Arundel Handlebar Tape
With Arundel's Cork handlebar tape under our left hand and their Gecko under our right, we find ourselves thinking of evolution. More accurately, we're thinking about punctuated equilibrium, Stephen Jay Gould's take on the subject.
Cork handlebar tape is the default bar tape. And has been for years. While it didn't appear in a crisis, it was markedly better, at least better at convincing cyclists and brand managers at bike companies it was better, than anything else. Once people were convinced, other styles of tape almost completely disappeared. When was the last time you saw cotton tape on a bike? Since cork appeared, it has changed very little.
"Cork" tape is a bit of a misnomer. The tape isn't actually made of cork. Most handlebar tapes with the cork identifier are some kind of foam, possibly with cork bits mixed in. Many don't have the cork mixed in. There are different thicknesses, widths, finishes. Some have logos impressed into thetape while others have them screened on. Just about all come in a box with two rolls, two loose pieces to be affixed behind your lever clamps, two end plugs, and two pieces of finishing tape. The cork is just about universally backed with some sticky surface covered with tape that you need to unpeel in order to affix the tape to the bars.
The people at Arundel have a sense of humor about their offering. Their instructions own up to the general usefulness of finishing tape. #8, "Slap enclosed 'finishing tape' on your toolbox, chainstay, bumper, etc." About the only folks we know who were able to use the non-stretching, narrower-than-the-bar tape "finishing" pieces were the mechanics of the 7-Eleven and Motorola teams, who seemed to be able to use colored electrical tape to affix the handlebar tape, and then put the Cinelli finishing pieces attractively on top of the electrical. We tried many times, and could never get it right.
Arundel's cork is a pretty traditional offering. It feels thinner and stretches more than the industry standard, Cinelli. The screened Arundel logos, with a little prep work, look nice and symmetric and face the right way. The logos give a nice PRO look to the bike, regardless of the color tape used. The only thing that surprises us about the logo tape is that some of their competitors don't make tape with screened logos available to the general public.
The tape isn't as cushy as some cork tapes we've used, but that's good for us. We prefer thin tape. There is still some cush, but not a lot; enough that you can feel it compress a bit when gripping really hard, but that's about it. While we went with black, a good "color" of tape for winter riding, it did seem that the tape wore pretty well. The logos barely show any signs of wear even after two months of riding.
The cork is nice, but not a big deal. Arundel probably felt if they were going to add handlebar tape to their stable of goods, they needed to have the default tape as an option. But their main interest in handlebar tape seems to be their Gecko Grip tape. This is where they've done to tape what they've been doing with water bottle cages.
Geckos are little chirping lizards that have the most amazing ability to grip onto walls and even ceilings. The only surfaces they can't cling to are Teflon-coated. If you've seen them in action, you can't help but be impressed with their ability to defy gravity and amused by the noise they make. They accomplish their climbing feat in a number of ways. The most important is that they have 14,000 setae, hair-like structures, per square millimeter on their footpads.
While the Gecko Grip doesn't have setae,it does have a sticky texturized surface. It feels rubbery against a bare hand.This layer is treated polyurethane, which is bonded to a base layer of EVA foam and an intermediate layer of netting to help adhere the top to the bottom. It feels rubbery against a bare hand. Like their cork tape, the Gecko is 3cm wide. Their Cork is about 3mm thick at its thickest, while the Gecko is a few hairs under that -- our calipers aren't precise enough to get an exact reading. The Arundel logo is pressed into the tape. The Gecko also has the same adhesive backing, comes with the same finishing tape, the same end plugs, and in the same basic container.
The Gecko goes on differently. It doesn't stretch nearly as much as cork. But it's still pretty basic handlebar tape and still very easy to work with.
Once on the bars, you can feel differences right away. The cork, even when stretched, offers more padding. The Gecko, even to a hand shod in thick winter gloves, is noticeably stickier. And this continued to be the case, even when wet and fully gloved, and with soaking wet bare hands riding on rollers.
While we weren't disappointed with Arundel's Cork, the Gecko stood out in comparison. The gription is amazing. As for the thickness, it still has noticeable cushion to it. We saw no flaws in the Gecko during our road test. However, we have a friend riding the Gecko. The textured surface started to wear off in a few areas on her bars after about six months of near daily riding. While this is a small disappointment, it is only small. We rarely go that long on a roll of tape. We go three to four months on a roll, provided the tape doesn't get destroyed in a crash.
Our one beef with the Arundel tape is the end plugs. While the shiny medallion quality to the Arundel castle image is a nice touch, the flexible-flange end plug design is far from perfect. We're not picking on Arundel because just about everyone uses this plug. When looking at evolution, it is surprising that this design hasn't been thrown in the dustbin of history by now -- though we guess there hasn't been a sufficient crisis for a different design to come along and dominate. The design worked acceptably well when the end plug was made of chromed steel. But plastic is not the ideal material for this design, and just about everyone uses this design in plastic these days. You have to get your tape overlap past the end of your bars just right in order for the plug to be secure. And even then, if you drop your bike on the ground, the plug might pop out.
One of the good things about handlebar tape is that it's replaceable. Want a new look, choose a new color. Find the current stuff less than perfect, try something different. While we might get away from the black, we could well stick with the Gecko for some time.