on the other hand, are dangerously slippery when wet, and so are best avoided. In the Philippine context, for some strange reason, the public works utilities love using large steel plates to cover up sections of broken road (I’d argue they barely qualify as “road furniture”). Once these get wet, these act as patches of virtual black ice.

Sometimes you just can’t ride around these things, so the best thing to do is just hit them as straight as possible, and pass over them without braking or turning.

ROAD ACNE

Meanwhile, I use “road acne” to refer to decidedly non-standard road features, such as ruts, debris, cracks, fallen leaves, loose dust, gravel, and potholes. Of these, potholes and debris are the nastiest; you want to either ride around them, or bunny-hop over them if you got the skills.

Even with slick tires, you can usually ride through patches of dust or gravel, as long as you keep upright and avoid braking and leaning – a straight-line approach is best.

If the dust and gravel are in the middle of a turn, you can maintain tire grip by slowing down and keeping upright as you approach it. This minimizes the lean-in angle of the bike as it negotiates the turn, keeping the weight of the bike as vertical as possible through the tires’ contact patches.

You tend to risk tire slippage if you lean too hard on loose-surface corners while riding on a slick tire, since the tire’s tread shoulders don’t get enough purchase or resistance against the riding surface.

Longitudinal or lengthwise cracks along the road can be deep enough to act as long narrow ruts. Dealing with them is the same as negotiating train tracks or drain grates: Approach them with your front tire as perpendicular as possible.

They look innocent, but fallen leaves are surprisingly dangerous

Fallen leaves may be a surprise as they are innocuous enough in the dry. Most leaves contain a waxy coating that plants need to help retain the moisture they already have, and repel excess water from outside. What this means for us cyclists is that on damp and wet streets, riding on fallen leaves is particularly dangerous – they are easily as slick as anything made of wet metal. As with manhole covers and steel plates, if they can’t be avoided, ride straight through them without braking or sudden handlebar movement.

How to inspect a bicycle without tools or expertise

Calvin Jones, head honcho of education for Park Tool Company in Utah, teaches us just how to inspect the ride-worthiness of a bike without any tools. Even if you don’t have any knowledge of actually fixing anything on a bike, he shows what to look for so that you can at least help your local bike shop mechanic with diagnosis and repair.

I’ve been following Park Tool’s YouTube channel for a couple years now, especially their Tech Tuesdays series. They’re all worth a quick viewing.