Carbon and LeatherJan Heine
The Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Diverge test bike came out of the box all black. Specialized’s photo (below) makes it look like a shadow, but when I saw the actual bike, I found quite unappealing. Everything looked like it was made from plastic.
I dreaded taking the bike to the photo studio, where it’s our job to make test bikes look good. And I wasn’t particularly looking forward to riding it, either.
As it turned out, I had to make a few changes to the Diverge before I could take it on the adventure that we planned for this bike test. With its stock tires, the deck was stacked against the Diverge, so on went a set of Compass Extralights. The handlebars gave me numb hands just riding around town, so I installed a set of Compass Maes Parallel 31.8 bars instead. And the Body Geometry saddle clearly didn’t fit my “geometry”, so it was replaced with a Rivet leather saddle that we were also testing for BQ.
These changes gave me an opportunity to do something about the appearance of the bike, too. Even though Compass tires are available in all-black, I opted for tan sidewalls to accentuate the wheels. Instead of reusing the original tape that looked like somebody had wrapped the bars in an inner tube, I used leather bar tape that matched the honey color of the saddle.
With these small changes, the bike was transformed, both functionally and aesthetically. The tan splashes of color directed the focus on the parts of the bike that matter: the tires that make the bike roll; and the handlebars and saddle as the important contact points with the rider. The black carbon frame connected these parts with smooth lines. To me, the bike now looked really appealing, and I could hardly wait to ride it.
Imagine my surprise when I saw a similar juxtaposition of carbon and leather on a BMW concept car in a Munich showroom. The “328 Homage” has a body made from carbon fiber. The wheels are silver (not black!), and there are leather straps on the hood.
The interior is covered with beautiful tan leather. It is a rather appealing mix, and I wish I could have sat in those leather seats. For me, leather isn’t about luxury or status, but its texture feels nice to touch. Leather develops a nice patina with age and use.
I imagine how the concept car would look if it was driven for a few thousand miles and then put on display. I was glad that I was able to ride the Diverge. The colors of its bar tape and saddle became even richer with use.
For a fast camping trip on the Diverge, I took the contrast even further by adding a set of Gilles Berthoud panniers. There was a practical reason to use the Berthouds, as my modern front panniers were too small to carry a weekend’s camping gear. But once the panniers were on the bike, I realized how nice the gray-blue canvas looked with the black carbon…
I believe that timeless materials like leather and “classic” aesthetics can have a place on a modern bike. When you look at your bike, you want to think how wonderful it looks, and have the anticipation that it will deliver a great ride.
Until the bike industry wakes up to this potential, you can take matters in your own hands: A few small changes can radically change the appearance of your bike. And if, as in the case of the Diverge, the function is improved as much as the appearance, then you have two reasons to enjoy riding your bike more.