Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the frame, headset, handlebar & stem of this, my latest personal project bike. Wrapping the bars and choosing the right saddle are small choices with big impact in both look & performance, so I added HandleBra Leather tape, Hudz lever covers, and a Selle San Marco Rolls saddle for a truly classic look.
PEZ Sez: This is the fourth in a series of reviews that chronicle the creation and build of this custom Moots RSL. In Part 1 we looked at the raw frame. Subsequent entries will look at the individual parts and components that went into this one of kind bike.
Handlebra Leather Bar Tape
From the beginning of this build, my connoisseur’s consciousness was tickled by an interest and appreciation of Handlebra’s genuine leather bar tapes. Charles used a gorgeous cigar color on his Serotta Mevici Custom a couple years back, so I’ve been biding my time for the right bike to come along.
One of my favorite rides – compliant, with just the right amount of stiffness.
Maybe it’s something to do with reaching a certain station in life (albeit somewhat self-perceived), or maybe it’s a guy thing… but I like good quality leather goods, and while I consider most of them luxury items, I also expect them to last a long time and perform well.
Mrs. Pez gave me a deep leather club chair and foot stool on my 40th birthday. And while my young daughters can boot me out of it with a simple look, I still consider it “Daddy’s Chair”. It’s a mid-brown color, semi-distressed looking, made in Italy by Natuzzi, and more of something to wear than a piece of furniture. Even though it’s only a few years old, it evokes a sense of history. It looks and feels like it will last forever – which is a quality I like about leather goods in general – treated right they’ll last a lifetime or more. So I needed to find the right bike to really indulge my love for leather, and the qualities it brings as so much more than just ‘bar wrap’.
But luxury is only part of the equation here – let’s not forget the importance of performance. There’s a reason that we see high grade leather in the world’s top brands – because the material works so well – it’s durable, resilient, comfortable, and looks great for a long time. And given that leather can last longer than synthetic fabrics, we also have the value proposition covered.
Handlebra started up in mid-2009, as the vision of one man – Ray Schmidt – who simply saw an opportunity to offer something he thought would be cool and useful – to other cyclists. He’s still a one-man shop, which means that customers get direct access to the boss, and we like that here at PEZ.
Ray uses a top grade US-sourced Italian leather, which he’s developed into handle bar tape to his own specs. The tanning process includes a built in water repellency, but an occasional application of a water-based cream will help clean the tape, and add a protective barrier. General cleaning is simple – good ‘ol soap and water is best.
Although I chose a natural looking brown, the tapes currently come in 15 colors, with about 30 different thread colors.
They’re intentionally made without adhesive backing, so that future adjustments, bar or lever changes will not require new tape. There’s a natural stretch and tackiness to the leather that allows for a tight wrapping, and mine has held in place without slippage for several months now. Even where I normally see slippage along the leading edge under the hoods, this tape has held tight.
I did encounter some slippage when I originally placed gel pads under the tape for extra padding. As the gels squished under my grip, the tape naturally loosened. Ray recommends first wrapping the bar in hockey tape to increase adhesion, and if you want more padding, then add a layer of cork tape before wrapping on the Handlebra.
The edges lie nice and flat, and have yet to loosen or peel up.
I’ve done neither on my current setup, and the leather has held fast directly against the Ritchey Classic aluminum handlebar.
Pricing is $80-$90.00, and you can add a multitude of custom stitching options for another $30.00. Sure there are less expensive tapes, but if you’re reading this, I suspect you consider a little luxury worth the spend – especially when it’s for yourself.
Grab The Hudz!
No custom build should live without custom hoods – in this case the only choice were Hudz in “Bordeaux Gold”. They’re the right amount of tackiness for solid grip, and the density adds just a touch more comfort than the standard SRAM hoods. They’re offered in two different density compounds, 16 colors, and fit pretty much all the major lever brands (including the new latest Ultegra electrics), AND you can order online at the website. They cost about $30 a pair, and are a pretty affordable and noticeable upgrade.
Installation can be tricky the first time, but once you get the hang of stretching these over top of the levers, it’s not so hard. In fact peeling off the stock hoods serves as a nice warm up for installation.
I goofed on my initial install, and found the Hudz would twist under my grip throughout the ride. Annoying yes, and it also adversely affected shifting since the SRAM Apex lever would catch on the mis-aligned rubber and get stuck on the return swing.
I’ve used Hudz on several bikes, and never had this problem, so after a phone call to Hudz’s Lance Johnson, I went back and re-reefed on the rubber, effectively pulling it tighter and into the correct placement on lever. Problem solved.
A Saddle Fit For a King
Like I said up top, building a custom bike takes time, and I spent a lot of months seeking out the right parts to make this bike truly unique. One conversation with the guys at Vittoria USA – who are also the importers for Sella San Marco saddles – revealed the end of my search for a saddle. San Marco returned to their line a Vintage Collection that includes that most famous of 80’s saddles – the Rolls. This one complete with brown suede finish and gold accented hardware… pure sweetness.
I’m not even mentioning the weight (which is noticeable even in your hand)– since that’s not why you’d use this saddle in the first place. More importantly, the shape is a classic, and a true testament to why this saddle was so popular for so long.
Originally introduced in 1983, the Rolls has likely settled under more of your butts than most brands.
When I saw this with brown suede version accented with gold hardware, I knew I’d found the one for this bike.
Unlike so many of today’s in vogue saddles, the Rolls is as much about comfort as it is a nod to classic elegance. The padding feels firm but gives too, and the advance of modern plastics has allowed for a more flexible base underneath, so the whole package is simply firm, but comfortable. The Suede cover feels nothing but great to sit on – and adds another layer of firm plushness to the seat.
The gold-colored rivets and detail on the back add a certain air of an appreciation for the finder things.
Actual size of the saddle measures 282mm x 143mm, and weighs in at 382g for the steel railed version, or 309g if you go with Ti. There’s a choice of covers too: Rino (faux), Smooth Leather, Chamois Leather, Honey Leather, or Perforated Leather.
The suede isn’t fond of wet, as I found with a misguided post ride spray down from my backyard hose, but if you’re riding this in rain and slop on a regular basis, then shame be on you.
The shape is classic and traditional. A wider back tapers to a mid-width center and nose at the front. The curve is gently flat under the sitbones, while fore & aft it’s pretty flat. It may not be right for everyone, but I prefer saddles that disperse my weight over a wider area, which is exactly what the Rolls does well.
This saddle was comfortable from me right from the start, and felt great even over several rides where I was still settling on the ideal saddle height.
The price is $119.99, and your local shop can get ‘em from VittoriaIndustries.com
~In the coming weeks I’ll take you through the addition of each component and full build up of the bike. ~