Yesterday's post prompted a number of comments about top tube pads. Along with the front Aerospoke, the top tube pad has come to symbolize the more vain aspects of the fixed-gear trend. So much so, in fact, that there is now a backlash, as evidenced by this listserv post which was forwarded to me by a reader recently:
Someone put a cigarette butt out on my frame pad.
Last night at BAR. I hope for the sake of New Haven's burgeoning and welcoming "cycling community",that this wasn't an act performed by someone I know. Because I have to look down at that whenever I'm riding now, and know that someone in this world is a selfish dick who isn't down with OPP. However, when you see people fucking with other people's shit as a joke, and then your shit gets fucked with, the pranksters are the easiest and first to blame.
While such a backlash is inevitable, acts of top tube pad violence are totally inexcusable. Before hating, I think it's important we try to understand the origins of the top tube pad, as well as its functions. Based on feedback from readers over the past few months, it would seem the main purposes behind the top tube pad are as follows:
--Protects the frame when locking bicycle to a pole
--Protects the top tube from getting dinged by handlebars (in the same manner as, though distinct from, a top tube protector)
--Protects the groin and inner thigh when skidding
--Protects the frame when resting mallet on it during bike polo matches
--Is aesthetically pleasing to certain people
Okay. But where did top tube pads start, and how did they go from being functional add-ons to being accessories? Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn, but here's what I've uncovered so far. Any feedback is welcome and appreciated.
The obvious common ancestor of the top tube pad as we know it and hate it is the BMX pad. Rules required that top tubes, stems, and handlebars had to be padded during races, presumably so that young racers would one day grow up and be able to reproduce. In this prescient photo, however, only the top tube is padded.
The top tube pad proved to be quite adaptable, and was able to evolve to accommodate a number of unorthodox frame designs. It is most likely this adaptability which made its longevity as a species possible, and which is why it is still so common today.
But what about the crucial leap from BMXs to adult bikes, and particularly fixed-gears? It has been suggested that today's top tube pad has its origins in the messenger community. Messengers have always wrapped their frames in inner-tubes or tape to both protect them and disguise their manufacturers. But was it a messenger who first made this leap from wrapping to padding?
This amazing photo, which I uncovered while Googling in a pith helmet, could very well be the missing link between BMX top tube pads and adult top tube pads. The neon knickers and jacket, mullet, and aero water bottle indicate that this man lived sometime during the late 1980s or early 1990s. And if you'll look closely, you'll see that the top tube is either wrapped or padded, though it is difficult to tell exactly which. The downtube, however, remains bare.
It should be noted though that there are also some things about this photo which indicate it may be a hoax. For example, why would a messenger choose road shoes and pedals? And aren't the Campy components a bit lavish for a work bike? Scholars will no doubt debate the validity of this photo for years to come. Some day, maybe we'll know for sure whether this is in fact Lucy, or Piltdown Man.
Regardless, at some point somebody made the decision to use a top tube pad on an adult bike. But was it a messenger? This photo indicates it was. The pad is clearly a BMX top tube pad (as evidenced by its length) that has been retrofitted to an adult bike. And the Wings of Hermes would imply that this bicycle belongs to a messenger. However, there is the question of the date. While the Rolls is an older saddle, the "One More Bike" sticker is an evolution of the "One Less Car" sticker, indicating the vintage of the bike may be more recent. Still, the value of the photograph is indisputable--somewhere, at some point, a messenger decided to use a BMX pad on his or her bike.
But when did people start manufacturing and selling top tube pads for adult use? A commenter yesterday claims that "the first TTp i ever saw was fashioned by Cory Bennion of DANK bags in Seattle....i am gonna say it was at least in 2000." She further elaborated that the top tube pad not only protects the bike, but is useful in cyclocross as well to protect the shoulder. This is interesting. Did the first purpose-built adult top tube pad originate in the Pacific Northwest? Was cyclocross somehow involved? And does it relate in any way to these weird cyclocross shoulder slings I always see on eBay, though I've never actually seen one being used in cyclocross? Or is the shoulder sling simply a mutant, an evolutionary eddy that leads nowhere? Like so many questions concerning top tube pads, we may never have an answer.
But one thing is certain. Top tube pads became fashionable. The famous Cyndi Lauper bike gives every indication that the owner chose the top tube pad as much for aesthetic reasons as for practical purposes. And its reasonable to surmise that this fashion came from the messenger community, as the popularity of messenger bags, fixed-gears, and front Aerospokes owes much to them. Therefore it stands to reason the top tube pad would come to be similarly embraced--and embellished--as well.
And evidence remains that they continue to be employed by messengers. The STI lever shape and outboard bearing crank place this messenger squarely in our present day.
(At least, I think it's a messenger. So hard to tell these days...)
And what of tomorrow? Well, this new offering from Felt, as seen at Interbike, should help provide an answer. (Thanks to the reader who forwarded this.) Like the BMX pads of yesteryear, they will now be sold as integral parts of the bike. We have come, for better or for worse, full circle.