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.

Spinal Tap cockpit adjustment: When going to 11 means getting shorter

Over the previous year, I’ve been riding my road/cross bike Hyro after successfully performing the “Spinal Tap” conversion. While most things have worked very well, the only real downside to his current form is the cockpit and its now longer reach, due to the Shimano ST-RS685 hydraulic STI lever bodies adding two centimeters of it.

I’ve had to move my saddle about as far forward as is practical to compensate for the added reach…which isn’t exactly ideal from a bike fit perspective.

With proper bike fit in mind, and my reluctance to swap out the 90 mm ShockStop stem, perhaps it was about time I studied my handlebar options. Prior to the 2×11 upgrade, I haven’t had reason to consider swapping mine out, but now, it might just be a viable way to fix my reach issues.

Hyro’s original equipment: Satori handlebars mounting Shimano 105 5700 STI levers.

For a bike sold in 2014, Hyro’s stock handlebars are rather off-trend. They are alloy drop bars made by Satori for Giant as an original equipment item. I don’t have any actual references from Giant or Satori, but by my own best measurements, they are 400 mm wide, have about 85 or 90 mm of reach, an “ergonomic” pistol-grip shape with two distinct bends, and around 140 mm worth of drop. They look anachronistic in an age where compact drop handlebars are the norm.

Measured as best as I could, Hyro’s stock drop handlebars have about 90 mm of reach, center to center.

Having heard the benefits of compact drop bars multiple times, since I needed to shorten Hyro’s reach, I figured I might as well try them out. I got the Specialized Comp short-reach aluminum handlebar in the same 400 mm width.

Photo credit: Specialized.
  • Width options: 360 mm, 380 mm, 400 mm
  • Constructed from premium butted 6061-T6 aluminum alloy
  • Reach: 65 mm
  • Drop: 125 mm
Hyro has seen more and more stuff Specialized used on him lately.
The critical dimensions. Interestingly, this particular handlebar model goes all the way down to a 360 mm width. Most other drop bars start at 400 mm.
I tightened mine to about 5 Nm. Very slightly over spec, but the bar had no problems.

Apart from the reduced drop and relatively short reach, there isn’t anything too special about these bars. If anything, they’re relatively cheap for a Specialized product at just US$30 (PhP1,500).

So how would Hyro’s cockpit change with the handlebar swap? I shot a few side-by-side comparison photos as best as I could before committing.

That reach difference is quite remarkable. Two centimeters may not seem like much, but it’s a pretty big deal, especially when you’re in the saddle for hours on end.

The light blue circles show where the ends of the drops are on each handlebar.

The other main difference is the shape and length of the drops. On Hyro’s stock Giant/Satori handlebar, the two ergonomic bends and pistol-grip shape are distributed along 140 mm worth of drop. The drops themselves are also rather short, terminating right underneath the main horizontal cross bar. By contrast, on the Specialized bar, the curve on the hooks is much more gradual and rounded, although not as totally circular as old-school deep drop bars, as the drop dimension is cut by 15 mm. In addition, the drops themselves extend about 20 mm behind the main horizontal cross bar. Not only is there less torso flex needed to ride in the drops, the drops themselves are easier to grasp and there is less chance of forearm hitting cross bar when doing so.

After switching handlebars and reinstalling my STI levers, I wrapped them with Ciclovation’s bar tape. This time around it was the “leather touch” variety I bought from La Course Velo‘s booth at the 2019 Philippine Bike Demo Day. This particular roll came in a orange-to-black dot fade pattern, which looks really good and feels even better in hand.

Testing the new setup on the turbo trainer for a few minutes, I moved my saddle back two centimeters to compensate for the shorter reach. It felt almost exactly like how Hyro originally fit me.

The next day, I had a proper slog on the saddle. Over the seven laps of my usual Sunday loop, I had to deal with lots of vibration from road acne and quite a bit of climbing – both of which conspired against my 100 km goal and eventually wore me down. Despite the fatigue and soreness, Hyro’s fit to my body was spot-on. Staying aero and riding in the drops was far more comfortable, too. The longer drops made them easier to grasp, and while I haven’t had any back pain while riding for years now, the shallower drop made it easier to use the drops more often and for longer.

Curiously, I find that with each passing year and the continuous optimizations I see fit to do on Hyro, there’s less and less of his stock componentry left over. But that’s a story for another time.