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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Slip Tape and Tensor R2 Trucks

In this review, I give Tensors another chance and also tell you about Slip Tape, the clear plastic you can put on the bottom of your board.

If you're a regular reader, you may know that I really blasted Tensor trucks earlier this year. The old Tensor Response Magnesium 5.25 Low trucks that I skated for that review gave me no end of trouble. The quality was sub-par on all counts, and the performance was decent only if you cranked them down as tight as freestyle trucks.

Well, Tensor released the redesigned Response, the R2, this Summer. The R2 is designed to turn better than the Response, with redesigned geometry and a different bushing formula. And, with all the hollow kingpins, hollow axles, and forged baseplates out there amongst the competition, Tensor also felt the need to retain their position as the #1 lightest truck in its size out there by also going the hollow route. The axles and the kingpins on the R2 are hollow. The kingpins on the R2 are also made of better steel than those on the Response.

First I want to remind you of my thoughts on the Tensor Response trucks. One of the weakest areas of the old Response was in quality. The build and assembly quality of the sets of Response trucks I skated back in April was bottom of the pack, extremely poor. To recap, the Response trucks had very long kingpins for low trucks, one of the kingpins was coarse threaded instead of fine threaded (which instantly ruined the kingpin nut and necessitated replacement of the entire kingpin before I could even skate them), the stock bushings and two replacement afterstock bushing sets were utterly destroyed and decayed and crumbled within a few hours of skating them, the axles were not centered in the hangers, the axle threads had neither been chased nor oiled (a final cleaning-up step that truck manufacturers like Theeve and Indy do to make the axle nuts bolt on smoothly), there were odd casting spills that made grinds really unpredictable, and the bushing washers were thin and damaged easily.

That was then.

Wanting to give Tensors another chance, I picked up a set of the new R2 Magnesium trucks in size 5.5. I picked size 5.5 because so many skaters are sizing up to wider decks like 8.18, 8.25, 8.3, 8.4.

Upon inspecting the R2 trucks, I can see that Tensor has greatly improved their quality control. The trucks have no casting marks. The axles are centered in the hanger. The bushing washers are standard thickness. The kingpin is still long, but it is at least below the hanger, lessening the chance of kingpin hangup on grinds. The stock bushings are soft and pliable. All of the problems I identified on the old Response trucks are fixed on the R2.

Axle threads chased and oiled. Theeve, Destructo, and Independent do this, too. Notice also on the hanger: there are no casting marks.

Hollow kingpin, lightweight baseplate. My cat, Jasper, acts uninterested, but look at his ears turned towards me, he's impressed.

Really good view of the baseplate nubs meant to bite into the board and keep your trucks in place if your hardware loosens. This feature is unique to Tensor trucks. These are less aggressive than before, but still work well to hold the trucks.

Pivot cup is the perfect depth and durometer, as you can see  by how well the kingpin is centered in the yoke. These trucks are well-designed, high-quality trucks.

The Thunder risers were a bit big for the Tensor R2 truck's baseplate, but bring the trucks to a mid height, where they really perform excellently.
The Tensor R2 trucks compare favorably to the height of Venture 5.2 lows.

Tensors have extremely steep steering angles. This makes for quick turns but wide steering radii. It takes more room to carve the same turn on Tensors as with other trucks. The Ventures, on the right in this photo, have medium-shallow steering angles, making for slow response but tight turns. Replacing the bushings on the Tensors with Bones Bushings lowers the steering angle somewhat, making the turns less twitchy and tighter - explaining the diminished wheelbite with the Bones Bushings.

The Ventures' axle is set a little further back than the Tensors, and the steering angle is far steeper.

The Bushings that come with the Tensors are extremely soft.

The bushings fit together, ostensibly to reduce wheelbite. Didn't make a difference.

Excessive wheelbite is guaranteed unless you crank your kingpin nut most of the way down, but then you'll risk ruining the bushings and having too much kingpin thread exposed to hang up our grinds. The geometry was so bad that my carves were only half as deep as before, meaning I had to tic tac a 90 degree turn! With most trucks, I can carve a 180 degree turn in about 1.5 - 2 parking spaces (width wise). With the Tensors and the stock bushings, it took 3.5 parking space widths to complete a 180. So much for pool carving. The wheelbite is sudden and sharp, even with 48mm wheels mounted. The trucks appeared to be unrideable, and I began to question the wisdom of making 5.5 Low trucks. After a fair number of tries to ride the Tensor R2 trucks with the stock bushings, I put in some Bones medium bushings.
Gives you some idea of how long the kingpin is. You could easily cut off 3 or 4 threads worth of kingpin and still be only average height.

I use flat washers on the top of Bones Bushings, although I did ride the Tensors with cupped washers at first.

With Bones bushings, the difference is night and day. At first, I mounted the Bones Bushings with the stock cupped top washer, but found that the top washer needn't be cupped to prevent excessive wheelbite. I still got some wheelbite from the trucks, but it was more on par with what I normally get from low trucks. I replaced the cupped top washers with flat top washers - a setup I prefer on my Venture lows - and found that the trucks still performed nicely. The trucks got even better when I mounted bottom bushings for both top and bottom positions on the trucks: using 2 bottom bushings per truck eliminated the kingpin threads over the nut, ensuring the nut was flush. Now I could finally go skating with these trucks.
With Bones Bushings installed, the Tensor R2s are great trucks. They are extremely lightweight and very well balanced. Technical tricks were much, much easier with the Tensors. After a week of skating them as they were, I put some 1/8" risers under them to bring them to a Mid height. The Tensors became perfect trucks at their new mid Height. They weren't high enough to reinstall the stock bushings, but they were still good to go with the Bones Bushings. The magnesium hangers grind very well, and the kingpin doesn't hang up on grinds too badly, at least no more than with Ventures. The turning takes some getting used to, it feels different than the old Tensor Response trucks and different than most any other truck out there. It feels closest to the kind of quick responses I was able to get from Thunder 147 HI trucks. But if you are a heavily technical skater, turning is more about adjusting your line that it is about carving anyway, so you'll appreciate the turning behavior.
All in all, I highly recommend the Tensor R2 trucks for technical skaters out there. They aren't my cup of tea - I like carving and slower response turning, and being a big guy who doesn't do a lot of flip tricks (mostly just enough to test trucks like these), I don't need my trucks to be so perfectly balanced, matter of fact I prefer trucks that are kind of hanger-heavy. But, I'm positive that technical skaters out there looking to size up in board size to around 8.18 or 8.25 will appreciate these trucks. So, I passed them on to a skater in Brazil via eBay.

Slip Tape
According to the ad pitch, Slip Tape is applied just like grip tape, but it is applied to the bottom of the board. It is a thick plastic sheet intended to protect graphics, to ensure longer, more consistent slides, and extend the life and pop of your deck.
I received 3 sheets and put them on a new 8.5" Mystery deck, a new 8.26" Creature deck, and a used 8.0" Krooked deck.
I wouldn't say the Slip Tape is applied "just like grip tape". The slip tape is stiff, and no amount of setting it on the radiator in my office before hand (like I do with grip tape) makes it pliable enough to smooth on with no problems. Also, the Slip Tape is only about 31.5" long, meaning any board over 7.75" will have an uncovered portion at the tail or nose where the Slip Tape doesn't quite reach. Cutting the Slip Tape around the edges is nothing at all like cutting grip tape. Filing the edges doesn't do anything to help cut. Even with a new razor blade, it is extremely difficult to get a clean, long, smooth cut like I can get with grip tape. The Slip Tape also kept losing adhesion on the deck's concave. The Mystery deck has silk screened graphics, and the Slip Tape adhered decently. On the Krooked deck, which was silk screened and pretty well used, the Slip Tape gripped well enough. On the Creature deck, which has heat transferred graphics, I tried to use a hair dryer on a small area near the front truck to help the Slip Tape conform to the concave better - it didn't help at all. I considered using my 1,250 degree Fahrenheit heat gun, but thought better of it, as I didn't want to ruin the deck itself. So, in the end I simply held down the Slip Tape long enough for it to adhere to the deck. The Slip Tape is thick enough, about 1/16", to require me to go to 1" mounting bolts to mount my trucks. I normally use 7/8" bolts.

Once applied, the Slip Tape looks like the bottom of a snowboard, only with tons of air bubbles between the deck and the Slip Tape. The graphics also become kind of muted with the Slip Tape on.

With the muted colors and air bubbles, "protecting the graphics" is hardly a good selling point; Slip Tape obscures the graphics once and for all. So, now your board looks like crap, but how about its performance?
The Krooked deck felt a little stiffer, but it was hard to tell if it was the weather or the Slip Tape. The Mystery and Creature decks had been unridden by me, and they both felt a little like new decks, as they were, but they were a lot quieter. The first few ollies and nollies felt mushy and crappy, like having skid plates on. Once the Slip Tape wore down, ollies and nollies felt decent enough, but the pops were not at all crisp. There was also a strange unpredictability to the decks, like I couldn't get them quite broken in properly to become comfortable under my feet. Nasty.
Let's go sliding.
It took a few tries to get used to boardsliding on the Slip Tape. Every slide felt like the 3rd or 4th slide on a new board. Pretty nice, in other words. It was indeed consistent and never sticky, never slippery. Waxing my rail and boxes was no longer necessary. On waxed metal coping and rails at the skatepark, slides were still nice and consistent. Highly controlled slides. However, the edges of the Slip Tape started getting gouges in them from the rails and boxes.

I waited until the end of testing to slide on some concrete. Painted concrete felt okay. Unpainted but waxed concrete immediately tore the Slip Tape. Don't use Slip Tape on concrete ledges or curbs.
After a month of rotating use on all sorts of terrains, I wanted to see what would happen when I removed the Slip Tape. Removing the Slip Tape was very easy. Pick one of the edges that have already peeled up anyway, and pull it off in a rolling motion. The silk screened decks, the Krooked and the Mystery, had just a little bit of damage to the graphics.

Removing the Slip Tape from the heat transferred graphics deck, the Creature, was a traumatic event for the graphics.
The Creature's graphics were completely destroyed. The place where I used the hair dryer to get the Slip Tape to adhere better fared no better or worse than any other part of the deck.
How about the performance after the Slip Tape was removed? First of all, I had never ridden the Creature or Mystery decks without the Slip Tape, so I didn't know what they were like before the Slip Tape. With the Slip Tape on, these two decks were mushy with no pop. After removing the Slip Tape, though, the Mystery and Creature decks were crisp, poppy, predictable, and stiff. Night and day performance, and much, much better without the Slip Tape. The Mystery felt broken in and comfortable after 1 day of use after removing the Slip Tape. The Creature took about 4 days to get broken in properly after removing the Slip Tape. The Krooked deck returned to its former glory, feeling just the same as it did before I put the Slip Tape on. So, I had to rewax my rail and boxes, but I could ollie, nollie, and do every other trick again predictably and comfortably.
All in all, I do not recommend Slip Tape for technical street and park skating. The nice slides aren't worth the loss of feel for all other tricks.


  1. Great review, best I've seen man! : ) Do you still have the Tensor R2 Trucks for sale?

    1. Thanks!
      However, the Tensors are no longer available. They are living a nice life of technical goodness with a skater in Brazil.

  2. Ok man, thanks for the reply, and thanks again for your great review! : ) Have fun!

  3. Thanks for the great review!

    I'm considering buying a set of these. My concern is that I tend to skate my trucks very tight using Doh-Doh hard bushings (generally these are the hardest bushings I can find). Do you foresee any problems for me with this particular model of truck?

    Thanks :)

    1. Thanks!
      With Doh Doh hard bushings, the Tensor R2s will be perfect for you. Enjoy them!
      Doh Doh bushings are great. Other good barrel bottom bushings that have very firm bushings available are Kontrol, Lucky, and Khiro. The Khiro purple bushings are extremely hard. The Kontrol white bushings are also extremely hard but last longer and are cheaper and easier to find:

      I highly recommend the Kontrol bushings - they're much harder than the 95a firmness would lead you to believe. They'll last longer than the Doh Dohs.

    2. Thanks a lot for the reply!

      Yes I recently came across Kontrol and was quite interested in their extra hard, purple bushings.

      The store I'm planning to buy my new setup from only stocks Bones Hardcore bushings, so I plan to try the hard version of these.

      To be honest I've never actually come across anyone else who likes their trucks as tight as I do, which means I'm always on the lookout for a new harder type of bushing. Given that these trucks are evidently quite distinct to anything else on the market, I was worried I might purchase a set and then immediately realize that they don't suit my hard bushing/tight as hell preference. But if you think I won't have any problems I'll give them a go. Cheers :)

    3. I think Tensors work best when skated pretty tight. You'll enjoy the R2s!

    4. Cheers :)

      BTW you couldn't refer me to a review of the latest series of Mullen's Uber Light decks from Almost? I haven't been able to find any decent objective review such as the ones you write. Thanks.

    5. Stay tuned for a test of the Uber Light deck. Testing should be completed by May or June this year.