Sunday, February 7, 2010

Movie Time

Let's make one thing clear right off the bat... no matter how much we love it and obsess over it, cycling is a fringe sport. I hate to say it, but it's true. Cycling will never have the main stream appeal of the big three: football, basketball, and baseball. It doesn't even register among more minor sports such as golf and tennis. The vast majority of the public fails to understand why we get up at the crack of dawn to don spandex and dodge traffic.

Since we cyclists are the exception and not the norm, mainstream offerings rarely cater to us. Televised races are usually compressed into 30 minute synopses. Bookstores whittle their offerings down to one or two titles on training, maintenance, or something connected to Lance Armstrong. The 1979 film "Breaking Away" is the only choice at most video stores. Considering "Breaking Away" won the Academy Award for best original screenplay and was nominated for best picture, you would think Hollywood would have jumped on the cycling bandwagon. Alas, cycling fever never caught on among Hollywood types and there have been few options in the meantime.

Thankfully the technology boom of recent years combined with non-traditional internet distribution and marketing have helped movie producers create top quality films without having to swoon mainstream movie studios, begging for funding. Cycling movies and shows are starting to emerge and are even gaining some mainstream appeal. In 2009, the mountain biking flick "Race Across the Sky," about Lance Armstrong's win... ummm I mean the Leadville 100 mountain bike race saw limited nationwide release and some pretty good turnouts. 2010 Appears to be building on that recent momentum with some interesting large and small screen offerings.

I saw the trailer for "Chasing Legends" on my twitter feed from the folks at Competitive Cyclist. The film is from Gripped studios and follows Columbia HTC through the 2009 Tour de France. Not a bad choice considering Columbia HTC's sprinter Mark Cavendish won six sprint stages in the '09 Tour. The film will be debuting on May 15 in Sacramento and will follow the Amgen Tour of California before it's released to DVD in July.

Another new offering that caught my eye was a television show about the Bahati Foundation. Rahsaan Bahati is a champion track and criterium cyclist who won the 2008 USPRO National Criterium. Bahati grew up in Compton, California and as a child found his fair share of trouble. An after-school program introduced him to track cycling and within six months he was a competing in the U.S. Junior Track Nationals. The rest as they say is history. Bahati is using his new found success as a platform to share his story with kids and show them the positive effects cycling can have. The show will be broadcast this fall on Universal Sports.

Even though cycling may still be considered the lunatic fringe by the masses, there are a growing number of alternatives to placate those of us who just can't get enough of cycling in our lives. Do you have any favorite cycling movies I missed?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Cyclists Guide to Bar Tape

There are only three points of contact a cyclist has with a bike: pedals, saddle, and handlebars. The most often neglected and least discussed seem to be handlebars and bar tape which covers them. Even seasoned cyclists who spend hours meticulously cleaning their drive train and bikes after every ride often leave dingy, tattered bar tape on their bike. Many fear they can't duplicate the perfect spiral wraps the manufacturer installed. However, it's not complicated at all, and can make a tremendous difference in comfort while riding. Changing bar tape each season is a good way to freshen up the feel and look of your bike.

The first decision is which bar tape to choose. Bar tape comes in many different options. The biggest difference lies in the thickness of the tape. Thicker tape promotes more shock absorption and dampens road buzz. Thinner tape promotes greater feedback and road feel. There are also gel pad kits available which go underneath bar tape to further dampen road vibrations. My bar tape of choice is Fizik's Microtex. The tape strikes a balance between road feel and comfort. Since it is thin, it provides good road feel, but the soft suede texture is very comfortable on long rides. The downside to it - installation is difficult since it doesn't stretch very well and the tape itself is very short. There is just barely enough length to get the bars wrapped unlike other brands.

Fizik's Microtex is my favorite bar tape.

The only tools required are a pair of scissors, electrical tape, and some patience. Although it's not necessary, a bike stand will help maintain tension while wrapping. An extra pair of hands can also be substituted. If you don't have either, your bars can be wrapped with the bike leaning against a wall. One hint, before you begin, take a picture of your bar tape so you can easily refer to the direction the tape runs. Directions often refer to clockwise, counter clockwise, topwise, above, and below. All these directions can be pretty vague when you're standing with naked bars and no frame of reference. Taking a picture makes it easy to refer back and be sure you're doing things right.

The first step is removing the old tape. Flip the rubber cover back on the brifter hoods and begin unwrapping from the center of the bars. At the base, remove the bar plugs. Note the overlap of the tape tucked into the end of the bars. This is an important step to repeat for a clean, finished look. Some tape has adhesive backing to help it stick, if yours does be sure that any residue is cleaned completely off the bar.

Once the bar is clean start at the base and allow about half the width of the tape to hang over the edge. From here, begin wrapping up the bar, overlapping the tape about half the width of the tape as you go. If your tape has adhesive backing, pull about a foot off at a time. The most important thing to remember in this step is tension. Pull as hard as you can on the tape without tearing it. This allows for a smooth layer of tape throughout the contours of the bar. Continue until you arrive at the hoods.

At the brake hoods, it's time for a decision. Most kits come with a two or three inch piece of bar tape meant to go behind the hoods and prevent any naked bar from peeking through. I've found it's not really necessary. Simply wrap as closely as you can to the bar hoods. Then the most difficult part of wrapping your bars - transitioning from the drops to the tops. Keeping tension on the bars, pull over onto the top of the hoods. If you wrap tightly and very close to the hoods, none of the bar will show.

The trickiest part of the process is ensuring the hoods are covered.

Continue wrapping the tops all the way until the end. At the very end, take the last length of tape and cut it on a diagonal so it lays perfectly flat with the bars. Finish off with some black electrical tape. Kits often come with strips of tape for finishing the bars. I've found this stuff rarely sticks well and usually isn't long enough. Some black electrical tape is much more effective. Last step, tuck the overlapped tape into the end of the bars and install the bar plug.

The end result is clean, even coverage throughout your bars.

Wrapping your bars is not terribly difficult, but it does take some practice to achieve mastery. The good thing is, if you find along the way that something isn't quite right, simply unwrap and try again. Changing out your tape is a great way to stave off boredom when it's too rainy to ride. Moreover, the satisfaction you get from wrapping your own bar tape is well worth the minimal effort required.