ZEFAL SKIN ARMOR ROLL
(15m x5.8cm) £9.99 Long Term (12month) Test
Zefal Skin Armor Roll is a workshop-friendly 15metres of thick, clear self-adhesive polyurethane. Primarily designed for protecting frames and paintwork form little dings, scratches and the dreaded cable rub. It’s old boots tough, can be cut to bespoke shapes and sizes and is very versatile. However, though hardly difficult to work with, getting the best results requires a planned and methodical approach.
Pros: Great value, durable, next to invisible and permits custom shapes/sizes.
Cons: More time consuming to cut and apply compared with pre-cut stickers.
Self-adhesive sticker kits are nothing new. They started becoming popular in the late 90s when mountain bikers (including yours truly) were finding their frames chewed by wet, silty cable outers, resulting in unsightly, localised damage.
However, the ubiquitous pre-cut sticker sets were notoriously thin, and peeled rapidly, once PTFE sprays, regular washing and other elements had taken hold: often in a matter of winter rides. Several layers of decent grade electrical tape proved a more effective solution.
So, as I said in my opening paragraph, it’s a self-adhesive, UV resistant polyurethane tape, measuring 15 metres long, 2.28 inches wide. It’s also reassuringly thick - 250 microns. As a gauge, powder coating is typically between 20 and 60 microns thick, which gives some idea of the tape’s density.
However, it’s still a bit thinner than Helicopter tapes, which are typically 320 microns. I should also point out, the Zefal can also be purchased in pre-cut shapes/kits, if you didn’t have the need, or inclination to cut your own bespoke protectors.
Framesets are the obvious hosts but being so tuneable, there’s scope for crank arms, mudguards, trailers and other surfaces too. Arguably the optimal time to apply these is to a new/refurbished frameset, stripped of all components. However, in practice, I’ve found removing the wheels adequate. Otherwise, things only got tricky when trying to sneak a section beneath cables routed “guitar style”, along the top tube.
Now, before you even contemplate reaching for the scissors or craft knife, start by giving the frameset a quick once-over. Sand, prime and paint any damaged areas, as appropriate and give them a day or two to cure properly.
If you are not going to give the bike a seriously good sudsy bucket wash first (recommended) at least treat host areas to an alcohol-based wipe to remove any pre-existing oily/waxy/grimy stuff that might impair adhesion. From here you can get creative - or otherwise - and cut to suit.
There’s a surprising amount of give, so you can pull it quite taut without fear of tearing, discoloration or losing shape. A hairdryer run on a gentle heat, at a distance or 15cm, or so can help, especially if you’re applying during winter, in a cold garage/outbuilding) but certainly isn’t essential.
Now, Zefal describe it as “anti-bubble”. You’re certainly not going to be taming massive blisters here but some smoothing (using a clean rag/old towel/lint free sock) to remove any discoloration/imperfections has been necessary. It’s also forgiving of minor readjustments, say if you’ve accidentally gone off-centre but don’t ponder too long and be definite on the second attempt!
My Univega and fixed gear winter trainer were the obvious candidates, but I’ve also fitted some to my TT bike with great results. Those rubberised cable cuffs and regular washing had kept the frameset blemish free. However, some oily, potentially paint chewing grit had found its way between cuff and was making slow inroads into the SDC sticker and electrical tape.
The cream finish doesn’t have a clear coat either, so attracts dirt/marks more readily. Cable doughnuts would’ve been another good move, since they stop any minor swirling in the top tube. Having forgotten these, last cable change, I trimmed and applied a long strip of Armor here. I also cut a strip and applied it to the front SKS mudguard, which was showing some signs of minor swirling/scratches at the front.
A long strip was placed on the seat tube, head tube, beneath the down tube, head tube and where the Jagwire cable runs along the carbon composite fork blade. I had also run a strip along my TT biker’s top-tube (I was considering running a rear brake at one point but know from experience, top tube bag straps can also leave tan-lines in lacquered and painted finishes.)
The tape is nigh on as clear as I’ve found from clear stickers. Look close enough and you’ll spot the corners/seams.
A year in, dirt/oily fingers and spatter has betrayed their outlines, but this is much less apparent and took much longer to form, compared with other decent quality pre-cut types.
True to claims, they haven’t discloured and have resisted everything four seasons riding has thrown at it. Diesel and petrochemical spatter thrown up along greasy winter roads, fierce sun, salt, spent chain lubes, maintenance sprays, solvents, waxes etc. I was presently surprised to see cable outers also failing make inroads.
Scrutinise my fixed gear winter/trainer’s right hand chainstay and you’ll note a very faint chain imprint. There has also been some superficial lift at the bottom bracket/seat stay junction.
This happened four months or so, in but hasn’t worsened, despite the diet of different lubes, relentless routine of riding, washing and polishing. Sans guards, one or two very sharp flints have scarred the top layer but crucially there’s plenty protecting expensive paintwork, so no call to replace just yet.
Whichever way you look at it, £9.99 for 15 metres is pretty good going. Helicopter tapes are thicker and for this reason, have a slight edge on crank arms and the more vulnerable areas of tagalongs/trailers. (or, if appropriate, a nice metal seatpost they’re being tethered to). We’ve seen helicopter tapes offered at £9 for 10metres. Still excellent value, but these are of comparable, rather than superior, density to the Zefal.
Probably not the most exciting product for many riders but an excellent way of protecting expensive finishes and materials from the everyday nicks and scrapes-long term.