Monday, 27 October 2014

The Art of Bar Tape

I know this has being done a hundred times but I thought I would give my take on it. The wrapping of bar tape, sounds simple, but is it really? Bar tape is one thing on the bike your average cycling enthusiast can struggle with. For some, it is sometimes more difficult than a gear adjustment. Most repair work requires special tools, but not bar tape, just a pair of scissors. So fitting bar tape should seem fairly straight forward then, right? Well it is actually not that simple. There is an art to it and the reason some struggle is because of, or rather lack of, practice. Wrapping tape is all down to technique, which you get with practice, it’s that simple. Some will say there will be a right way and a wrong way to wrap tape. You'll realize this by watching a few You Tube videos, in the comment section readers will write stating the procedure being done is wrong, I believe there is no real wrong method, just bad technique. I started wrapping my own bars around the age of 14, so since then I have wrapped a hell of a lot of bars, which is now something I could probably manage with my eyes closed, but I will never attempt doing  as attention to detail is what it is all about.

right side bar wrapped outside to inside. 
In my view, the proper way to wrap bars is to start at the drop and tape towards the stem. A good example of a video the way I do it, is a clip by the Global Cycling Network (GCN)  Try not confuse yourself with watching too many videos as the variety of methods people use might differ. Although most do it fairly much the same way of drop to stem,  the difference is in the direction, as some go inside to outside rather than like me outside to inside. Either way will work given the right technique, but either method is not necessarily right or wrong. My reason for outside to inside is because when a rider is on the drops, they tend to sit naturally with the wrists rolled slightly inwards, thus tighten the tape. In some videos though they think this is the opposite, force is put to the outside of the bar. But I don’t know any elite rider that sits with wrists rolled outward, or even puts that much force to the bars outside edge.  At the end of the day wrap your bars any way you please, like I said there is no real wrong way despite what some might say. But I believe the way I wrap is the right way. If you have gaps, bulges, unevenness or the tape unwraps after a couple of rides, you have clearly done something wrong. The way I wrap bars is just the way I was taught but all the mechanics I know in the pro circles wrap the same way as I do. Us race mechanics don’t use any fancy tricks either, just get the tape on quick and proper because most likely in a week or so it will be changed anyway.

bars wrapped stem to drop.
Another wrap style is to start at the stem but with this method it will leave the tape with a kind of against the grain feeling under your hands, imagine a cheese grater sort of feel. On the top it will start to curl up on the edges as your hands push against the wrap of the tape. Wrapping from drop to stem will give a much smoother feeling under the hands as the grain runs away from the hands. But some guys wrap this way so they don’t have to use the finishing tape, but the finish tape gives the opportunity for a bit of customizing. The only time I would use this stem to drop method is on bars that have a large flat top section, in where you might want to show a bit of carbon. 

 Then there is the little piece that goes around the shifter, use it or don't use it. You may hear the term figure8, which relates to the tape going around the shifter body a particular way . Now the shifter is probably the most difficult part and it is easier to use the little strip. The figure8 method can be tricky on current shifters, more so for a beginner wrapper. A few videos will say you don’t need the small strip of tape, but on these videos you will notice most are wrapping around an older Shimano (usually 7800 type) style shifter. This type of shifter is easy to do the figure8 method without creating much bulk because the shifter body dimensions are quite small. Shifters now days have a much larger body profile to achieve a flat transition from hood to bar, so the figure8 method is a little harder to master in order to get a result with no gaps. To do a figure8 with no gaps can create more bulk than if you just used the little strip. On the very few videos that do wrap over newer shifters using the figure8, you might also notice they never show you the inside of the shifter, because this is the area where you will most likely have a gap. Not saying it can’t be done, but you can achieve a nice finish much easier by using the small strip, just because you use it won’t mean it’s not pro, however a nice finish will be pro.

The selection of tape you choose can also make the wrap process easier, If your new to wrapping tape, don’t go with something like a Microtex tape such as the Fi’zi:k. This is a really nice tape but for the beginner but to achieve a nice finish might be difficult, leaving you possibly in a rage of frustration. It is better to choose a good quality cork tape, something with a bit of elasticity so you have a bit of stretch to shape it as you’re wrapping. A tape with Gel backing is comfortable but is more crucial to get the wrapping tension technique just right as some have not much of an adhesive backing , which you might find it coming loose in a day or so. A tape with an adhesive backing is a better option for a beginner. There is a huge variety of different brands and types and it will all come down to personal choice, but if wrapping tape for the first time then just try to keep it simple. When you get the technique down pat you can move onto more complex tapes.

here I could use white tape, but I had a black seat and a white
bar and stem, so black was a better option.
Color will also be a huge factor, and this is where no matter how perfectly you wrapped the tape, if the tape doesn’t tie in with the bike it will look wrong. Black or white is probably the most popular on all bikes these days with other colors not as common anymore, as it was in say the 90’s. Back in the old days the tape choice could always match the color of the decals on the frame. In the 80’s white was very pro. Now days most bikes will either accept white or black unless it’s an old school celeste colored Bianchi. For me there are 3 major rules to white tape, 1; white should only be selected if it suits your bike. 2; you’re prepared to clean it regularly or 3; you’re prepared to fork out the cash to replace it often. Dirty white tape is a big no no and extremely not pro. A simple guideline to remember would be white frame decals =white tape, but also keep in mind, white tape white seat, black seat black tape. Just look at all the Pro Tour bikes this season, tape and seat always matching, with the exception of Belkin. White tape has always been the pro look but now more Pro Tour teams are going to black tape as it saves time in the washing process, a majority of teams now use black. 

Before you start you’re wrapping, be sure to have all the necessary items to do the job close by. This includes scissors and finishing tape. If you have a Pin Spanner or Peg Clamp then they are useful to hold the tape in place if you need to let it go. It is easier to have the bike in a workstand, but don’t have the bars too high up, lower the bike into a position so you stand a little over the bar. This will give you good control during the wrapping process. Always start with a nice clean dry bar and be sure the cables are in good condition and taped neatly together. This might differ if routing the shift cable at the rear of the bar like on Campagnolo, as the shift cable may be positioned at the back of the bar while the brake cable is at the front. Now is also a good time to check the length, long cables just look ugly as well as increase friction.

So now it’s time for some wrapping. Start on the underside of the bar leaving about ½ of the tape so it overhangs the end of the bar, gently apply some tension on the tape while wrapping in towards the bike (known as outside to inside) at a slight angle. You might hear this as a 35 or 45 degree angle, but I really don’t know where they come up with that number.  If you take the right side of the bar for example and look from behind, following the direction of the tape wrapping, the angle of the tape is more like 15 degrees, but looking from side on, it’s more like 75-80 degrees. Anyway, this is not a mathematics class, so just put the tape at a slight angle. By the time the first wrap is done, because of the angle of the wrap you should have only about 5mm overhanging where it meets the start of the tape. Continue wrapping by keeping gentle tension (no need to over stretch it) and the slight angle on the tape, overlapping the tape each time by about 1/3, only do about 3 or 4 wraps for now, you can use the pin spanner to keep the tape in place. Then what I suggest you do is place the end plug in already. Most will leave this step til the very end, but for a beginner, now is a good time to place it in. Here is why. If you wrap the bar completely and then find you had too much or too little overhang when you started, the plug will not have the correct amount of resistance for a snug fit, resulting in the plug falling out. If you just do 3 or 4 wraps then there is no need to unwrap all the tape to correct it. The fit of the plug can depend much on the type of tape and type of plug, so get the fit right before going too far. Now I did mention it was an attention to detail thing, what I do is turn the plug in the direction of the tape as I put it in. This I find gives it a bit more bite to stay in, and of course with the plugs logo facing the correct way up.

Every wrap of the bar you want to focus on keeping the look of each wrap nice and even. Also keep an eye on any gaps or bulges that may appear on the underside of the bar, especially in the bend. Bulges will easily appear with a tape that has not much stretch in it. It is IMPORTANT to keep constant tension on the tape as you wrap.

As you near the shifter, you want to finish no more than 1cm below the shifter body. Then use the Pin Spanner to hold the tape while you cut the small strip piece to cover the shifters band clamp. A tidy trick is to cut this small piece flush with the shifter body as in the GCN video, going over the body can create a little extra bulk and may cover holes in which the hood cover pushes into. But it is not a big deal to just trim it back a little. Place the strip so the bottom edge lines up with the bottom edge of the shifter body. With the small strip in place, continue the wrapping by going under the shifter body so you have half of the tape on the bar while the other half on the shifter body. REMEMBER, keep constant tension.

Then go behind the bar and over the top of the shifter body. The direction of wrapping should now be towards the rear of the bike. This is so when riding on the top of the bars the hand pressure tightens the tape as you naturally roll your wrists downward. So for now just wrap the tape another 3 times, use the Pin Spanner to hold the tape so you can pull back the hood cover to check if there are any gaps before continuing.
before pulling back the hood I will trim the clamp strip
so it does not cover any holes or look so bulky.

As you wrap into the bend of the bar, the area of the tape at the front of the bar should become narrow while the outside area remains the same consistent spacing as the rest of the wrap. It is in this bend where hand pressure is very common and often where the tape will separate, so tension on the tape is important.
As you come out of the bend, a couple of wraps will be straight but then continue at the 15 degree angle (towards the stem) and do not keep wrapping straight.

You want to finish the tape where the bar starts to taper out, or where the logo starts. I aim to finish the tape about 40-50mm from the stem, try to get the other side exactly the same so they look even. If it’s not even it will not only look shit but will give you an illusion the bar is not mounted in the center.
Do not cut the tape on the wrong side otherwise you will get the wrong finish. Cut the tape perpendicular to the stem, so that's the inner edge of the tape. The cut should be long enough (about 70-80mm) that it does a complete lap of the bar. To get a real clean look the trick is to now get the tip of tape to finish underneath the bar, you can cut a small tip off if needed.

the cut edge in on the right side
Now to finishing the tape off, this is the final touch to get it looking right. First, it’s again about the right color, here though you can get away with a touch of real color other than just black or white. For example, if you have red highlights on the frame you can maybe use a red finish tape. Use a good quality electrical tape that is of reasonable width. Always wrap the finishing tape in the same direction as the bar tape. If you managed to end the bar tape on the underside of the bar, start your finish tape here also, this is better for a smooth look on top of the bar. Overhang the finish tape by just a millimeter or two, give it a slight bit of tension and as you wrap it around, the slight overhang will curl over to cover the cut edge of the bar tape. Once all the way around then release the tension and wrap the finish tape around 2-3 more times. Do not make the finish tape too much wider than its original width, as that is wrong and just looks ugly. I see many mechanics do this and it just screams unprofessional, as it is not the finish tape that holds the bar tape in place, it's the tension you used in the wrapping process. 
Then cut the tape off at an angle so it is easier to locate when the time comes to replace the tape.

Then that's a wrap, you have finished wrapping your bars, and if all done correctly you will have a tape that looks pro and will stay on without unwinding itself.

Below is a video I did some time ago for team sponsors, here I use the figure8 method. It was just on a mobile so quality is not that great and I am the first to admit I’m not the clearest talker.

Happy riding

Friday, 17 October 2014

The New Tacx Workstand

I was well overdue for a new workstand having had the previous one for 8 seasons. The Tacx Spider Team is a widely used stand throughout team mechanics, some by sponsor deals and some by choice like me. Tacx's new stand was designed with the help of pro team mechanics, so my expectations were high. My old Spider Team T3050 was a good reliable workstand, I only had to once replace the front fork mount due to it breaking when the stand blew over in a really strong gust of wind. Other than that, the one bad point I would have to pick on about the old stand was the horizontal base in which the bike sat on, this is changed with the new T3350 version, plus a extra benefit thrown in.

A workstand is a vital workshop tool for doing bike repairs properly and hassle free, it makes also washing a bike much easier. In Europe the fork mount type stand is just about used by every mechanic, but I notice in the US, mechanics will use more often a clamp mount type like Tacx's Spider Professional model. In my opinion, I prefer the fork mount type as the bike is much more stable to work on and no worrying about crushing carbon tubes or scratching paint. This said, a clamp mount style is good when you have a variety of bikes to work on, as a shop does for example. The other benefit is being able to leave both wheels in, this is handy when say bleeding or working on front disc brakes like on mountain bikes, and is why this type of stand is common with mtb mechanics. But if I was to set up my workshop, I would take the top part of my new Spider Team and just mount it on a pole that is then welded to a steel plate, similar to the Park Tools PRS-23. I would set this up in a wash area and also in the workshop. Then I would have a stand like Park's PRS-3 OS-2 to work on mountainbikes to make working on the front disc easier.

The new T3350 is a light stand, I weighed mine in at 4.18kg. The light weight is always an issue with stability, but this stand has a wide foot stance, and with the back and forth adjustability of the top tube you can really fine tune the stability. Tacx state the new design is also to help shed dirt build up thanks to the triangular construction, but also the material finish feels different which I think will aid in the dirt just washing off easier instead of sticking to the surface, time will tell though as it is light silver in color. As with Tacx all the parts on this stand are also replaceable, so if anything breaks it's good to know you can replace just the faulty part. I will note that the stand is no longer height adjustable as it is fixed, I would have therefore liked the main tube maybe a tad longer to give just a touch more height.

The fork mount holders seem fairly solid, but the levers are slim and feel as though they may break if you adjust them too tightly. You want tension just at the half way point similar to a quick release. I do like the bottom bracket craddle, it is much longer than on the previous stand which is a benefit to flat shaped brackets found on TT bikes. It is also now two separate arms that overhang out the rear with a good hollow depth to allow for bikes with Di2 or SRM sensors The separated cradle also means if you put on a bike with a shorter wheelbase the rear wheel can slot between the two arms rather than hit the stand like it used to on the old one.

The best idea on this stand that makes it different to other stands of the same type, is the tilt function of the top tube. Most stands are a fixed top tube at a slight upward angle that levels the bike as if it were on the ground. Or the top tube is fixed in a horizontal position like the previous Spider Team. While most stands just lock into place this stand's top tube can not only be adjusted backwards and forwards but also tilted backwards or forwards. This is great when you have to work on shifters or a rear derailleur for example, because you can put the area you need to work on at the right height. This I guess makes up for the stand not being height adjustable but I still would have liked a tad more height from that main tripod tube, and I'm not a tall person.
push the blue button to rotate.

The tilt adjustment is thanks to a lever, similar to what you find on a thru-axel, that you can loosen and tighten to set the angle you need the top tube to be in. Then you push the release button to flick the lever out of the way. This is a great feature for this type of stand, but... The biggest downside I see on this stand, and there is no way I would have designed it like this, is that although it is 360 degrees rotatable, it comes with a negative point. There is a small blue button that locks the top tube into place via a spring loaded pin, to rotate it, you must push the blue button, great you say, until it just locks into place again. I don't know about other race mechanics but I'm constantly rotating my stand as I work on the bike, especially when washing the bike. When the Top tube is locked into place it also is positioned in a place that leaves you standing over one of the tripod legs rather than in between two in order to stand parallel to the bike. I think I will be rigging that pin so it doesn't pop out and lock it in place as I believe it could do without it, then it will be fully rotatable quickly and easily.

Overall the stand is a great improvement on the old version. Other than the rotating issue I would have liked to see the arms that attach from the legs to the main tube, to be made out of something harder than just plastic. There is a small amount of flex in this area if the top tube is moved side to side, say like when cutting a steerer tube. But given my nit picking, if you are in the market for a new stand than this one is a great option to consider. It is much more affordable than similar workstands that may have similar small issues to some degree or another. The stand also comes with converters for different axle types to accommodate thru-axles on mountainbikes. A tool tray is also provided that just clips, but I'm not sure if tools would get in the way when turning the crank. I don't really use the tool tray other than to put bolts or small tools on as I usually work from a table or workbench. The stand also compacts easily and small enough to stand in a corner or small space if needed, it also stands on it's own. It will be a bonus if it is small enough to pack into my Park Tool carry bag.
assorted adaptors for different
axle types.

Friday, 10 October 2014

A World Champs Bike

It just goes to prove you do not need the latest and greatest equipment to win a race, even a world championship. While the Ridley Helium is a quality and modest frameset, it does not feature some of the Belgian brands more advanced technology that you might find on say the Noah FAST. Sven Erik Bystrom road this very bike to an deserving victory in the recent U23 road race World Championships. Here you will not find any electronic gearing or even an power crank or the lightest of components, just a normal bike put in the best working condition I can make it and ridden with the desire to win.

I was not at the Worlds this year in Spain, but it is my job to make sure the rider is sent with a bike in what I believe should be nothing less than perfect working condition. All the mechanic has to do there is keep it clean. Sven Erik did two races with us just prior to leaving for the Worlds, he had no problems with the bike. But with me it is not just a wash and there you go kind of deal, everything is checked. I make sure the chain, cassette and chainrings are all in good order and replaced if needed. The gears are checked and if the shifting feels tight or sluggish cables are replaced. But the shifting was light and smooth, so all good. Still though, all the inner wires are checked at fastening points and in the lever body, also all housing is checked for damage. The frame is also checked for damage and bolts are all torque checked. Wheels are checked and he receives two sets with new tyres fitted. The bike had everything replaced back in June, and since then he used the bike only at Tour de L'Avenir, so not much needed to be done. He has the exact same Ridley as a training bike which he took as a spare for the Worlds, that just needed a new chain. I also sent him with a small bag of spare parts as he was flying with both bikes. You can never fully trust a soft bag with luggage handlers these days. So items like shifters, derailleur, cables and seatpost as well as a number of other small parts are also sent. Normally I have a hand luggage bag full of parts to send, enough to build two bikes, but he did not need all that nor did he have the room.

Sven Erik's Helium is a size medium that runs a Campagnolo Chorus groupset, yes thats right Chorus, no Super Record here. The build components are from sponsor 4ZA including seatpost, seat, stem, bar, bar tape and bidon cages. Wheels are supplied by Mavic and we use the Cosmic 40T with Vredestein rubber. The bike as it stands comes in at a weight of 7.24kg, not a weightweenie figure but still decent given the components.

The crank is 175 in length and uses the standard 53x39 set up. The Bottom Bracket configuration is a PF30 68x46, not my favorite system but you work with what you have. The pedals are Look's Keo Max2, a reasonable pedal for the price but not quite built to last as they state.

I sent with him to the Worlds in the bag of spare parts a 27 cassette, but he obviously decided to stay with the 11-25. Again all standard Chorus equipment here. I do add an extra strip of tape on the chainstay, because in my opinion the factory applied one is too small, sometimes starts coming off and is not placed correctly. The extra tape just stops the chainstay from looking so beat up after taking wheels in and out so many times.

On the front end of business he uses a 4ZA alloy 130 stem, slammed of course, and a 4ZA alloy bar. There is no brand logo on this bar because it is not exactly an off the shelf item. Many riders these days still prefer a classic shape bar, Sven Erik is no different. Since 4ZA do not have one in their stock line up, this one is supplied for the team to use.
I normally have red finish tape on all my bikes, but here black is used from when the tape was last changed at Tour de L'Avenir. I forgot to change it to red.
On the cables I use an adjuster for the front derailleur, just to get the cable tension right for those micro shifts.
Brake pads on the Chorus callipers are Campagnolo carbon specific, the red even matches the bike, NICE!

The saddle he uses is 4ZA's Cirrus Light model in 130 width, they also do 145 width version. The seatpost is a Cirrus Pro carbon item with a 27.2 diameter. The post comes with a plastic clamp bracket to prevent any possible slippage and is also handy as a height indicator when the post might sometimes be removed. He has a seat height of 760 measured from the top of the bracket to top of saddle, and a reach of 602 saddle tip to center of bar.

The number holder you may ask, is made by a crazy German guy named Victor, friendly guy not really crazy. he makes them all by hand with a brazed on nut and a 4mm hex bolt. I have never broken one.

The Helium frame has slipped down the ladder in the line up to allow the Helium SL to be the top dog in Ridley's stiffness to weight category. It now uses a slight lesser layup of 30T and 24T HM unidirectional carbon opposed to the SL's 60,40,30T set up. But we found the Helium to be a bit more robust (and for not much more weight) than the SL which we used the previous season, basically we broke less frames this season as a result of crashes, which in the end saves the team money.
The bidon cages are 4ZA Stratos items, just a hard thermo plastic material that do the job. But I strongly suggest you use a Tacx size bottle (that's the bottle they are made for) and do not do the fastening bolts too tight, just my tip.
Also here, all the bikes use a simple but effective chain catcher just for when the rider changes that front mech too quickly, which young riders these days have a habbit of doing. If they learn't to race with the old down tube shifters it might be a different story.

What can you say about Mavic wheels, you either love them or hate them I think. The team uses the Cosmic 40T which has a wide rim so a 25mm tub would be recommended. We used mostly 23 this season, and let me just say we had a few damage issues for some reason. The wheels roll nice, are stiff and have external nipples for easy truing. The freehub body however takes a little maintaining to stop drag, that is known for the Mavic freehub. This is due to the good sealing of the freehub body. Simply just give it a clean out every so often and relube with some light lube to keep it running free.
The tyres are Vredestein Fortezza Senso, previously called Fortezza Pro. These are the All Weather model and the riders say are very good in the wet. We rarely have flats with these tyres compared to some other teams, but I try to change them when they start to wear down too much. I actually prefered the old model because in the center it had little dimples, this Senso version is slick in the center and is more prone to small cuts, but it's still a good wearing tub. Another thing, 120psi is enough.
I also tape the valves. Normally I do one wrap around the valve before gluing the tyre on, but the rims hole is too small for that, so the more ugly method is used of over the rim. A decent amount is also needed because of a bulky sleeve that is used in the manufacturing process on the rim. Sven Erik is tuned in to every little noise on his bike and noisy valve stems is one thing he hates. The rims have a small rubber sleeve inside but it often does not stay in place.
In my opinion, these wheels would look so much better with a silver spoke instead of the black which eventually get all scratched up and look terrible, but that's just me, I'm old school.

So that is the bike that rode to a rainbow jersey, nothing too special, just a working class mans bike really.

Happy Riding.