5TH GENERATION TAPE, RACECARS, RUNNING SHOES AND AIRCRAFT: LAMINATED INTO ONE AMAZING RIDE
So what is 5th Generation bar tape?
Well, first generation tape was organic, mainly cotton or leather.
Second generation tape was known as Cello tape, it was beautiful yet unpadded and slippery as all heck when wet.
Third generation tape was extruded foam, sometimes with cork flakes in it. It was padded and softer, but still had poor grip in the wet, was easily damaged, and was hard to clean
Fourth generation tape was molded using what is known as self skinning foam, this foam forms a dense skin at the surface when molded in a tool, so you could have a soft inner foam with a tougher skin on the surface. This skin could be tackier than was previously achievable, yet could still be quite slippery in the wet and at 0.05mm thick, the skin eventually breaks down and peels away requiring new tape.
Fourth generation foam was interesting in that it felt so soft and squishy, yet didn't ride any more comfortably than extruded foams? The reason for this would be revealed to us in a battle amongst the running shoe giants trying to make more efficient shoes!
SILCA noticed that the development arc of bar tape had followed that of the running shoe.. molded EVA foam became prevalent in the late 1970’s in running shoes and shortly thereafter in bar tape. Similarly, self skinning foams did the same thing in running in the late 1990’s making their way into bar tape in the early 2000’s.. so it was with great excitement that we began following the development of Adidas Boost foam some 5-6 years ago and later the Nike React foam launched in 2018. These foams have completely changed the game by offering a soft and supple ride with highly efficiency energy return.
The reason: previous foams had high damping properties, so if you wanted more comfort or more ‘squish’ you lost more energy. Because of this damping limitation thicker shoes cost more energy, softer shoes cost more energy.. it was simple math. Want to go faster: you needed harder and/or thinner foam.
Then came this new wave of highly efficient foam materials that could be made softer AND more efficient, something which has completely upended the running scene. The modern shoe foam has 1/5 the damping of previous generation foams.. the engineers and designers were appropriately excited as the concept here was that runners could be more comfortable AND faster.
Strava data shows runners on these shoes are running on average about 4% faster, while anecdotally, runners are experiencing less fatigue and fewer injuries due to the shoes transmitting less shock through their bodies… it’s a win-win.
From these advancements we worked with the same foam companies to develop SILCAlon, a softer, higher rebound foam for use in handlebar tape. SILCAlon is 10-15% softer than most bar tape foams, while offering 10-15% higher rebound rates than any previous foams. This means that the foam transmits less shock and vibration to your body, and it does it more efficiently than previous generation foams.
Taking this to the next level, we are using a novel lamination construction technique (also taken from modern racing shoes) where ultra high tack, high strength TPU called SILCAthane is laminated over the SILCAlon. TPU is a super strong polymer which is highly tunable for wet/dry performance and is 5-10x more durable than most foam materials, and at 0.5mm thick, the SILCAthane exterior is also 5x thicker than the skin on self skinning foams. In combination, we have been able to create a tape that is lighter, softer, more efficient, has greater wet and dry grip, and is significantly more durable than anything previously available.
Lastly, we've partnered with 3M to use one of their Visco-elastic damping adhesives to hold the tape down. Testing shows that this extremely thin layer of damping film can help kill road buzz without costing efficiency or comfort.