Most of the people I ride with know the story already, but we all encounter somebody new from time to time. If they are old hands at cycling they probably are familiar with the concept, but once in a while I still get the question “what’s with the cork?”
I first heard the story from hall of fame cyclist, coach and friend, Ted Ernst, founder of one of the cycling clubs I belong to, South Bay Wheelmen. It’s a variation on losing the cork for your bottle of fizzy wine – it’s gonna go flat if you leave it sit for too long without the cork in place (assuming you’re not drinking the entire bottle to celebrate, or perhaps mourn, the performance of your favorite futbol club).
The way Ted tells it is that back in the olden days, before we had fancy bar end plugs with integrated lighting systems, or even just simple plastic plugs (for us low-budget riders), wine corks often were used as bar end plugs. Just trim them down to the appropriate diameter and stuff them in. Your wino chums, or your favorite barkeep, provided an endless supply of them. Here is a photo supplied by Mike Mosig of Beach Cities Cycling Club, who really DOES use champagne corks as bar end plugs:
You might ask, why does one need a bar end plug anyway? Here are two good reasons –
- Unplugged handlebar ends are a health hazard, not because they emit any noxious gases, but because you don’t want to fall on one if you happen to crash your bike. It will likely puncture your sweaty corpus and, at the minimum, result in painful medical co-pays.
- If you use some sort of wrapping tape on your handlebars, when the tape reaches the end of the bar, what do you do with it? Just cut it off? If you’re using a tape with sticky backing, that might work, but it’s likely going to get un-sticky over time, unravel and start flapping in the breeze. Very shabby and definitely not pro. More likely, you want to leave some extra tape beyond the bar end, tuck the extra into the open end of the bar, then secure it with the plug of your choice, fancy or not.
Reason #2 is the point of this post. A bar end plug keeps your handlebar tape from unraveling and looking not pro, and this is where we take it a step into the literary and metaphysical realms. Cyclists who really get into the sport often push themselves to
improve their conditioning and ability to ride farther and faster, and maybe even dabble in bike racing on the club level or more seriously on the USA Cycling level. This all invariably leads to days on which they get pooped out on the training ride or in a race. They UNRAVEL, so to speak. They can’t hang on, they lose their fizz, get shelled and finish well off the pace, probably while looking not pro. Gasping for breath, barely turning the cranks and maybe even cramping on every slight increase in the grade.
So how does the concerned cyclist avoid such a fate? Obviously, you could simply avoid the activities leading to such physical unraveling and only expend your cycling efforts rolling leisurely between pastry shops. If you really feel that competitive urge, you could hire a coach and train more effectively than the competition. Maybe visit the dark side of Tijuana for some PEDs.
Then there is the rabbit’s foot approach, which is what I rely on personally. A good-luck talisman, a voodoo charm, a cork hanging from my tool kit. Yep, that’s the answer to the question posed above, “what’s with the cork?” Granted, it does help to train a bit, eat properly, elevate my legs whenever possible and sleep like a log. But as long as I have a piece of cork somewhere on my bike while riding, I firmly believe it will help me avoid unraveling.