Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cleanliness is Next to Loveliness

Yellowness darkened by gloves after just one ride. Already past consideration as beausage.

Suddenly, it became clear to me. In just one ride, in a flash, I understood more about cycling and color coordination. The apparent obsession with matching up colors had previously seemed somewhat foreign and incomprehensible to me, although if I'm honest, has never been far from my own practices in riding. 

One bike as black and colorless as it possibly could be was a version of purposeful color coordination. Another time, finally giving in to the conclusion that the long purple bar ends were not quirky or distinctive in their bright shiny purpleness, but were actually over the line into garish and unattractive.

But the extreme endpoint of color coordination, to me, had always seemed like matching up all the parts of a bike's colors, and then selecting and wearing clothing to go along with it. Come on, I would say. Wear what you have on. Just ride. Except for racing and being paid to wear brands and colors by sponsors, what's the point? I would ask / prod. And the endpoint of that extreme state of fashion and color would be: gloves.

In what was one of the most commented posts in the history of this blog, I just asked if gloves were a necessary accessory, or not. I do wear them sometimes, on longer rides, while mountain biking, and, relevant to this post, when trying out new, non-cushy, cotton bar tape for the first time. However, previous to this ride, matching the colors of the gloves to the colors of the clothing which itself matches the bike seemed far beyond the realm of possibility for me. Why do that, what could the point possibly be, in this case, of yellow everything, or yellow and matching tones, probably brown? Given that the pictured bike is a fixie, what kind of grief would I be asking for with my carefully coordinated color scheme? Wear whatever you have on!

Two experiences caused me to question the very foundations of these questions: the first ride on the recently more coordinated Flatland Commuter project bike, which is rapidly and purposefully evolving toward the far end of the YELLOW spectrum, and the post on Lovely Bicycle! about her (truly and indeed) lovely Mercian fixed gear bicycle.

The Mercian is equipped with snow white bar tape that verily lights up against the light purple of the frame. Given my other experience, outlined next, I wanted to ask: how the hell are you going to keep the bar tape that white?

On the first ride of the FLC project bike with it's new yellow cotton bar tape, I wore gloves to cushion what seemed like it might be a harsher ride with the tape, which is less cushy than the cork-like material my other bikes have on their handlebars. During the ride, that seemed true, and I would tend to continue to want to ride with gloves to balance the non-cushioning of the cotton tape on future rides. However, at the end of the first ride, I found the bars looking like the photo above: no longer bright yellow, but instead, marred with some dark smudges which clearly came from gloves. Either from an accumulation of dirt from lack of washing, or from black dye from the gloves, or, perhaps, black dye transferred from the other black cork-like bar tape to the gloves and just unnoticed due to the similar coloration. 

Or, possibly, both the black bar tape and black gloves were "overdyed" to begin with, and each time I rode, had a black dye party, with sweat, rain, and water bottle contents carrying the dye back and forth between the two unknown to me since this mutual sharing of pigment resulted in no obvious changes on either side. The party was over when yellow bar tape appeared like parents showing up at in inopportune moment to shut everything down.

So, two immediate problems, and one longer term one: what to do about the dirty yellow tape, what to do about the offending gloves, and, how does one keep yellow tape yellow (or snow white tape snow white)?

First, wash out the gloves:

Oh sweet Charon, I need an obol to penetrate this stygian darkness!

Even after vigorous scrubbing and many, many rinses, I do not believe that the black gloves will ever be a good match for yellow or white bar tape. They continued to throw off some dark substance, and I have given up on them for this use. Black bar tape only for the black gloves from here on out.

As for the formerly yellow tape, after much scrubbing, I believe I have gotten out the worst of it. The cotton tape is still damp at this writing, so I can't be certain what color it's going to be when dry. But now, I understand. I get it. Yellow or white gloves would be a much more sensible choice for me, going forward. And for snow white tape, I think only white gloves, or perhaps none, would do. A good bar tape shellacking would also be effective in one sense, but right now feels like surrendering to the darkness. Yellow gloves may be in my future.

Still, I'm not going with brown or yellow tires, or cable housing. Not yet, anyway. Wait, I better look closely at the brown leather saddle to see if...oh, no. Soon, I may resemble Tweety Bird, in the name of cleanliness.


  1. Now we know why black bar tape is the norm!

    1. With feedback from the Twitterverse, I've decided to pay little attention to the inevitable grunge, remembering that gleaming yellow brightness is going to dim with usage, but that usage takes priority over brightness.

  2. This is why I've had new white bar tape sitting in it's original packaging for over a year just waiting to be wrapped but I'm too scared!

    We could start a new trend of wearing dish gloves! I bet you could find some in yellow. Not much shock absorption, though.

    1. Do it man. Just do it. Enjoy that initial gleam, snow white in the bright sunshine, then ride it until it's tattered and grimy. The dirt comes with the miles, and the miles come only through the effort of your muscles and the joys of the ride.

  3. Replies
    1. Fortunately, it's most often OCF (F=functional) or somewhere on the spectrum between D and F. The D-mode is never far away, though, as in thinking about and blogging about and scrubbing to try to clean the light/bright handlebar tape should never exceed (in total time) the actual riding itself.


Please feel free to comment here, almost anything goes, except for obvious spam or blatantly illegal or objectionable material. Spammers may be subject to public ridicule, scorn, or outright shaming, and the companies represented in spam shall earn disrepute and ire for each occurrence.