Friday, April 29, 2016

Cork: For Weight Savings and Performance!



After a lapse of several years, I have recently gone back to using wine corks as bar-end plugs on my roadbikes. Straight away I began to get compliments. What lovely, quaint, old fashioned things those are! Perfect for a vintage racer. But actually, they're perfect for pretty much any bicycle with drop bars. Far more perfect than any other option I've tried so far.

First, consider the performance aspect. The plugs that come included with handlebar tape tend to be flimsy and are notorious for their lack of staying power, often falling out after only several rides. And the seemingly more "pro" plugs that are sold on their own are not always much better. By contrast, once you manage to wrangle a wine cork in there, it is impressively tenacious (so much so that extracting it, should you ever need to, can be tricky... but we'll not dwell on that for now!). While I have eventually lost at least one of every set of bar-ends I have ever used, I have yet to lose a cork.

The feel of the cork is also quite a bit nicer than the alternatives. Plastic bar-ends can feel hard, sticky and, well, plasticky. The metal ones I find unpleasantly cold to the touch. Cork is perfect in temperature, texture and give. Should my hand, or leg, brush against it, I do not even notice.

But the under-appreciated aspect of wine corks that's perhaps most relevant for today's roadie, is the weight savings. Did you know that a set of store-bought bar-end plugs can add 35 grams to your bicycle build?! Pretty scandalous when you consider that a typical wine cork (which can be cut in two and used for both sides of the bars) weighs only 5 grams. In other words, by not choosing corks for plugging up your drop bars, you may be subjecting your so-called lightweight build to a 700% weight gain in the crucial bar-end area! I shudder to think of the effect that has on one's climbing ability.

As if these merits were not sufficient, consider the financial savings. Commercially available bar-end plugs can cost upward of $20. You can purchase a fine bottle of wine to enjoy with a friend for half of that staggering price, then use the cork for your handlebars. Or, if you aren't looking for an excuse to purchase wine, you can get corks for free at your neighbourhood restaurant. Heck, you can even gather them up, then make a clean fortune reselling them as high-end bar plugs - perhaps dying the corks black for the modern roadie who finds the natural look too quaint.

Lovely? Perhaps. But old fashioned? Hardly. If it's weight savings and performance you're after, corks are the bar-ends for you.


36 comments:

  1. Interesting. I've never had such problems. Those plastic bar ends that come with the tape seem to stay in the bars just fine. Maybe the trick is to push more tape inside the handlebar end and then push in the plastic plug? The plastic bar ends weigh about 5-6 grams, about the same as cork plugs.

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  2. You know what works really well? Whisky corks. There's a cap on the end so they're easy to manage.

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    1. Interesting to see so many whisky cork enthusiasts here (re this comment and the two below).

      Personally not a fan of them (or the Hendricks gin cork for that matter) for this purpose, because the cap at the end is actually a weak point. Same deal as with the Brooks and PDW plugs, where the caps tend to come undone form the main cork bit.

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    2. Good point. I guess I was worried about getting the cork back out but it would be pretty easy to do with a corkscrew. Designed for that purpose.

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    3. Just found this post and my first thought was "Nope, whisky corks". I like to "collect" the various designs on the ends and show them off. You're right though that the shape makes them more fragile than wine corks.

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  3. Whisky bottle corks are also pretty good, but the downside is that the shouldered top, now usually plastic over cork, almost always carries the distiller's logo or trademark. Not a problem if you don't mind promoting the product, but it would be nice to be paid to do so.
    I don't like whisky (or whiskey, or bourbon), so I rely on others who do for corks. On the other hand, I do like wine.

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  4. Do you prefer a red or a white for a racy bike?


    I've taken to using the cork stoppers from whiskey and tequila bottles. I just bought a bottle of tequila that had a cork stopper with a wood top, and there was a rooster embossed into the wood. Seems fitting.
    I think a champagne cork will be just the thing for this nice little mixte I'm building up.


    Wolf.

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  5. Tap them in with a dead blow hammer, remove
    with the Campag bar plug extractor.
    The frugal can cut the cork in half, one bike, one bottle.

    SG

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  6. They can be removed using a wine opener, of course! I have a pair of corks from my bike trip in the Loire Valley, so it's sentimental too.

    Speaking of weight savings, I was forced to buy a too-small replacement tube when mine blew out and the shop didn't have my size. I asked a mechanic if this was OK, and he said "Yeah, I do it all the time to save weight." ಠ_ಠ

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    Replies
    1. In my experience, it's usually not okay; I'd replace that tube when you have a chance.

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  7. Bars wrapped in cotton, corks for bar ends, all covered with amber shellac. Beautiful.

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  8. You can get stuck corks out of your handlebars easily enough if before you drive them in you simply spray a short burst of hairspray, propane or even gasoline in the bars first. Then when you want to remove the corks you simply build a fire and hold your handle bars in the flames, as soon as the temperature inside the bar reaches a certain point the corks come out just like that.

    Hope this helps...

    Spindizzy

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    1. I think we need an instructional video, Spin.

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    2. Spindizzy, Does this work with carbon bars?

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    3. David! It works BEST with carbon bars! You'll also be amazed at how well it removes your old bartape...

      V, I'll get on that video as soon as these bandages come off...

      Spindizzy

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    4. As aluminium anneals (gets soft) at relatively low temperatures you'll have a new appreciation for the term 'noodle bars'!

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  9. I have tapered wine corks in my Albatross bars on my Rivendell with Brooks leather bar tape.They don't crack or loosen and fall out and I like the way they look with the leather.I'll probably need a cork screw to remove them.
    I have cork grips one of my bikes.They stay beautiful with five coats of Helmsman urethane.
    Jon

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    Replies
    1. Rivendell's "Miesha's" Portuguese cork grips = my favourite

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  10. I wish I had used these rather than the Velox bar plugs that are incredibly hard to get into the handlebar (don't know how I'll get the out again...)

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  11. I think I have lost one plastic/metal plug in 100,000 + miles on several road, mountain, hybrid bicycles and my shop that I frequent gave me a replacement for free but thanks for the fashion statement. I plugging in my Bullitt Rye bourbon plugs once I finish the 2nd bottle.

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  12. Didn't Evelyn Stevens use cork bar plugs when she broke the World Hour Record in Colorado Springs Colorado this past February?
    The record has been broken 3 times in the last 6 months..Could it be the plugs???. :)

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    Replies
    1. A shame they do not investigate such questions scientifically.

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  13. I used to try to make my bike clever and special and it didn't work well. I had corks (not all the way inserted) in my bar ends and after returning from jury duty found my bike vandalized with the corks gone, the tape slashed, and a spray painted message. And I thought I was just trying to lighten the bike!!

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  14. I did up a friend's Albatross-equipped bars in shellacked yellow tape and champagne corks, also shellacked, stuck in the ends. It looks pretty spiff with the honey Brooks saddle.

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  15. I recently acted as transition marshal for a local triathlon, amongst my duties scrutinizing bikes as they were racked. Of 300 bike about a dozen were missing bar plugs.

    Chimay Grand Cru corks are good

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    1. On the last club ride I joined, I remember noticing at least 3 (out of a dozen or so) riders with missing bar ends.

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    2. I think bikes that are regularly shoved in and out of cars are fairly prone to losing plugs, which probably explains the numbers at the triathlon

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    3. Three reasons for bar plugs First, they prevent puncture words in a crash. Such wounds are not at all likely, they can happen and this is why competition rules require plugs. Second, an empty hole is very non-aerodynamic. Third, it's a finish detail just begging to be finished. The third reason is all most think of. The first reason is somewhat important.

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    4. Dindong auto-correct. Puncture wounds, not words. Harsh words can hurt too, not quite the same.

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  16. Being of a certain demographic, I have become fond of using a bottle capper to finish up my bar tape.
    When it's time to change tape, just give the cap a good twist, and "Viola!"

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  17. I use bar-end shifters to plug mine, they seldom fall out either. :P

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  18. You know what? I have a bag full of corks and just so happen to be missing a plug. 👍

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  19. Just noticed your Mercian is the same exact shade of purple as the blog's banner!

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  20. If u R using a drink pin as expander plug in center of cork, remove the small umbrella; serious drag!

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  21. Good call, I've also been using corks for a while, except I use champagne corks or those found in corked/caged belgian or craft beer bottles. They have the rounded/larger profile top that sits flush against the bar end when installed. Those on the larger side may need some sanding/filing to fit but most could be compressed enough by hand or tapped in with a mallet.

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  22. The plugs that come with the bar tape are always falling out on me. The wine corks stay in and even if they do fall out, I have an endless supply. One aspect that I would add is the irony of finishing a nice bike with corks that look unprofessional, but upon close examination are from a bottle of a top cru, thus matching the bike in quality!

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