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.