Loud and proud: Supacaz Super Sticky Kush bar tape

After giving LizardSkins’ bar tape a second chance for a few months, I decided to peel it off Hyro’s bars. While I liked it enough, there are just some inherent weaknesses to the brand’s offering, chief of which is the material’s dislike of tension. This detracts from its ability to provide the good handlebar coverage I like out of my bar tape; by itself, it was exposing areas of bare handlebar that should have been wrapped properly. It was time to sample the competitor bar tape it shipped with: a roll made by Supacaz.

Born from the son of Specialized founder Mike Sinyard, Supacaz arrived on the scene with a splash as it promoted itself as an unabashedly premium option for those who wanted their bikes to be noticed. Indeed, many of the company’s offerings sport its stark six-pointed-star print, loud colors, and even some two-color options where your tops and drops are wrapped in different pigments. To match the LizardSkins DSP v2 roll I got, I went with neon orange. Considering the other online-only options it has on its website, this is actually not very showy in comparison.

The best way I can describe this bar tape is a sort of fusion between that of LizardSkins and Taiwanese fledgling Ciclovation. Indeed, the Supacaz roll itself is made in Taiwan as well. It sports the same tacky, grippy finish of the DSP v2 bar tape, but bonded to the thick, solid, fantastic foundation of Ciclovation’s offerings, which means it really likes some tension along its length while being applied. There is no second-guessing here like with the LizardSkins tape – you just pull it taut as you wind the tape around your drops. It even has a lot less of that tape’s plasticky crinkling while the tape gets folded under itself, which also means the Supacaz tape tolerates re-wrapping very well.

I am a big fan of the industry trend towards screw-in bar end plugs, but Supacaz might have the best ones yet. The external cap is keyed such that it resists turning while you push the plug in or screw in the inner bolt with a 3 mm hex key. The keying isn’t such a big deal because the Supacaz six-pointed star is tolerant of positioning, but as a design for use with bar end plug caps with a definite “this way up” print on them, this is a simple but great feature.

The finishing tape feels like a higher-end version of the same tacky rubber material used by Ciclovation: great to look at, great to apply, and more resistant to stretching.

I can see why this brand has its devotees despite its premium market positioning. For all its brash marketing, fundamentally it’s bar tape just done very well. The only real downside is Supacaz’s use of a narrow strip of double-sided tape for adhesion, but because the material itself is so tolerant of tension, this isn’t such a big deal. If you have the cash and want to treat your bike and your hands to something nice to hold, this stuff is a pretty good way to inject some luxury into your riding.

Bar tape revisit: LizardSkins DSP v2

If you’ve been a cyclist for a while, chances are you’ve heard of LizardSkins and their handlebar grips and bar tape. Before other players like Supacaz and Fizik came onto the scene, LizardSkins was the company most prominent for introducing bar tape that was tackier and thicker than the cork-based stuff that Cinelli popularized.

Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try it on Hyro five years ago. It didn’t go so well.

For some reason, the white roll of DSP (DuraSoft Polymer) 2.5 mm bar tape I got back then disintegrated shortly after I had wrapped it around my handlebars. It came apart in layers, the textured top layer tending to say “goodbye” after just a month. To add insult to injury, the supplied bar end plugs simply refused to stay put, and kept ejecting themselves out of place. Since then, LizardSkins has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I thought it was simply down to the product not being compatible with tropical conditions. I reverted to my old reliable – Fizik’s leathery but thick 3 mm bar tape.

Five years later, I decided to give LizardSkins another chance.

LizardSkins call this stuff their “DSP v2” bar tape. The compact box certainly looks different from the large figure-eight plastic blister pack of the original.

As before, the company explicitly states not to stretch these bar tapes while installing. As I found out, this is actually rather misleading. Like most bar tape, the DSP v2 bar tape needs a fair bit of tension put into it for best results, as it helps keep it wrapped around the handlebar without unraveling. LizardSkins missed a trick here by not updating the inside of the bar tape with a silicone adhesive, too. All you get is a strip of double-sided tape half the width of my finger.

I usually forego the supplied clamp cover strips and wrap bar tape around my STI levers in the figure-eight style instead. This was easy to do with the DSP v2 tape. One drawback of the figure-eight wrapping style is the potential for bulk around the STI lever clamp band area, but the 2.5 mm thickness is a good middle ground for ease of wrapping and comfort.

The screwed-in bar end plugs are a welcome improvement over the old push-fit jobs. These have started to become a staple among many bar tape manufacturers, and for good reason. They just work.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the DSP v2 bar tape, and I can say my experience has been as good as the original DSP bar tape was terrible. I ride with gloves, even when training indoors, so the tackiness of the tape has mainly been felt via my fingertips, and it’s certainly grippier than the old Fizik 3 mm bar tape I liked. It passed muster on my outdoor rides, too. Whether grinding away in the pain cave, or out and about under the hot summer sun, the v2 bar tape has held up very well without shedding away its layers.

This has led me to wonder about that roll of DSP bar tape from 2016. Could it be that I had simply bought some very old stock of the stuff back then? I’ll never know for sure, but I guess it doesn’t matter as the v2 tape rectifies all its wrongs.

And yes, LizardSkins’ finishing strips are still a minor work of genius. On most other bar tape, they are merely glorified electrical tape. Here, they act as a usable extension of the bar tape and increase its effective area, as it’s made of the same cover material.

Perhaps the only stumbling block is its value offering relative to its competition. I’m not aware of local shops that sell LizardSkins bar tape currently (at least not this DSP v2 variant), and this tangerine orange roll set me back about US$35 (PhP1,700) on Amazon. At that price point, its most obvious competition is Supacaz, which is a much newer player that has carved out a premium niche for itself and retails for roughly the same price. I haven’t tried Supacaz bar tape myself, but I’ve heard nothing but great things. Other competitors are my budget pick Fabric; Fizik, which has since blown its bar tape lineup into frankly ridiculous levels of variety; and the Taiwan-based outfit Ciclovation, whose popular pointillism-color-fade bar tape offers similarly cushy feel for slightly less money.

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.