Why does it take so long for corporate bike brands to address popular grassroots trends? Wide bars, short stems, dropper posts, one-by drivetrains, chain guides, 29ers, wide rims, tubeless systems… the list of user-generated improvements that were widely adopted years before mainstream bike and component makers committed to production goes on... Rather than answer that question, I’ll give you another yet-to-be-addressed grassroots example that has been ‘trending’ for over a decade.
How many riders wrap their bikes to protect their frame finishes from gouging and scratches? Yeah, a lot, and the practice isn’t limited to fastidious dentists who can’t live with the sight of a scratched up Hightower perched on the back of their recently detailed BMW X6 M.
I took a straw poll while I was skulking around the Whistler bike park that suggested that as many as one in four riders had wrapped their frames. A little more poking around revealed that a large number of bike brands and shops religiously wrap their demo and rental fleets as well.
You don’t have to search far for a compelling reason to protect a frame. Pinkbike’s Buy/Sell pages are filled with close-up images of minor frame blemishes, posted by sellers to assure potential buyers that their bikes look close to new.
Moab’s Poison Spider bike shop rents a fleet of elite-level trail bikes. Mechanic Chad Guyer says that they wrap every frame with a clear product used to protect helicopters. When the tape comes off, Guyer states that, with the exception of a few deeper gouges which are unavoidable, the frames look new. When Poison Spider sells their rentals, the value added, he says, is upwards of $200 USD.
Let’s recap here: A mountain bike costs a lot of money, and it lives in an environment where it will be continually scratched and scuffed. Paint, anodizing, and plating have historically failed to resist that abrasion. Wrapping a frame with a tough, clear adhesive product protects the finish, keeps the bike looking newer longer, and adds a busload of resale value. And, the concept is both valued and accepted worldwide by a large number of enthusiasts. Buoyed by all those positives, you’d think that bike makers would jump on that and integrate protective wrap as standard equipment on mountain bikes.
But… they don’t.
Applying a layer of adhesive material to the complicated shapes of a mountain bike frame requires some skill and clever cutting. Invisiwrap (left) offers pre-cut full-frame wrap kits for the more adventurous garage mechanic. Or, you can pay to have it done by a pro, like Whistler BC's Ride Wrap (right).
I breached this subject with a handful of marketing types from well-respected bike brands and all I heard were excuses: “We believe that our chainstay cushions and down tube bash guards provide adequate protection.” “It would add weight.” “Bikes are already expensive, that would just raise the MSRP.” “Frame wraps would detract from the finish.” Plausible? Maybe. Pathetic? Absolutely. The smoking gun was that when asked if they wrapped their personal bikes, the answer from five out of six was, “yes.”
Combining frame graphics with a protective wrap is neither new nor experimental. Keith Bontrager’s 1990’s-era hardtails featured thick, wrap-around vinyl stickers that integrated his logo graphic into frame protection for the vulnerable top and down tubes.
Off-road motorcycles and cars have long abandoned paint in favor of protective (and replaceable) wrap graphics in high-scuff zones. To their credit, some brands ship their bikes with an assortment of clear protection tape that range from a handful of dots and squares to ward off cable rub, to more comprehensive kits (like the ones Specialized ships with its bikes), which include some tube-length protection. Yeti includes pre-cut wrap kits that are specific to each frame and size.
Customers, however are still saddled with a task of applying the stuff. No problem taping up small areas, but wrapping the top and down tubes without adding fingerprints and air bubbles to your graphics can be a scary commitment for a first-timer who has just shelled out eight grand for a stunning new bike.
I'm not suggesting that bike makers cover their frames tip to toe with plastic tape. I do think it's high time that bike makers came to terms with the fact that paint doesn't hold up well in the mountain bike environment and offer us a pro-version of the longer-lasting alternative that riders have collectively developed in their absence. Integrating graphics with clear protective wraps on the top tube and down tube, as well as high-wear areas like the rear stays, should not be a daunting task for bike designers. And, applying that treatment at the factory would ensure a professional aesthetic on the showroom floor. Bikes would look better, and customers could refresh the graphics when they didn't. The only real question left is, “Why aren’t we already there?"