Soooooo… you just bought a new bike. It wasn’t cheap. And it looks sweet as! But a month of shuttles and aggressive trail riding will make any bike look as if it’d been flogged with a chain. Applying some protection to that new ride will help keep it looking shiny and new a lot longer than just plain old paint. Maybe it’s a vanity thing, but when some people are forking out anywhere from $7k to $10k for a complete bike these days, investing in some kind of protective tape or film to keep it looking fresh just seems like common sense.
Just this past year, RC wondered, "Why don't bike companies
do this for you? In some places on the frame they already do: most frames, particularly carbon ones, have a TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane) guard to protect the bottom bracket area from trail debris and on the drivetrain stays to protect from chain slap. Some frames even have an additional TPU guard on the down tube for shuttle protection. But why don't they do something better than paint to protect a frame head to toe? The simple answer is mo' money: the materials cost of a good protective film isn’t huge, but it has to be applied by hand, and that’s both time consuming and labor intensive to do right. And while bike companies could easily do this, that cost would ultimately have to be passed onto the consumer, making an already pricey investment even more expensive.
That brings us full circle to the DIY approach to protecting your investment. There are a number of readily available films and tapes that can be purchased to protect your bike. All are made of either Polyurethane or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride - often simply referred to as "vinyl"). Polyurethane tends to be more elastic and abrasion resistant than straight up vinyl, but vinyl can have plasticizers added to it to increase elasticity and abrasion resistance. These films come in various thicknesses, defined as "mils" which are thousands of an inch, or microns, which are micrometers. A thickness of 1 mil equals 1/1000 of an inch or 25.4 microns. One thing to note: none of these tapes were specifically tested in this review for abrasion resistance, but rather for ease of application and my own two cents on personal experience from using them over the years. Here, we’ll outline seven protective film options—at least one option should be readily available to you via the interwebs or your local bike shop. Keep in mind, though, that tapes and films aren’t armor plate: they won’t prevent dents in an alloy frame, etc. They are just an abrasion guard for your frame. Additionally, I limited this review to tapes I could readily get my mitts on; there are other options available, like Frameskin and Shack Wrap, that I was unable to easily get my hands on.
Racer tape is the original DIY protective tape. Originally designed as a protective film for helicopter blades, it’s a polyurethane film available by the roll in various widths. I get the outdoor grade version, so it won’t go yellow over time. It’s extremely tough—you WILL need scissors or a knife to cut it. The standard thickness is 8 mil—8 thousandths of an inch (203 Microns). It’s also nice and pliable, making the application fairly easy. Removal is also easy—no messy chemicals or having to scrape it off; it pulls off easily and in a single piece once you get a fingernail under it.
My personal experience with racer tape is that it’s reasonably easy to apply to everything except inwardly curving tubing, like the head tube/down tube juncture and the curved portion of the seat mast/gusset, or those curved areas between the chain and seat stays. To get it to adhere in places like that without trapping air bubbles or having the tape bunch up and not stick cleanly means busting out a heat gun (a blow dryer will work adequately in a pinch) or making articulation slits in the tape to allow it to mold better to those curves. Sometimes I needed to do both. If you do get a bubble, it's not the end of the world; a careful pin prick will allow you to press it flat.
Racer tape comes in a 14 mil (355 Microns) thickness, too, but it’s more difficult to apply to tight spots without a heat gun and would really only be useful on parts of the frame that are typically already protected at the factory level: the bottom bracket and drive train side of the rear swing arm. And make sure you get the OG version—Outdoor Grade; it will resist yellowing from UV light much longer than non-OG surface films.
All Mountain Style Honeycomb Frame Guards
All Mountain Style is the brain child of two enthusiasts from Barcelona, Spain: Xavi Navarro and Carles Carrera. They started All Mountain Style Frame Guards out of simple need: there was nothing with any “style” available for bicycle frame protection—just boring, clear, helicopter-type tapes. Carles’ background in MX turned up a few colored options and from there All Mountain Style was born.
The AMS honeycomb frame guards come as a kit, with ten strips of thick, semi rigid PVC for your frame. And by thick, I mean 380 microns—nearly 15 mils. Each kit has a long strip for the down tube area, 4 pieces for the stays, a rectangular piece for cable rub, and chevrons that will extend the long strip’s coverage into more difficult to cover articulated areas. It’s rated as outdoor grade so it won’t fade or yellow in the sun. And perhaps best of all, AMS has a variety of cool graphic options in addition to your basic clear (skulls, bears, maori, etc), as well as a few solid colors, too (yellow, black, red, etc.); sixteen flavors in all.
Due to the thicker, more rigid nature of the Honeycomb Guards vs racer tape, they go on easily—no heat gun needed at all—and resist bubbling during application far better than any of the other tapes reviewed here. But that more rigid nature also makes it harder to apply to inwardly curved areas of the frame, which is where the chevrons come in handy: they can easily placed on those tricky portions of the frame. AMS tape removal is also relatively easy; just like racer tape, it peels off in a single piece without putting up an epic battle.
D'oh! The only downside to AMS tape is that the chevrons don’t provide seamless protection for the frame; a rock managed to thread this gap between the chevrons and the main piece of tape. AMS also makes a few other protective tapes for other parts of the bike: specifically forks, cranks, and chain stays.
One Manufacturing, formerly One-Ball: Bicycle Moto Deflection Die-Cut Protective 20 Piece Kit
One Manufacturing enters the fray with their twenty piece Bicycle Moto Deflection Die-Cut Protective Kit, an 18” x 27” sheet of 6mil PVC film pre cut into handy shapes that will fit the important parts of most frames. One Manufacturing already had a couple of different frame tapes available under the One Ball name, but the die cut pack is hands down the best value I found online. One note: unlike some of the other tape packages reviewed here, the swatches of protective film don't have pre cut slits for articulation. One Manufacturing left it that way deliberately, reasoning that not all frames have the same curves, and that allowing the user to make articulation slits as needed lets them optimize tape placement for their individual needs. With so many shapes to use, this DIY approach allows one to tailor protection for tight parts of their specific frame. Bonus: there are even a couple pre-cut pieces of tape for cranks and forks. Other companies have fork and crank tapes or films available but they need to be purchased separately.
Articulation slits not included? Not a problem, really. I added these in about 30 seconds after checking where the frame curved.
The Moto Deflection tape goes on relatively easy—very similar to straight up racer tape. That’s not to say having a blow dryer or heat gun on hand isn’t a good idea. But patient application will see coverage without any annoying bubbles (which can be eliminated with a careful pin prick, same as racer tape). Removal is relatively painless, too (unlike One Manufacturing’s Black Rubber 1/16” thick shuttle guard—that shit is NOT coming off), making re-application a snap should a piece ever need to be replaced.
Lizard Skins: Large Carbon Leather frame protector and Frame Kit
• Clear and Carbon Leather
• MSRP: $22 USD and $40 USD, respectively
Along with their grips and assorted other accessories, Lizard Skins has been in the frame protection game for a while. They have a pretty good selection of tapes available, but there are two standouts: their “Carbon Leather” frame protector and their clear “Frame Kit” (each sold separately). Carbon Leather comes in two sizes: a size S (32mm x 222mm) and size L (64mm x 305mm). Both have pre-cut slits for articulation and some curved chevrons for spot protection. Their matte clear Frame Kit is one stop shopping for basic frame coverage. It has two small and two large strips (32mm x 222 mm, and 64mm x 305mm respectively), and a variety of small patches for spot protection; all frame protectors have pre-cut articulation slits, too, making them easy to use on most curved frame parts.
The Carbon Leather is nice and thick and offers some damping protection from rock strikes (although a hard hit will still likely dent an alloy frame). Most carbon bikes—but not all—have the bottom bracket area protected from rock strikes with a TPU plate already, but very few alloy bikes go that way, making the Carbon Leather an ideal DIY fix for bikes that have missed the TPU boat. I used it in 2013-14 on my alloy Lapierre Spicy 527 (I rode the piss out of that bike!) and never had to replace it during that 2 year period. It also came off easily when I cleaned the bike up for resale.
The pre-cut articulations are nice for fitting inward curving sections of a frame. Particularly the bridge between seat stays (seen here) and the BB yoke.
The Frame Kit is an 11mmil thick proprietary blend of outdoor grade polyurethane. It’s ideal for covering the underside of the down tube and the top of the top tube, as well as any cable rub spots. The left over frame protectors can be trimmed to cover chain or seat stays, etc. It’s very similar to Racer Tape or One Mfg’s die cut film in look and feel, although it is a bit thicker, and goes on about the same (as in have a blow dryer or heat gun on hand to aid in application and take it slow to avoid bubbles). Once in place it stays put nicely and does what it’s supposed to do: keep that frame looking fresh despite endless big days and poorly loaded shuttling runs. Removal is fairly painless, just get a fingernail under the edge and start peeling.
• 56 different graphics and clear gloss
• MSRP: $45 USD
Iago Garay is the working man’s bike handling hero who rose to fame with the re-launch of the Santa Cruz Nomad in 2015. He’s been a Santa Cruz Enduro team mainstay ever since. But what’s a bike racer to do in the off-season? In Iago’s case it was to start DYEDBro (Do You Even Drift Bro?) and start selling jerseys, stickers, a few t-shirts… and a wide variety of printed 12mil thick vinyl protective films that are pre-cut to fit all bikes. Iago uses a latex digital printer, too, with eco-friendly inks to help keep things green.
Each tape package includes 4 chain/seat stay protectors, a top tube protector, and a down tube protector. There are 56 different flavors to choose from, everything from an Anka Martin designed Maori inspired graphic to a Hawaiian theme to Day of the Dead sugar skulls to a camo graphic. There are also two clear versions, one with a black logo, and one with a white logo.
Again, application is straightforward: get the hairdryer/heat gun ready and get after it. Even then, despite the thickness of DYED's film, the application process is a bit touchier than any of the other tapes reviewed here (excepting the wet process films below). That’s not to say it’s more difficult than the tapes reviewed above; rather, it just needs a bit more attention to prevent bubbles or wrinkles. Once in place it stays put without worries, and offers the same type of protection as the others, although with way more options to personalize your ride. Removal is similar to the others; just get a fingernail under the tape and it should peel off in a single piece.
• Clear Gloss and Clear Matte
• MSRP: $93-100 USD, depending on the frame
If you’re going to go all in to protect your bike frame, the UK based InvisiFRAME is a top shelf choice—provided they a) make a film mapped out to fit your particular bike, and b) you have the patience to apply it yourself. Otherwise, be prepared to fork over anywhere from $125-$200 to have a professional do the installation. I know… you just said WTF?!?! Just keep reading.
InvisiFRAME has been around since 2011. Their 12 mils thick polyurethane film comes in either clear matte or clear gloss. What sets them apart is that their film covers your bike head to toe in an automotive outdoor grade protective film that won't discolor and has a self-healing characteristic (cuts and nicks that haven’t gone completely through the film will fill in over time, quicker if a bit of heat is applied). Additionally, their film kits have been painstakingly mapped out to fit specific bikes, down to the exact model and size vs. simply DIY taping the top tube, down tube, and various other selected bits of the bike. For example, if you have an Evil Wreckoning, they have a different InvisiFRAME kit available for every frame size of that particular model of Evil. And it literally is head to toe coverage minus cut outs for internally routed cable ports, head badges, factory TPU pieces, etc. There are small gaps in that coverage, but otherwise it’s as close to a complete “wrap” job as one can get. And while they have a pretty impressive library of bikes—their library of brands listed is pretty much the largest out of the companies that offer full “wrap” jobs—if by chance your bike isn’t on that list, they do have a few generic options available, as well. Weight weenies can rejoice, too; a complete wrap will only add 40 grams or so to your overall frame weight.
Application is as ingenious as it is tedious. It’s a wet process that allows easy positioning of the various strips and patches, and that uses a squeegee as each piece is applied to virtually eliminate any bubbles. The upside: this wet application also means that re-positioning a misplaced strip is simple, as long as you do it before the InvisiFRAME film sets—about a 24 hour process. But for every Ying, there’s a Yang: in order to apply InvisiFRAME properly also means unimpeded access to all the nooks and crannies of your specific frame, so be prepared to do a bit of debuilding to get easy access to all parts of your frame; for some bikes that's just removing the wheels, but for others it might mean pulling cable housing, etc. Additionally, you’ll need to clean the beejesus out of the frame with isopropol alcohol or a similar cleaner prior to application, even if it’s fresh out of the box—that frame may look pristine but any contaminants will screw the pooch for a proper application. Last, for a DIY application, expect 2-3 hours if not longer to get 'er done. InvisiFRAME offers tips and videos on where to start with your bike and how best to proceed, but it will still be a time-consuming process, to say the least. A professional installer can typically do a frame in ninety minutes or so, but that will be an extra hit to the wallet.
Bonus: Should a swatch of tape ever need replacing, you can contact invisiFRAME for a specific piece. In that case, removal of the damaged piece is par for the course: pick an edge and peel back slowly at an angle. InvisiFRAME also offers custom decals for forks, frames, rear shocks, and wheels, also painstakingly mapped out to fit specific models.
• Clear Gloss and Clear Matte
• MSRP: $92 USD for full coverage film kit
If InvisiFRAME is a ten for frame protection, then Whistler based RideWrap turns it up to eleven. RideWrap’s TPU film is 8.2 mils thick outdoor grade that’s guaranteed to resist discoloration or cracking for 10 years—a pretty bold claim! And they, too, utilize an extensive library of different makes and models of bikes (although not as extensive as InvisiFRAME’s), also mapped out to be size specific, and with either a matte or a glossy finish. Additionally, their film also has a self-healing finish as well—again, nicks, scrapes, and abrasions on the film’s surface tend to smooth out over time and “fill” back in, typically when a bit of heat is applied. Plus the film they use has a low surface energy meaning dirt and grime don’t really adhere well to it, which makes the bike even easier to clean after an epic muddy ride—all virtually identical to InvisiFRAME. But where they deliver the goods one notch louder is that RideWrap doesn’t just do the full monty, but allows bike owners to choose from among 4 different levels of protection: $92 USD for a full wrap job, $40 USD for fork only, $64 USD for the “covered” wrap (the stays, back of the seat tube, top tube, and down tube), and $32 USD for the “essential” coverage (inside of the drive side stays, top tube, and the BB and shuttle part of the downtube).
I personally haven’t used RideWrap, but looking at a couple bikes that have been wrapped since last fall, ridden frequently and hard, and put away wet, it appears pretty bomber. Additionally, they also offer a DIY TPU shuttle armor pad that adheres well to the frame but can be removed without damaging the paint. And weight weenies can rest easy: similar to other available bike frame film wraps, a “full monty” Ride Wrap kit only adds about 50 grams to the overall weight of a bike frame. A bit more if you add on a fork wrap or their TPU shuttle guard.
This stuff is damn near invisible.
Now the downside: like InvisiFRAME, RideWrap is also a wet application that uses a squeegee, etc. And it’s equally as tedious and time-consuming to apply it if you opt to go DIY: expect 2-3 hours of exacting work to do a full bike wrap. But if you’re in Whistler, you can book an appointment and have Ride Wrap do the install for you to the tune of $90 CAD—typically in under 2 hours. Otherwise, ask around for a shop quote. The only other dis I have is identical to InvisiFRAME: if there are decals on your bike, no matter how thin, unless removed, you’ll have minute air bubbles surrounding the graphics under the film after it sets. That can’t be avoided unless you peel them off before applying the film. If you do opt to go bare frame but still want to have decals on your bike, RideWrap recommends custom decals from Slik Graphics that can be applied after the film sets.
Options, options: fork application is equally subtle, and the shuttle guard just makes good sense.
To sum it all up: AMS was hands down the easiest to apply. One Manufacturing was the best deal for a DIY kit. DYEDbro has the most options for customizing your bike as well as protecting it. Lizard Skin has the only thing close to a factory TPU plate to protect that BB area from hard impacts. And racer tape gets you enough tape for 4-5 bikes, but it's a pure DIY application vs getting a pre-cut kit. Winner, winner; chicken dinner is the full monty protective film applications from InvisiFRAME and RideWrap. These two are easily the best abrasion guards available for your bike that I was able to review, but that level of protection comes with a hefty mo' money price tag.