Extra comfort: How to double-wrap handlebar tape

Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of Fizik’s 3 mm bar tape. I get a lot of use out of the stuff; it’s not unusual to see a roll last eight months up to a year on Hyro’s handlebars.

When the time came to replace it, I didn’t realize until after wrapping the bars that I may have replaced it with the 2 mm variety.

Oops.

I don’t remember if this was a misprint on the box, or if the bike shop handed me the wrong thickness. Regardless, the bars felt pretty thin and harsh while riding, particularly while riding in the drops.

This felt like a good time to experiment with something I’ve wanted to try for a long time: double-wrapping my handlebars. This is a very common tactic used by pro cyclists when they race the Spring Classics events such as the Ronde van Vlandeeren and Paris-Roubaix. All of these races are infamous for the many sectors of Belgian cobblestones, called “pavé,” that the cyclists have to ride through…and you can imagine how uncomfortable that can be on a road bike.

Brothers Peter and Juraj Sagan on a reconnaissance ride over pavé for the 2017 Paris-Roubaix race. Photo courtesy VeloNews.

What works for Belgian cobbles could probably work for Manila’s streets, which aren’t much smoother anyway.

So how would you go about double-wrapping your bars?

First, remove the bar plug. Take a blade and score along the bar tape, and eventually it will have to be cut off the bar. About 5 cm of bare handlebar will need to be exposed.

This has to be done so that the second layer of bar tape can be anchored here with the bar plug; if not, it will be way too thick.

Do the same with the other end of the bar tape, at the stem area. I find that undoing the final turn of the wrap, cutting it short, and then retaping with electrical tape is enough.

Proceed to wrap the second layer of bar tape as normal. I used cork bar tape here, as this was an experiment on the cheap.

As the wrap job continues, it’s obvious that the second layer will go through more distance with each turn. To make sure I have enough tape to cover the entire handlebar, I decrease the overlap and keep the tape in tension. An advantage of using cork tape as the second layer is that it’s much stretchier than Fizik’s leather-like microtex material.

Great results, even with the figure-eight loop around the clamp band of the control levers.

Single wrap of Fizik 2 mm bar tape on the left; double-wrap on the right

Side by side, it’s easy to see just how chunky the handlebar gets when double-wrapped. Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t get in the way of braking or riding; it’s just really comfy. The added bulk does make itself felt if you ride in the drops, though. You may find that your fingers need to stretch a little more to get sufficient purchase on the brake levers, and the added reach may fatigue your hands.

It takes some more effort, but this might be a good way of getting a nice fat handlebar to grip on the cheap. You wouldn’t really need to remove or replace the underlying bar wrap unless you replaced the cable housings, so with smart choice in bar tape, and for riders with big enough hands, this might even be cost-effective too. Ultimately though, I’m going back to 3 mm tape.

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A tale of two mudguards: Longboards vs Bluemels

Hyro, my TCX, is perhaps most famous on social media as one of the bikes that introduced full-length fenders into the consciousness of the Filipino riding public. Many of the questions I get revolve around the SKS P45 Longboards he runs and where I got them.

SKS P45 Longboards mounted on Hyro.

As great as they are, and as fantastic as their coverage is, they are not perfect. I’ve written about how their sheer size works against them and their plastic-with-aluminum construction in a number of ways. In my experience, they are very susceptible to skewing and twisting along their length, the stays combating the torsion by only a certain amount. Additionally, the vibrations from riding on our not-so-smooth roads have contributed to their cracking crosswise, which is why I’ve had two sets of these so far, and now run rubber washers on the mount points as a mitigating measure.

One of my custom mods was to add rubber washers on the central mount points of each fender, to dampen road vibrations and mitigate cracking. It’s helped.

Note that the fenders SKS makes as standard equipment on some Dahon and Tern bikes have the same construction; however, the much smaller 20″ (406 mm) wheel diameter they are made for means they can keep their shape and integrity better. I’ve never had issues with Bino’s fenders, much less needed to replace them.

Unfortunately, my second set of Longboards developed cracks earlier than before, the damage held at bay by duct tape. I was mulling over the cost of another set plus shipping fees…when I chanced across Bike-ary Bicycle Lifestyle on Facebook and their pre-order announcement of some SKS fenders, referred to by the article number “10434” and pegged at PhP2,000 a set. Bike-ary is a small-batch importer of more obscure bike accessories and other “contraband,” gaining popularity due to the growing bikepacking and bicycle touring movement.

As it turns out, “10434” is the article number for SKS’ 53 mm Bluemels fender set in matte finish – a full 8 mm wider than the 45 mm Longboards I run. I immediately had concerns about fitment on Hyro.

Above, without stays, are the Bluemels. Below, with stays, are the Longboards patched-up with some duct tape.

Front fenders. Bluemel on the left, Longboard on the right.

Fitment of the 45 mm Longboard front fender under the fork. Note that it skews to one side – I was never able to fix that.

Fitment of the 53 mm Bluemel front fender under the fork.

Fortunately for Hyro, his fork and frame fit the Bluemels snugly and nicely, which actually break 60 mm when measured across the top.

Test fit. Impressive that they keep their static shape even without the stays.

Examination of the Bluemels themselves reveals a much beefier construction. I actually tried bending these crosswise, thinking it might be needed to fit them into the TCX frame and fork. They feel solid and resistant to twisting in a way the Longboards could only dream of. The packaging seems to imply that this time around, SKS has used more aluminum – and slightly more weight.

This being my third SKS fender set on the same bike, I already knew the vagaries of installation and what to expect from the hardware…but met some pleasant surprises.

I hooked up the rear fender first. SKS replaced the metal sliding bridge with one made out of more snug-fitting plastic, very similar to Planet Bike’s design. The sliding bridge also has two small loops on the top that can be used to run zip-ties to, allowing bikes with no seat stay bridge to mount the rear fender directly to their seat stays. Up at the chain stay junction, I used zip ties to fasten the front edge of the rear fender as before.

SKS Secu-Clip for front fender.

SKS ASR-Plug for front fender.

Up front, SKS changed the previous Secu-Clip design with an ASR-Plug. Both devices are safety mechanisms, designed to release the front fender to prevent any large debris from getting stuck, locking up the front wheel and causing an accident. The Secu-Clip was a large plastic tab on the fork that served as a “clip” that the front fender stays plugged into. The ASR-Plug reverses this concept: what mounts onto the fork is the plug, and the stays themselves have the socket. The whole thing slims down in the process.

Bending of the stays and a 3 mm spacer needed to clear the TRP Spyre front disc brake caliper. If your bike has BB5s or BB7s, you will need to make more room.

The end caps are a new design, turning the nuts on the eye bolts into captive nuts. A bit more work on initial install, but better for security.

Install complete. The matte finish looks brilliant and there’s no visible gap between fenders and tires.

Full-length fenders can be tricky to deal with, but I was impressed with how smoothly the install went with the Bluemels. They have the same marvelously large rubber mudflaps the Longboards came with. One difference is the shorter forward projection and 20 cm shorter overall length on the front fender, perhaps indicating slightly less protection from a mouthful of dirty, muddy street water…but that’s still better than nothing.

Arguably, the best thing about this particular fender set is that it’s available locally without having to resort to the expense of private importing or a cargo forwarder. The Bluemels also come in other widths, all the way down to 25 mm, so if these 53 mm units are too much for your frame, you’ve still got options, although you may have to bring them in yourself.

Review: Samsonite Paradiver Light L+ laptop backpack

Riding to work, I have used my Vincita B050WP-A panniers for about four years now. Unfortunately, in that span of time, they’ve sprung leaks. The RF welding connecting the pieces of material together has failed on a number of areas, greatly increasing the risk of water ingress. While these panniers aren’t 100% watertight, and they will let in some water after a while, the introduction of holes pretty much negates their supposed waterproof-ness.

While on vacation in Paris recently, I was mulling my options. I could have these repaired by stitching or repeat RF welding, or replace them with Ortlieb’s larger, world-famous panniers (which are finally available locally, but are sadly out of my budget). Then I stumbled across a surprise of a shop and saw this, the only thing I really shopped for while there.

Yes, it’s a backpack. While loaded riding with a rack and panniers has its benefits, I’ve started to rethink what exactly I have to bring on the ride to the office, and a backpack is hard to beat for sheer get-up-and-go, especially with light loads. Panniers are awkward to handle when off the bike, and dismounting/remounting the rear rack each weekend does get old after a while.

Best of all, it made me do a double-take and ask…“It’s a Samsonite?” While renowned for attache cases and hard-shell luggage, I had one of their early backpacks; it was devoid of all style or appeal, basically a big squarish thing you strapped on your back, looking like 1/3 of a Deliveroo box. Yet more than ten years later, here is a Samsonite backpack that I actually like.

Packed as full as possible.

FEATURES

  • 24 L rated capacity
  • Weight: 800 g
  • Material: Polyurethane-coated 600 x 600 denier polyester, weather-resistant
  • Padded laptop compartment, fits a 15.6″ laptop maximum
  • Integrated tablet pocket, fits a 10.1″ tablet maximum
  • Ergonomic straps and adjustable sternum strap
  • Integrated ID tag
  • Deployable mesh bottle holder, stores in side pocket

IMPRESSIONS

Confession time: I’m a sucker for the yellow-and-black colorway. The moment I saw this hanging on the store shelf in Paris, I was instantly reminded of a similar backpack I had in college…one that I also remember got dirty way too easily.

Fortunately, the Paradiver stands up better to scuffs, easily dispatched with soap and some wiping. Its external shell is similar to the tarpaulin of my Vincita panniers, just softer and a bit more “premium” feeling. A short but torrential rain shower proved it has much better water resistance than my longtime mainstay, the venerable Deuter Giga. I’m under no illusions that it will outperform my panniers, though. As beefed-up and gasket-equipped as they may seem here, zippers are often the weak link, and they are the first points of water ingress.

The main zippers have this full-length gasket material which probably aids water resistance, if only by a little. The top zipper’s pulls have a loop for a small pad lock.

Packed as full as possible. The tapering design does mean the Paradiver Light L+ doesn’t lend itself well to overstuffing.

Compared to the boxy Giga, this largest “L-Plus” iteration of the Paradiver Light gives up 4 L of outright capacity, and the tapering shape cuts into the interior volume somewhat. Yet, despite doing away with a full hip strap, the Paradiver Light feels better to walk and ride with when laden, especially when the straps are bound together by the sternum strap. The load feels much closer to your center of gravity, improving the load distribution over shoulders and chest.

A 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad T430 laptop in the main compartment. There’s enough slack to fit laptops up to 15.6″. Note the tablet pocket and zipped mesh inner pocket in front.

Save for the corners sometimes getting in the way of the main zipper, the Paradiver Light swallows my 15.6″ laptop fine. A pocket in front of it handles tablet duty, and both are cinched down by an elastic band with Velcro at the end. The padding on the wearer’s back also serves as protection for the laptop. I like that it doesn’t scream “hello world I’m a laptop bag!” when it’s perfectly capable of carrying one.

Front compartment. Two pen loops, a loose pocket, and another pocket with a Velcro flap – big enough to squeeze in three “SwissChamp” Swiss Army knives.

The front pocket opens from one side, big enough for little knick-knacks like earphones, a comb, or even a DIY rain cover.

Clever touches litter this rucksack. The integrated ID tag hides in a rubbery pocket taking price of place front and center, secured by an elastic band that automatically pulls it in when you’re done reading it. Samsonite includes three label stickers for the ID tag, and you’ll want to use a ball-point pen here.

It may not have a full hip belt, but the bracing on the hips helps contain unwanted load shifting, and this works really well with all the straps. The hip braces are actually where the main straps are anchored into at the bottom.

There’s even a hidden zipped “safety” pocket cut into the padding around the top of the main straps – and it’s surprisingly deep. My whole karate-chop hand fits inside.

Good in theory, but execution’s not too great. You’ll feel that bottle smack your right elbow as you walk.

There are a few flaws. As nifty as it is, the mesh bottle holder has the same kind of utility as a German sports car’s cupholders: minimal. Loading with a bottle has the whole thing flopping about more than a properly sized and dedicated side pocket. A key hanger is advertised, but I can’t find it anywhere, and it could do with at least one reflective patch.

More of a cycling-specific flaw is that the top grab handle is set a little too far into the main strap area. This seems like a style thing. While a non-issue for most other uses, if you wear the Paradiver while bent over on a road bike, the textured grab handle rubs on your nape, especially when you turn your head. It’s not terrible, and I got used to it after a few weeks, but it shows that this isn’t really designed for riding. As the handle is finished in a somewhat coarse grippy material, nape abrasion may become an issue on a really long ride; it may be remedied by wrapping the handle in something smoother.

Finally, backpacks being backpacks, wearing this is inevitably going to cause some back sweat. Apart from making the back panel padding somewhat “breathable” and its covering out of mesh, there are no concessions to improving airflow in this area.

VERDICT

Overall, Samsonite’s got a good thing going with the Paradiver. At EUR98 (PhP5950), it’s on the pricey side, yet it allows a level of comfort and style in load-lugging that might just make it worth your added cash. Good if you can get it for cheap, especially if you ride a more upright bike.