Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review: Bike Trainer Tape

First let's take care of the full disclaimer: I was sent this tape to try out and review at no cost to myself. It does not reflect (positively or negatively) in this, or any of my reviews, but some folks get hung up on things like that and so I like to put the info out there.

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a new product to put through it's paces, Bike Trainer Tape. (You can also find their Facebook page here and amazon store here.)



So, let me give you the short and quick thoughts on it first, then we'll delve into a little more thorough thoughts on it.

After going through almost all of my roll (I still have enough left for one race) I will say that if you fit the target audience, it's a pretty nice, life simplifying product. There are plenty of people who absolutely loathe switching tires to go between riding outdoors and indoors, and for them, I'd say it can certainly save you some headaches. There are also the racers that don't like warming up on a $100+ race tire (myself included) that the tape can certainly be a benefit to.

My goal from the outset was to put the tape through the absolute hardest (not recommended even) conditions to see where (and why) the point of failure was. Anyone who knows me knows I spend a VERY large portion of my training time on a trainer of some sort, so it's certainly worth prefacing with the fact that I was almost certainly tougher on it than the vast majority will be.

 Anyways, lets' get to it.

The Good
I am in a very fortunate position when it comes to my indoor trainer / outdoors riding. I have a stable of bikes and multiple power meters... so it's no great cost to me to have a nearly 100% dedicated indoor powertap wheel with a trainer tire on it. That isn't the case for most people, and so to BTT's primary audience it can be a boon. I would hazard to guess that the majority of folks split their time indoors and outdoors either pretty evenly or slight to moderately favoring the great outdoors. If you are using a traditional turbo trainer, that either means you swap tires when you hop on the turbo, or you just accept the added wear that riding the turbo will do to your tires.  While there are certainly other solutions to the problem (changing tire, direct drive trainer, dedicated trainer tire/wheel) BTT is certainly the cheapest and quickest to take you from outdoors to indoors ready.  Installing the tape takes about thirty seconds, maybe slightly longer your first time or two. (or if you double wrap it)


The things I found that were most important when installing it are to get it at the "sweet spot" of tension as you wrap it around the tire. You don't want it to be pulled so tight that is starts to stretch, but you do want to make sure it is securely around the tire so that you reduce the risk of it bunching up when you put pressure on it. Once you've got it fully around (slightly overlapping at the end) you run around it again and get rid of any air bubbles that may have formed. Then you are ready to go as usual.

The other group of folks (that I lump myself in with) that could use the tape are cyclists looking for a way to protect their expensive race tires when doing a warmup before the start. I carry my old Kurt Kinetic Road Machine with me to all my TT's, and I've always kind of just had to cringe and bear it when I clamped the pressure down on my $100 Turbo Cotton or Veloflex Record. You could also swap wheels to warm up, but that opens up some situations (especially with superbikes or those with horizontal dropouts) where user error (whether because of lining up the wheel or the hard to adjust brakes on superbikes) can lead to at the least a much more hectic race to the start line. I don't know many of my friends that race a lot that would remove their rear wheel of their tt bike minutes before their start time.

To try this out I did my full TT warmup using my race gear. (Speed Concept, Zipp 404 Powertap, Spec Turbo Cotton 24 w/ latex, KK Road Machine with a little over a billion miles on it) I set the pressure on the rear tire of my KK by the "slip test" (hold the flywheel and pull up on the wheel. Tighten right to the point where the tire no longer slips)



The warmup itself I'll spare you from having to read. It involves a couple minutes easy spinning, a few efforts at tempo, a build up to slightly above race pace and a couple of "leg openers" going up to a few short "not quite sprints." The wattage range went from ~150w to upwards of 600.

I double wrapped my tire for the warmup (just like I would/will on race day) because I wanted to make sure I got all of the Turbo Cotton that would be touching the roller protected.

After the 30 minute "warmup/test" was over I hopped off and removed the tape.



There was a very slight bit of residue left over when I removed the tape. I was able to get it off with just my sweat towel and water with minimal effort, but I think it'd be prudent (and BTT recommends) using alcohol to wipe it down to make sure you get all of the residue off. I'd say it might take you 1 to maybe 2 minutes to get it totally clean after you jump off the bike.


The Bad
Another preface - BTT has a specific caution against using the tape with a computrainer OR with a trainer tire, both of which I'm about to talk about doing. So take most of "the bad" with a grain of salt that I'm going against manufacturer recommendations.
Unfortunately (for me particularly) I could not get the tape to work with my Computrainer, nearly at all. I tried multiple tires, different amounts of press on force, pretty much everything I could think of and it always either bunched up or pushed off of the side of the tire within the first few minutes (generally before I got to the point of setting the rolling resistance)

a whole load of things not to use with BTT in one picture!

My theory is that the Computrainer uses a mounting bracket for the resistance unit that allows for quite a lot of adjustment, both fore and aft and also side to side. Unfortunately this opens up the possibility to get the roller slightly off center/angled. Racermate's way to check is to roll the tire forwards and backwards and watch for the tire to move side to side on the roller... and while I've got my unit nailed down to where it is no longer noticeable, I would guess that it is still a couple of degrees away from perfectly even. That seems to be just enough to push the tape off the side of the tire. Double wrapping did not help. I would also guess that since ERG mode (on all smart trainers like the Computrainer) adjusts the resistance in ways other than you actually shifting gears, that you would heat up the tape quite quickly (which I don't think I need to tell you is not good) and probably have similar or other mixed results. Unfortunately I do not have another Smart trainer to test this out, so that's only speculation. (And BTT does not have any warning against using it with other smart trainers)

computrainer resistance unit bracket, you can see the large hole in the middle that allows for adjustment/tuning.


I *did* try the tape with my Tacx trainer tire on the Kurt Kinetic as well (again, using a trainer tire is not recommended by BTT) and although it did not work (it actually bunched up, I should have gotten a picture but didn't, sorry.) with a single wrap, it did stay on and work as advertised with a double wrap. Now, why you would use BTT on a trainer specific tire... I don't know... but I tried it anyways just out of curiosity, so it *can* work.

The Ugly
BTT currently sells for ~$13 a roll. Each roll is good for (I actually got a little more than the advertised amount out of my roll) 10 tape jobs, 5 if you double wrap. Now, considering a single wrap is estimated to give you 40-80hours of ride time (I'm afraid I did not put the longevity to the test, but it does seem reasonable) then for the most likely "target" audience that is considerably cheaper than buying a trainer specific tire, even if you swap between road and turbo a bit. However, the cost does start to climb if you are going indoor to outdoor frequently, as the tape is done once you pull it off. (I tried to re-use a strip and it did not work at all)

That means that the other target group, the warming up cyclists, will burn through a roll of the tape pretty quickly. If, like me, you are going to double wrap your tire, you're looking at $2.60 in tape each time you warm up before a race. Is that more or less than you'll chew off of a race tire in around 30 minutes of warming up? I'm not sure (and it likely depends on your setup) but I'd guess it's somewhere in the ball park. Is that couple of dollars worth not having to deal with swapping out your race and trainer wheel to warm up? Again, depends on the person, but I'd guess that in general it is.

BTT contacted me and let me know that there will be upcoming promotions aimed towards time trialists to help ensure they get a good bang for their buck. I will update when we have more information.

Oh, and only orange? C'mon guys... we need a variety of colors to coordinate with our kit ;)

Final Thoughts
BTT is certainly a quality of life item, not an essential one, but like central heat and air or smart phones... there's nothing wrong with quality of life items. There are definitely those out there who it will work better for than others, but if you are the type of rider who pretty much stops riding outdoors as soon as the weather turns cold, or are somewhat apathetic when it comes to changing tires between the great outdoors and the turbo (be honest...) then BTT can be a nice middle ground. Same for the racers looking to protect their high thread count rubber before start time.
So, if it sounds like BTT might be for you, I say give it a go. While it won't be something I use a a regular basis, I will definitely have a roll in my travel bag ready to use before my races.

As always, thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

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