Fizik Microtex Bar Gel
It was the Lion of Flanders, Johan Museeuw, who revealed what many would prefer to keep secret. When asked to name his favorite bike component, he told the interviewer that it was handlebar tape. We think the quote went this way, "Handlebar tape. Of any marque. With fresh tape, the bike feels new." Not all of us have mechanics re-taping our bars after every stage, or even washing our bikes, but we know what the hardman meant. We think this is why many prefer black tape, even though there are fashionistas who unequivocally state "white tape only" between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
It is true that last year, our bars rode in white all summer, but the Bar Gel comes only with black tape.The Fizik Bar Gel has two components. Black Microtex handlebar tape, and Technogel pads. The box comes with two rolls of tape, two handlebar end plugs, two strips of finishing tape, and four pads. The tape is a lightweight adhesive-backed synthetic leather that weighs in at about 31g per roll. One roll does one side of the bars. The pads are designed to take care of one set of handlebars. One straight pad each for the drops below the brake levers and one curved pad each for the tops above the brake levers. The curved pads have a "R" and "L" embossed so it's easy to know which is for which.
The pads are made of a gel polymer similar to those found in gel saddles and identical to the substance found in gel Selle Royal saddles, the company that owns the Fizik brand. It stretches, compresses, and won't break down with use. One side has an adhesive backing that can be "recharged" by washing. The pads measure about 3mm thick in the middle and thin out to 1mm at the edges. The straight pads are 15.5cm long and 4.5cm wide. The curved pads are 4.5cm wide and long enough to run from the brake levers to the center bulge on bars up to 46cm c-c wide.
The tape is not based on a Cinelli-like cork tape, which makes it different from most of the market. The Microtex ribbon is about 1.5 mm thick and 3cm wide. It barely stretches. The tape has a pattern of fine holes down the middle, which gives it the appearance of tape found on some tennis racquets and steering wheels. The black color has the appearance of leather, and it feels like leather as well.
We installed the pads on a 44cm outside-to-outside Deda deep drop handlebar. The straight pad went from the end to the lever. The curved pad fit nicely on the Deda's square bend but went well past the center bulge, so we cut it with a pair of scissors. It cut easily. We then peeled off the backing and stuck it to the inside
Being this was a test, we put the pads on the right side and then taped, but we rode with tape alone on the left side. We rode with and without gloves, on sunny and rainy days. The tape has a great feel. It is grippy without being sticky or rough. Without gloves on the hottest days, the tape didn't feel slippery. We've logged hours in the rain with the tape, and the tape doesn't feel slippery then, either.
After considerable use, the only wear the tape shows is by the left endcap, where a hard crash scraped off a bit of the Microtex, letting a small bit of the thin padding show through. Otherwise, the tape looks as good as new. We've washed it along with the bike, but we did that mostly because the bike was looking dirty, not the tape. It's the washing that brings out the only odd thing we've noticed about the tape. It stays damp much longer after washing than any other cork or synthetic tape we've used. Maybe it's the holes in the tape that allow moisture to stay under it for a long time. This isn't a reason not to use it, just something surprising we've observed. As noted earlier, water doesn't reduce the performance of the tape.
We found the side-by-side comparison of bar gel a worthwhile experiment. The gel increased the diameter of the bars by a few mm, but it didn't make the bar look any bulkier, which is due to both the fact that the center bulge of the bars is 31.8mm, and that cork tape is often a good bit thicker. The larger diameter is a bit easier to grip. The gel definitely takes an edge of bumps and road vibration. There is probably enough extra padding that those who like the padding normal gloves afford can ride without, and those who like thickly-padded gloves can go for thinner gloves.
After a while, we ceased to notice the difference between the Technogel padded and unpadded sides when spinning on a smooth road. The differences came out in two places, after days of long rides and sprinting out of the saddle. After repeated long rides, we find the heels of our palms, where the ulnar nerve joins the palm, can get a little sensitive. The gel reduced this sensitivity. When sprinting in the drops, we could feel the gel compressing as we worked the bars hard in the first several pedal strokes of a 100% effort. The compression felt similar to when Cinelli Gel Cork compresses under similar effort, but there's a greater feeling of confidence because the fingers are gripping a part of the bar that isn't moving, but the palm is being cushioned.
And this gets us back to why people should seriously consider handlebar tape. It is one of three contact points with the bike. Those who need to feel the bar and feel firmly connected to the bike for better control will find themselves pleased with the tape on its own. Those who need a little edge taken off to minimize feedback and increase comfort will enjoy the gel. Best of all, if and when it's time to untape the bars, the gel pads will be ready for reuse with any tape, or the gel can be transferred to another bike. We're thinking it might go well on the cross rig.