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Top tube pads

Miscellaneous 61 2004

I don’t know who owns this bike, but I saw it on the street in Charleston a few days ago. I enjoy seeing how people customize their bikes, but with the spoke cards, riser bars, day-glo toeclips, and plaid top tube pad, this one reminded me of the fixies that Bike Snob NYC is always picking on (by the way, check out that blog if you aren’t already familiar with it. It is consistently very funny)

I’ll leave making fun of stranger’s bikes to the Bike Snob, but this bike did remind me of something I have been meaning to post about; the top tube pad trend. My son asked me a while back why a “grown up” bike that we saw downtown had a checkerboard “kid’s bike” pad on the top tube. Aside from explaining that top tube pads are trendy and that the owner probably wanted to look like an urban hipster, I didn’t really have a good answer for him. So really, can someone out there explain to me the purpose of a top tube pad on a track bike? I know it is popular these days, but I just don’t get it. If you are constantly falling off the seat and hitting the top tube, maybe you should level your saddle and/or get a smaller frame. I don’t believe though that crotch protection is the primary motivating factor for people who purchase these pads. I think the main reason that people put top tube pads on their bikes is to protect the frame from either the (usually untaped) handlebars swinging around or more likely from an object that the bike is locked to. To me, it is like having plastic covers on your chairs so they don’t get stained. They may technically have a function, but I still don’t really understand them. The bike that my son asked about had a nice new pad on the top tube, but the rest of the bike looked like someone had flogged it with a chain. Sure the dented and chipped frame looked rough, but I bet that section of paint under the pad was still shiny and new. Maybe the owner of that bike should consider downtube, seattube, chainstay, and seatstay pads for his or her next track frame. I had better get to work designing those, because I think fully padded bikes are going to be the next big thing. Seriously though, if you are a fan of top tube pads, can you please tell me why? Maybe I am just missing something.

While I am on the subject of aesthetically challenged bikes, I should pass along this link that a reader, Jason, sent me. I don’t know what to say about these, but the little thumbnail animated gif midway down the page cracked me up. If you are interested in the efficiency of designs like these, check out “Bicycling Science” by Whitt and Wilson. If I remember correctly, the authors explain in detail why designs that use both the rider’s arms and legs to propel the machine are inherently inefficient. Efficient or not, I would still like to test ride one of these rowing bikes. I probably wouldn’t really feel safe doing so without a good top tube pad though.

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  1. Tarun August 8, 2007 at 12:07 pm -  Reply

    It is totally hipster messenger style, and they have it cause they are constantly locking their bikes up to dubious things.

  2. dolan August 8, 2007 at 12:45 pm -  Reply

    That’s funny – I hadn’t realized those things were still in use outside of BMX, where they make obvious sense. I used to have one on my Redline MXII back when I was 14 (a red and white checkered one), but I haven’t seen one since.

  3. Dave Moulton August 8, 2007 at 1:09 pm -  Reply

    I think the younger generation has a castration complex, probably brought by unhappy landings as a kid on BMX bikes.

    I have ridden a bike seriously on and off for over 55 years and never have I mangled my nuts on the top tube.

  4. danimal August 8, 2007 at 1:15 pm -  Reply

    I was told by one guy it’s to keep sweat off his steel frame when he’s cruising around and dripping.


  5. suganick August 8, 2007 at 1:18 pm -  Reply

    I think even better would be some great photos of tubes on bikes, maybe some obnoxious color schemes would be nice 🙂

  6. FixedXorBroken August 8, 2007 at 1:52 pm -  Reply

    sometimes when I do a skid on my fixie I will lock my knee under the top tube to stop the pedals. After doing this, my knee will hurt the next day.

    Maybe it is to try to avert this?

  7. Chris August 8, 2007 at 2:24 pm -  Reply

    The TT protector also helps in 2 other cases:

    1) when locking the bike (especially to a pole or street sign), it prevents scratches that come from when the bike moves – either from imbalance, or inadvertant (or intentional) bumps from passers-by. Sometimes people (or other cyclists, locking to the same pole) will accidentally knock the whole bike down, causing horrible marks on the TT where it was in contact with the pole on its slide to the ground. Proper wheel and lock-positioning can mitigate this factors, but its often difficult to rule out all possible movement while locked.

    2) bikes without brakes lose the benefit of cables, which help prevent the handlebars from swinging around at high speeds. A single ‘cross lever is also popular, but it still doesn’t do much to reduce handlebar range of motion. Believe it or not, in accidents or even careless handling off the bike, handlebars can come around fast enough to dent the TT.

  8. Ed W August 8, 2007 at 4:48 pm -  Reply

    I hadn’t thought of using one until you mentioned it, but I’ve given the idea some consideration. In the case of my bikes, a top tube pad would protect the bike from my, uh, unusually large man member. It’s quite possible that it could dent the top tube or even cripple it. Most riders are merely posers when it comes to TT pads, but on my bike it would actually have a practical purpose.

    Or maybe it’s all just my imagination.

  9. Fritz August 8, 2007 at 5:03 pm -  Reply

    Holy cow how to you follow up on Cycle Dog’s hilarity? Denting and crippling his top tube indeed!

    Seriously, the real reason is just accessorizing, like wearing earrings or tats or funny socks — it’s a way to make the bike unique. When I was a kid we put pinstripes on our cars — this is the same thing.

  10. Retronot August 8, 2007 at 10:25 pm -  Reply

    I think that they may use the pads to sit on when they hang out. Generally these riders do more socializing than actual riding. The protection from top tube dings might have been where it started, but that does not explain why many of these pads cover the full length of the top tube. Many true track bikes sport a very short, maybe 6″ reinforcement sleeve, but it in no way pads the rider.

  11. Anonymous August 9, 2007 at 11:08 am -  Reply

    Would have come in handy many years ago when my Raleigh 3 speed gears would slip when standing on the pedals.

  12. Anonymous August 10, 2007 at 12:52 am -  Reply

    Go to youtube and look at a skid competition. “Real” messengers lock up the rear wheel, and, to get some extra distance out of it, throw their weight forward. Crotch on top tube.

    The need for the pad should be obvious.

  13. Anonymous August 19, 2007 at 3:08 pm -  Reply

    I have a steel frame which can get a little heavy sometimes, and the top tube pad keeps my shoulder from getting hurt when I have to carry my bike. My shoulders are kind of bony and I hate having to cautiously position the bare top tube on a rare piece of flesh around there to try to find the least painful way to carry the thing down or up several flights of stairs.

    • megan September 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm -  Reply

      Same with me. My bike used to have back brakes but no longer does. Although the brakes are gone three metal holders remain on the underside of the top tube. They dig into my shoulder like crazy when I have to carry my bike up the stairs or anywhere. This padding prevents my bike from hurting me during everyday use.

  14. Anonymous September 9, 2007 at 6:13 pm -  Reply

    Prevents scratches, and is a bit more comfortable when you’re carrying your bike up ‘n down stairs…it doesn’t offer any signifigant degree of protection. Stop taking the piss, Jesus. Don’t like ’em? Don’t put one on your bike.

  15. Bryan September 15, 2007 at 4:24 pm -  Reply

    no scratches on your top tube, ease in carrying, ease on your nuts if you suck at riding bikes and fall, you can get it to match your baileys or re:load bags, doubles as great insulation for your pipes in winter, covers up the “pista” decal on your bianchi, keeps sweat from corroding your housing routers (hey, someday gears will be vogue again, right brahs?), they compliment bullhorns and everyone FGG has one!

  16. prehistoric_revolution September 18, 2007 at 2:59 pm -  Reply

    if you’ve ever watched a fixie kid skid, he’ll tuck in his legs into the front of the frame, and rest his crotch on the top tube. first off, many street fixies are with older frames, frames that once had brakes and derailures. with that, comes little pieces of metal ontop of your frame. now, when skidding, and as i said, tucking your legs into the front of the bike underneath or right around the toptube, your legs ( and this is from very personal experience ) can get easily nicked and scrapped and gashed, wicked, wicked, easily. thus, the need for a top tube pad.

    thought now, it is slowly becoming just some stupid way for a hipster to make his bike super hip.

    but still, don’t be callin no fixie kids pansies cause they got a pad, we’re not ALL stupid hipsters.

  17. Anonymous October 3, 2007 at 9:33 pm -  Reply

    that is my bike in the picture. The top tube protector is there to cover up some ugly rust spots that were caused by some 60 year old dude’s sweat that i had bought the bike from. Also, to protect it from getting further dings and scratches. It has nothing to do with being “Hip” or whatever. I just want my bike to last longer than its going too.

  18. James October 4, 2007 at 7:25 am -  Reply

    Thanks for all the comments everyone.

    To the owner of the bike, sorry if I came across as picking on your ride. It just happens to be the one I saw while I was thinking about a post on the subject of top tube pads. I am glad to see bikes on the street, with or without pads, so don’t take this post too seriously. Just keep riding everywhere.

  19. Anonymous October 4, 2007 at 1:59 pm -  Reply

    I don’t have a top tube pad. I do however like riding sitting on my top tube while my girlfriend sits on my saddle. This is most exhilarating yet can be very painful sometimes. Perhaps a top tube would assist me in my suave hipster loving ways.

  20. Anonymous October 7, 2007 at 3:18 am -  Reply

    doodz, i wuz gonna buy 1 dez thingz offa innernetz 4 like $40 to makw my new ny langster look swwet. now i no i’m jussa faker so i quite bikez. youl only c me gettin aroudn n my suv nowadayz.

  21. Anonymous October 12, 2007 at 2:20 pm -  Reply

    I use a pad on my bike tube to cushion my shoulder while i carry my bike up the stairs to my apartment.

  22. Anonymous October 17, 2007 at 10:42 pm -  Reply

    I used to think that top tubes were garish until I ate pavement in a side alley at 2am and the only person around to see it was a homeless dude. My drop handlebars swung around and left a nice dent in my top tube because of the fall. If I had a pad on it that would not have happened. Now I sport a sweet dark blue TT pad.

  23. Anonymous November 23, 2007 at 7:36 am -  Reply

    Do you know who is the top designer in this area?

  24. Anonymous January 14, 2008 at 11:11 pm -  Reply

    If any of you ride a bike more than once a week or in city traffic frequently, you know that you can’t always be sitting on the seat while stopped at a light, stop sign or whatever(unless you are amazingly gifted and can sit track stand all the time). Messengers spend 8 hours a day on a set of chromolly tubes that are unforgiving on the body. Top tube pads are used for a lot of things but for my folks and I, we sit on them at lights and the like. It’s funny to me that so many people give a fuck about bikes and bike messengers. Who gives a fuck. Does anybody care that UPS delivery guys always wear brown? Or that cheezy office dudes match their coats to their trousers? Trivial. Who cares, go on with your lives. There’s better shit to think about than a top tube pad.

  25. Briana February 20, 2008 at 1:16 am -  Reply

    Well, obviously the aforementioned and pictured bike isn’t used for cross, but perhaps top tube pads are used in cyclocross racing. When carrying their bike over the barriers or up some burly hills, some riders swing it onto their shoulder; this can hurt a little bit.
    Top tube pads can cushion the bar somewhat.

    Just a thought…

  26. Anonymous February 24, 2008 at 2:29 pm -  Reply

    Top tube pad or not, riding a track bike on the street is dumb.

  27. Christina March 17, 2008 at 9:56 am -  Reply

    I’m not a track bike rider, but I converted an old road frame to fixed and I think someone mentioned it before… while doing skids it’s possible to rip holes in your pants from the cable-stays sticking out. I have an obnoxious 3″ long gash in my pants now from one of those things not getting along with my legs.

    Also.. for more functionality, I’m actually wishing I had a top tube pad. Hauling a heavy steel frame up the three flights of stairs gets a little bit painful resting it on my shoulder. Call me a weakling chick, but some extra padding while carrying that thing would be appreciated.

  28. Anonymous March 21, 2008 at 5:34 pm -  Reply

    in addition to the obvious benefit of scratch-resistance, the reason i initially purchased one is that i often sit on my top tube when talking to a buddy or a cop or whatever. obviously, i’ll just trackstand if i’m saying hi or giving directions. but if i’m actually having a conversation, i sit there, and the pad just makes it more comfortable.

    and remember — all fixie riders aren’t hipsters. i’ve been riding fixed in an urban environment for 20 years. hardly a hipster. hardly hip at all, at my age. hahaha!!!

  29. Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 9:21 pm -  Reply

    You people are a bunch of insecure losers who worry too much about looks and being hip. don’t you realize that by wondering why people use tope tube protectors, because you think they look silly and are an attempt to be cool or hip your also making an attempt to be cool or hip by conforming to this beleif that there is a right or wrong way to accessories your bike! some ppl like top tube protecors. i know i do because i am very anal and like to take care of my bike when locking it up to things. if you don’t like them that’s fine. keep it too your selves and and don’t worry about what others are doing. by the way this whole message board is bogus, the lady who started it answered her own question in the beginning. LONG LIVE TOP TUBE PROTECTORS!

  30. Anonymous April 11, 2008 at 8:38 pm -  Reply

    I actually saw a guy the other day that had cut out the top tube completely. Yes! he had cut out the top tube. He did have a basket on the front, and it did not look like he had re-enforced the down tube… I wish I had stopped and asked him why he did that. hahaha craziest things people do.

    anyway, I’ve thought about getting a pad, because when I do skid hard, I tend to lock my knee under the top tube, and it does get bruised.

  31. Anonymous April 14, 2008 at 11:20 pm -  Reply

    what a waste of breath. i feel sorry that your kid has to figure out why his dad even cares about such seemingly inconsequential things as tt pads.

    if everything done was for some utilitarian reason then the world would suck because there’d only blogs about the stupidity of top-tubes. or would there…

  32. Johnny April 23, 2008 at 10:19 pm -  Reply

    “The bike that my son asked about had a nice new pad on the top tube, but the rest of the bike looked like someone had flogged it with a chain. “

    Great imagery… I actually laughed audibly at that. Thanks.

  33. Anonymous May 21, 2008 at 8:08 pm -  Reply

    I used to use one on my track bike, only to protect the frame from scratches from the drop bars smacking the top tube. but after looking at my down tube and seat tube, i realized that it really didn’t matter.

  34. Rob May 31, 2008 at 11:19 am -  Reply

    So this is a really old post so I guess I don’t know why I’m bothering, but whatever.

    I don’t understand why people get so judgmental about other people’s bikes. If someone likes the way a top tube pad looks on their bike, so what? How does it affect anyone, anywhere, at all. Judging something as being “hipster” isn’t really that far a cry from hipsters judging something for not being cool.

  35. James June 6, 2008 at 2:58 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for all the great comments.

    Rob and all, don’t take the post so seriously. Yeah, I was joking around about top tube pads, but that doesn’t mean I have anything against those people who choose to use them for function or style reasons. Trust me, I am happy to see any and all bikes on the street even if they don’t appeal to me personally. Take the post with a grain of salt and if you ride a bike like the ones I described, more power to you. It’s all about riding what you like and having fun doing it.

  36. Dannyg1 June 7, 2008 at 3:18 am -  Reply

    Funny to just happen upon your blog after asking this very question on two forums, just days ago:

    The primary concern for the toptube pad I made (that’s pictured and referenced in the above thread) was/is protection from accessories (like keys, cases, shoulder packs)banging, falling or swinging onto the fragile paint.

    My thread also fell into a nonsensical argument involving the term ‘poseur’, rather than ‘hipster’.


  37. s>k>b June 13, 2008 at 11:42 pm -  Reply

    whoever mentioned ease in carrying it up and down stairs hit the nail on the head. a steel bar in your shoulder kind of hurts, especially when you’re one of us lanky scrawny folk. a pad is the most obvious solution

  38. Anonymous June 29, 2008 at 7:02 pm -  Reply

    I too have a top tube pad (a section of pipe insulation) for comfortable carrying. Because my frame doesn’t have cable stays, I used zip ties to attach my rear break cable, which are rather sharp and dangerous when left exposed.

    It’s also nice for sitting on when hanging out with my bike.

  39. Anonymous July 17, 2008 at 7:26 pm -  Reply

    Wish I had one of those! I recently leaned my new Gary Fisher Mendota against the outside brick garage corner of my house (I should have known better) to make an adjustment and SCRAPE – damn!
    I miss my Schwinn with the kickstand LOL

  40. Anonymous July 26, 2008 at 1:24 am -  Reply

    okay top tube pads are to keep the frame from getting dented. when you do a trackstand or swing your bars really fast when u have drops or a brake lever it hits the frame. im getting a pad cuz my paint is chipped from my brake lever. in response to people saying theyre for protecting your nuts, it only does that if you are doing a really intense skid when 3/4 of your body is over the bars

  41. the c August 9, 2008 at 9:32 pm -  Reply

    stop it. go out and ride your bike. with or without the pad, who cares??

  42. Anonymous August 30, 2008 at 1:14 pm -  Reply

    they are a pad for your shoulder when carrying your bike up stairs. i guess they would make good pads to sit on as well.

  43. Bob October 17, 2008 at 3:08 pm -  Reply

    thanks for posting this lame hipster bike. I saw this one in Charleston… Unfortunately, it is one of many. The pad does make sense for carrying up stairs but come on… It was originally used to block the logo of the bike… I don’t think this particular frame even has a logo. This is clearly the case of a misguided hipster.

  44. Anonymous October 24, 2008 at 1:08 pm -  Reply

    doubtless I’ll get flamed, but here is why I have one (I use the insulation you can get for a dollar from the plumbing supply outlet). People who ride every day, rain or shine have to lock the bike to some strange things. Random people knock your bike over. If you ride steel, the top tube can get dinged SO BADLY YOU NEED TO BUY A NEW FRAME (happened to me). I bet most people like the look, there is the skid bit, and the 5th-floor walkup bit. But I don’t want to buy a third frame.

  45. JoshuaB November 21, 2008 at 4:05 am -  Reply

    I have one on my bike for the reason I thought they were intended, when carrying bikes up and down stairs or anywhere they can’t be ridden, I will usually hoist the bike up on my shoulder resting the top tube on my shoulder bone.

    Painful when its hard metal against your skin, not so much when its padded.

    Keep in mind my top tube is the same color as my bike, which has all silver and black components, none of this fluorescent and checkerboard crap

  46. Atlatl November 28, 2008 at 6:19 pm -  Reply

    I was actually totally against the idea of getting a top tube pad, but I actually think the explanations relating to carrying bikes up and down stairs makes sense. I go to Humboldt State University, which has it’s name affectionately (or not) altered to Hills and Stairs University. I think a pad might be helpful when carrying my bike up and down 8 flights of stairs.

  47. Anonymous December 18, 2008 at 7:10 pm -  Reply

    why do most fixie haters spend so much time styling their hair?

  48. Chris January 14, 2009 at 2:29 am -  Reply

    I’ll give you my spiel on why I put a top tube pad on my bike. I completely overhauled an old Rampar from the 70’s with new everything and a new paint job. I plan on using the bike as a tri bike (despite its weight) and as a commuter to college. Now I’m probably another poser and all, but honestly I like the idea of not gripping onto the new paint when the bike is lifted, not having it rub and not having the drop bars scratch it to death. It may be a hipster move but it does make a difference in the longevity of the paint, particularly on an old steel frame where rust prevention is a prim concern.

  49. Anonymous January 24, 2009 at 9:11 pm -  Reply

    Bikes are fun to “Pimp Out”

    Bikes are works of art

    Their just bikes so stop being so serious

    They look cool… and might stop you nuts from being cracked

  50. Anonymous March 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm -  Reply

    customizing bikes is just like customizing cars… it’s fun and it’s a great subculture, especially fixies in japan. They have some crazy stuff there.. but anyways the top tube pad is also used to carry bikes on your shoulder.. my friend has a bad shoulder and it helps ease the pain when she carries her bike up steps..

  51. somatt April 14, 2009 at 10:09 am -  Reply

    I’ve only seen top tube and stem pads. My stem is too pretty to cover and I have electrical tape wrapped over the rest of my tubes on my frame.

  52. Anonymous June 3, 2009 at 11:36 pm -  Reply

    Dave Moulton and "castration complex"??? Maybe you're projecting a little? Retronot: generally, you're generalizing too much – I wasn't aware that a top-tube protector made you a certain "rider". Bottom line, why do you guys care so much? It's ok to be curious, but all those snobby comments are a sign of weak character and too much time spent on the internet, myself included. It ain't your bike – quit criticizing. One could probably pick your bike apart too. Like that "comfortable" 100-year old Brooks saddle, or your downtube shifters. I don't like them, but they work for you, so be it. Ultimately, who cares? Maybe there's a purpose to the top tube protector, maybe it's aesthetics, maybe go out and ride your "visually correct" bike?

  53. the big dangerous July 18, 2009 at 2:11 pm -  Reply

    nice . i like that last one.

  54. Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 11:10 pm -  Reply

    well if you care about your bike in the city, you tend to bring it into your house/apartment overnight. this usually calls for multiple flights of stairs. if you have boney shoulders like i do, it's not the most comfortable thing in the world to throw a bike over your shoulder. enter top tube pad. other than that, there's no reason.

  55. AcidArgyle August 23, 2009 at 11:38 am -  Reply

    I'm planning on putting a pad on my single speed soon because I want to cover up the cable braze-ons. I just racked my leg on one dismounting and it caused quite the bloody gash. Those braze-ons on the top of my bianchi tube are just begging to have knees and legs scraped on them.

  56. Anonymous October 28, 2009 at 11:06 pm -  Reply

    To hide dings. My buddy gets mad at me and throws my bike against things. It makes big dings, especially in the top tube. The pad might even reduce the severity of the dings. It is completely practical.

  57. Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 1:02 am -  Reply

    I actually didn't use a top tube pad and my bike fell over and dented the top tube so bad that I had to buy a new frame. I know it sounds crazy but it was a freak accident. I am totally in line with top tube pads but most people don't ride their bikes hard.

  58. Mike March 8, 2010 at 7:14 pm -  Reply

    Ech, Im tuning up my fixie and will probably buy one. Any I totally agree with your argument. I can be real about it, I want it because it is trendy and I think urban hipsters look cool. Thats whats in style, and I think it looks different and pretty cool. Im ok owning my poser intentions. and honestly, if someone asks why, this is the answer ill give them. I feel I have enough substance in my personality to justify a few aesthetic splurges.

  59. Astro January 23, 2012 at 3:39 am -  Reply

    A while ago I was doing a keo spin lost my balance hit me leg on the top tube nd it left a nasty mark … nd guess wat I bought a top tube pad it also gives my fixie more swagg (style)

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