It is just one step short of the trouble and expense of having a bike frame completely repainted to suit your wandering design tastes. Bar tape! This is one of the easy ways you can customise your road bike. Fades, patterns, solids, embossing, you name it. Whatever your fancy, there is probably a bar tape out there for you. Let’s introduce one of the new players and look at some stylish bar tape that the distributer/retailer FullBeam Australia are bringing to our golden shores – It is called Ciclovation.
Ciclo Innovation? Ciclo Motivation? Cicli Renovation?
Whatever your interpretation of this brand name, the bar tapes they make are positioned a stylish step up from run-of-the-mill simple cork or basic colours. The pricing and ‘the feel’ really feel like they are orientated towards the boy-racer market. The quality of Ciclovation sits well above the dime-a-dozen cork tapes. Even the sainted Ambrosio bike ribbon, THE NON-CORK TAPE OF CHOICE for many riders over many years just isn’t in this league when it comes to the finish. Fizik’s microtex range is getting there, but you really have to be looking at Supacaz and Lizard Skin to get to this level.
The Ciclovation range spans from colour shift tapes to patterns to fades (coloured on the drops, solid on the tops). But you can also stick with a basic black, if that’s your thing. The Grind Wrap series comes in solid colours and is available in black, blue, green and brown. It is fairly utilitarian with a black plug and you have high quality tape without any worries about it getting grubby (white bar tape, anyone?)
But that is just the start, trust me… if you can bling-it-up, then do it. On the Ciclovation website, the choice is fairly expansive. For this bartape review it took a while to narrow it down to ensure I could get a good feel for the range and select the right colours that add a million dollars to my bikes. In the end I pinpointed three tapes and these duly arrived from FullBeam in the post a few days later. This was the time when COVID still had postal services by the neck but even under that cloud, the rapid delivery caught me by surprise as I was still trying to decide which bike to jazz-up. Fast delivery is a good sign.
Advanced Leather Touch Aurora $59.95
I’m going to launch right in and say I’ve had tape that was easier to wrap. But it doesn’t look or feel like the Aurora. I’ve also had tougher bar tape to fit (that fancy pinstriped Fizik microfiber from a few years ago, I’m looking at you), but the Aurora is workable enough. So as long as you take your time to do the job right, you’ll be rewarded every time you look at or grab the bars.
The thickness and stiffness of the tape means that starting wrap needs some time to get nea, it’s a little tricky to get the tape to fold-in. You have to work the edges to soften them and if you have nothing better to do, then you can really take a lot time. I found it much easier to fold the bulk of the tape in, then insert the plug and use a tyre lever or spoon handle to get the last edges in before the final push and tighten. The bar plugs have an internal expander and sit nicely against the tape once you have it fettled. Cutting off a 50mm piece to cover the brifter clamps still left me with plenty of length to wrap the 420mm c/c Soma handlebars with two or three turns left trim off.
The organic gel adhesive on the back is quite easy to unwrap and rewrap, And the tape is sturdy so there is no fear of accidentally tearing a brand new roll of tape, as can happen with sticky-back cork tapes. This, incidentally makes the tape more reuse-friendly.
Even if you have wrapped a bit of bar tape, it can still end with profanities trying to get the ends of the tape right. The finishing tape can let you down with a lack of adhesion, lack of flexibility or just leaving an untidy finish. The goto solution for this is the good old electrical tape and a flame. This heats the tape ends so they are flush and remain stuck – if you’ve never done this, try it. But I really don’t need to be talking about fixing up your bar tape because the Ciclovation finishing tape is a league above. It has flex, it has adhesion and it looks mint. Slightly embossed, it has enough stretch to cater for the step down at the end and maintain a good edge. With this brand you don’t have to deal with ragged tape and messy ends.
If you have not already guessed, this tape LOOKS GOOD. The colour shift is amazing under sunlight, from blue to purple to almost green. The teal green of my frame was a good match for this tape. The light embossing on the tape is not intrusive but nicely catches the light. This tape also FEELS GOOD. It is padded without being too bulky or squishy. You can easily forget that the right bartape helps to dampen the road noise and I immediately noticed the bump and buzz transmitted by the steel frame and fork was softened.
Sharp-eyed observers will spot that the tops of my bars wrapped in the Aurora roll the opposite way as can be considered standard i.e. forward over the tops, not backwards. This is as much a personal preference as borne from need. The relative thickness and stiffness of the Aurora tape meant that a change of direction at the brifters proved very difficult to achieve without getting very bulky and complex, so this was an acceptable result. You can’t treat this like cork tape and stretch it enough to take up gaps or bends, so some planning and time to get things right is required. And if it is not obvious, the bartape should be symmetrical.
I noted with interest that the Ciclovation website shows a continuous wrapping of the bars. At first I wondered if they unclamped the brifters but my editor suggested that it would be more likely that photoshop was used.
Advanced Leather Touch Magma $59.95
As you have patiently read the details for the Aurora, here’s not a lot that needs to be added for the Magma. The texture and thickness of this tape very closely match the Aurora tape, but with perhaps a little more flex and stretch. The red pattern is printed onto the black base tape. The plugs and finishing tape are essentially the same as with the Aurora and yield a great end result. It and like the Aurora it is slightly bulky at the brifters but is also little friendlier to work with. The change of direction at the brifters to get the tops rolling backwards remains a challenge, but I feel this one would a better candidate.
For testing I started some test-wraps but was so taken with the colour-shifting Aurora that the similarity in feel and texture meant that the Aurora can clearly speak for both and the magma will be a winner if the style and colour is better suited.
Advanced Grind Touch Classic $49.95
The Grind Touch is not really like most other bar tapes, it has a rubbery feel. It wraps easily, although was hard to get started and used a trick of starting wrapping a small length before the bar. When I folded this in the plug was nice a snug.
Given the texture and material, it is rather more grippy than the leather touch tape. It feels almost as padded as the Leather Touch, despite not seeming to have as much give in the thickness. On the roll I had, the gel adhesive was all but non-existent, and I don’t know why. Although this didn’t necessarily make it any harder to wrap but you just couldn’t let it go mid-task, otherwise it would unroll a few turns and you’d be back two steps.
The great thing about this tape is that it is very flexible, which made the brifter issue very easy to deal with using the figure 8 method. The tape was long enough that I had plenty to trim (even on 80’s deep-drop bars with a 420mm width). For modern shallow and ergo dropbars you should expect there is more than enough length. The expanding bar plugs and finishing tape do a great job so it is pretty consistent with this brand.
The bike I put the Grind wrap on previously had a synthetic ribbon tape on it with very little padding or grip. 15km on the synthetic tape and the cable routing under the tape resulted in sore hands. The change-over to the Grind wrap was instantly noticeable. More grip, softer feel, and far less hand pain from the concealed cables.
A downside you will need to consider is the Grind wrap does not absorb moisture at all, so sweat on the fingers was noticeable. You would probably want to wear gloves/mitts with this wrap in any case, as there will be a natural tipping point between grip and moisture build up.
With the vibration damping and the way the Grind Touch naturally repels dust, it could be a good choice for gravel grinders. It also comes across as a durable tape so will also lend itself to suiting the commuter bike and even a rough and tumble pub bike.
It’s all just time
Take some time to pick a colour, take your time wrapping it, then take a moment or two to admire your bike each time you set off for a ride. And be prepared to field a questions about your bar tape when you are out riding.
The first time I was cycling with the new minted Aurora bar tape, I was asked about it.
If you are seeking a quality bar tape that is also designed to give your bike a very special accent, the Ciclovation range could be a good match. The retail price shifts it into the category of ‘considered purchase’ as it costs a bit more than average tape. But the finish and quality also put it well above average so it is really the type of tape you would reach out to because your favourite bike deserves it.