Carbon and Leather

Carbon and Leather

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.

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Comments (52)

  • Bob

    I have this bike, recently purchased, and so far like it very much. The thing I’d to experiment with is getting a rack/decalur/bag mounted. Have you thought about doing this?

    March 22, 2016 at 5:43 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It seems rather difficult to add a rack for a handlebar bag to the Diverge. The best way would be to have a custom fork and rack made, which also would allow you to adjust the geometry for a front load. Compass offers a stem that fits and allows you to use a decaleur. I have thought about this, but it’s a lot of effort. I prefer to enjoy the bike as-is and use bikes better suited to carrying a load for those bigger adventures.

      March 22, 2016 at 7:05 am
      • Bob

        I guess you’re right. Perhaps an Ortlieb, bar-mount bag is a simpler, compromise solution.

        March 22, 2016 at 7:32 am
      • 47hasbegun

        Couldn’t you mount a Nitto M-18 to the Diverge’s fork? Just get some struts that run down to the mid-fork eyelets that you used for the lowrider rack. That’s what I did for my Surly Troll.

        March 22, 2016 at 11:39 am
  • Tim Evans

    Where did the front fender go? Is it not compatible with low riders? Is that the same seat in both photos? One looks darker than the other. Your changes do make it look better though.

    March 22, 2016 at 9:44 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Making the front fender work with low-riders would have required new fender stays. Not worth the hassle for a dry weekend ride.
      It’s the same saddle, just one photo shows it new, the other after almost 1000 km. We do ride those test bikes!

      March 22, 2016 at 9:50 am
  • Michael

    Definitely classes up the bike with the leather and tires. Makes the whole bike look like a fine art piece.
    Has BQ ever tested the Cambium saddles?

    March 22, 2016 at 10:06 am
  • Alexander Fine

    Great article on modern aesthetics. The profile of the Compass bars looks really good. The gripe I have with compact/shallow drop bars like the stock one is they don’t have that point along the drop that is best for hard cornering and sprinting.
    Also that BMW is really cool! I remember passing the Mercedes factory on a bus while in Germany, and even from the highway there was a massive multi story glass showroom facing the highway, with maybe 30 cars. It is certainly a different car culture in Germany than here.

    March 22, 2016 at 10:23 am
  • Peter Mathews

    I’ve been reading your articles about the Diverge worn great interest. I’ve ridden recumbent for all my randoneuring since poo BP in 2003. Last year I bought an alloy Diverge and rode with my wife from Paris to Amsterdam. It is a very comfortable and economical ride.p

    March 22, 2016 at 1:52 pm
  • Ned Williams

    Let’s go back to the bicycle as it came out of the box. Why is any bicycle manufacturer selling an all black bike? I suppose it is much like the current trend by car companies selling all black cars. Is it a “cool” factor? Personally, I have an issue with the trend toward all black bicycles and all black bicycling kits. The issue I have is visibility. We can’t control how drivers behave when they are behind the wheel, we can only ride in a predictable manner and make ourselves visible. An all black bicycle? No thanks.

    March 22, 2016 at 6:09 pm
    • Bob

      An all black is no big deal, add lights and voila. The rider is where the visibility factor comes in. Normally, I’m kind of stodgy about wearing trade team kit, and, you know, trying to look to like you, a man well over 30, is on said team. But, in daylight hours anyway, some of these loud designs get you noticed. For less than perfect light conditions, a lot of fabrics have designed-in reflective features than work pretty well.
      And then of course, there is the tried and true “crossing guard” reflective vest.

      March 23, 2016 at 2:56 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The hard part for me is picking colors that are visible, yet not offensive. I did some research before choosing the blue of the Seattle Randonneurs and Bicycle Quarterly jerseys. During daytime, it stands out, but isn’t jarring. At night, you need lights anyhow.

        March 23, 2016 at 6:35 am
        • Bob

          Offensive? As long as they see me I can live with that part.

          March 23, 2016 at 9:33 am
          • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that your cycling clothes are offensive.
            For me, I try to abide by the rules of randonneuring , which require riders to “respect local customs with regards to decency”. My goal goes a bit further – I want cycling to look like an activity that is appealing even to non-cyclists.
            Beyond that, most of the problems with motorists are at least in part caused by cyclists being perceived as “others”. Dressing in a way that reinforces that doesn’t increase safety.
            As I explained before, I try to be visible while looking “acceptable” even to those who don’t follow the Tour.

            March 23, 2016 at 1:15 pm
          • Robert

            No offense (and no pun).
            Honestly because I’m fortunate enough to migrate to where the weather us warm year round, I wear lycra and the fabric that suits the mid-day conditions the best. I can withstand the morning/evening chill just fine but the heat zaps me and good. Considering what passes for dress most of the time, decency is safe. Wool is OK east of Chicago up to 55 degrees but above that, I’m wringing wet, and the humidity is far worse in summer. Unfortunately or fortunately as the case may be, most people that want to get into cycling, are all in on the matching kit, many more than are turned off by it. YMMV
            Best Regards, R Zeidler

            March 23, 2016 at 2:22 pm
    • Nikolas

      When the Diverge was first released, all the carbon frame models were matte black or matte dark gray. I agree that is pretty lame. Near the end of the first model year they introduced one additional color, a nice glossy candy apple red. In the second model year, they have black/gray and also day-glow green. So they do give you a choice, and I like that.

      March 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm
  • Gist

    The Compass Edition Diverge would do quite well. Refreshing to break down artificial barriers.

    March 22, 2016 at 6:23 pm
  • Matt

    Have you considered testing the Open U.P.? I’ve had my eye on that but would love to see you review one. It seems to hit a lot of the same checkboxes as the Diverge but with much wider tires.

    March 23, 2016 at 1:03 am
    • Harald

      A friend of mine recently bought an Open UP (hasn’t ridde it much yet, though). It sure looks like an interesting bike with some interesting features (e.g. the dropped chain stay), but it lacks fender and rack mounts. Curious to see how my friend will like it.

      March 23, 2016 at 2:24 pm
  • thebvo

    I’ve got a question about leather. How do you care for old style leather chamois shorts? We are on a long distance tour and we want to keep clean and saddle sore free.
    You’ve mentioned the benefits of these so when I found one I jumped on it. So far so good, but I don’t want to mess it up.

    March 23, 2016 at 6:00 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I wash mine in wool wash detergent, but hair shampoo is a good substitute. The big problem on a tour is drying time… Leather takes much longer than synthetics.

      March 23, 2016 at 6:37 am
  • L Mark Finch

    For my most recent bike, I took the color cues from our station wagon, which combines a dark red paint with tan upholstery and silver trim. The bike looks great, and touch-up paint is easy to get!

    March 23, 2016 at 3:09 pm
  • Cynthia

    The Diverge? Again? 32 pages in Issue #53, 3 pages in Issue #55, and now the Blog? Off hand I don’t recall any other bike getting the kind of coverage that this Diverge has from BIcycle Quarterly.
    In Issue #55, on page 59 it says,”Specialized wanted to fix these problems and have us ride the bike again, so that is why it came back to BQ’s office.” I’m sure many of the other manufacturer’s of bikes you’ve reviewed over the years would have liked the same (preferential?) treatment, but didn’t receive it. To me it seems like a lot of free advertising for Specialized in a magazine that only comes out 4 times a year. Dost thou not know variety is the spice of life?
    And I shouldn’t get this personal, but that $8500 price tag you quoted for the Diverge is more than half of my yearly fixed income. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that bike (even if I could afford it).
    I would like to see BQ review bikes that were in a variety of price ranges. “Perfection” is in the mind of the beholder, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    March 23, 2016 at 8:24 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Actually, we’ve offered every maker whose bike performed sub-optimally to have them fix it or send us another bike that they though was more appropriate for our readers’ style of riding, but few have taken us up on it. I think it’s to Specialized’s credit that they believe in their product, rather than trying to slander us on social media, as did the U.S. importer of a “storied Italian maker”… We’ll see whether their optimism is warranted. I think cyclists everywhere want t know whether the high-end bikes and components of today arenas good as the mainstream media claim. We were the only ones to point out that the first-generation Di2 wasn’t performing well when it was released. After Shimano fixed the problems, this became generally acknowledged.
      This post isn’t about the Specialized, but about combining carbon and leather. In any case, I don’t think Specialized sees this post as “free advertising”, considering how critical I am of the bike’s stock appearance.
      But don’t worry, we’ll continue to feature bikes at all price points, as long as they have the potential to offer a good riding experience.

      March 24, 2016 at 5:33 am
      • Chris

        Honestly, the interesting thing to me here is that the Specialized Diverge has made such an impact upon you and your test crew. I mean that statement in most flattering way! It says to me that large companies can build bikes that are useful for more than a two hour paved road posturing event at the local fast guy ride.
        I think that ALL of us who read BQ, or frequent this website, or even write for BQ have bias towards certain items and bicycle ideals that we are comfortable with and enjoy. The fact that the Spesh Diverge is being written about is fantastic.
        With that said, you won’t catch me buying an $8500.00 bike anytime soon, but I have bought one Extra Legre tire so far, with plans to buy many more as my other tires wear out. And, maybe I’ll even try to put together a 26″ wheeled all road bike in the future that will use the Rat Trap tire.
        Thanks for all your hard work BQ crew!!

        March 24, 2016 at 7:43 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Thanks for the nice words. Readers also should consider that if we tested only classic steel bikes, we’d be accused of bias, or worse, of trying to peddle the products of our sister company, Compass Bicycles Ltd.

          March 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm
        • Bob

          Bringing this bike to the forefront is maybe the most important thing BQ has done. So many times in the past certain bikes and or components were essentially “unobtanium”. This is sonething that can be purchased and ridden right away, and without the hideous wait times currently so common in the custom build industry.
          At 6’6″, I purchased a 64cm Diverge and with a few tweaks and personally preferred components, so far, so good. Total layout so far is in the mid $5K range, but could have been easily less.
          The industry seems to be coming to terms(albeit sliwly) that riders are more varied than TDF/Lance/Greg/Eddie sect would have us believe. Is that a good thing? Probably.

          March 24, 2016 at 12:51 pm
    • David Feldman

      About bike prices–as a bike industry lifer, I can tell you that when, not if, 650b all-road bikes take off in big volume, you will see them at all price points. It won’t take very long–both mountain bikes and no-clearance imitation doper race bikes were copied in the same way and quickly. On mountain bikes it happened when big companies like Specialized were little more than family or one-person affairs.

      March 24, 2016 at 8:55 am
    • Conrad

      I think your review of the Diverge was fair. Carbon bikes are light and have a wonderful ride quality. I get that. For me personally, it is an 8500 dollar bike that doesn’t quite have its fenders, lights, and brakes dialed in. And a full carbon bike has a safe lifespan of 0 to 2 years in my hands. So I wouldn’t go near it either. You could almost pick up a Weigle for 8500, right? But the important thing is that I can draw those conclusions from your review.

      March 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm
      • Bob

        But due to his high standards and wanting have a life, you’ll wait years for a Weigle.

        March 25, 2016 at 4:58 pm
      • Conrad

        You are right. For 1/4 of the price of the Diverge, I bought a Boulder brevet. Made in the USA. An absolutely wonderful bike that should last a long time. Didn’t have to wait long for it either.

        March 28, 2016 at 11:17 am
        • Bob

          A full, ready to go bike for $2125.00?

          March 28, 2016 at 12:09 pm
    • Nikolas

      You can get a Diverge with the same carbon frame for $3300. It just doesn’t have the fancy wheels and Di2 shifters. Pretty much everything else is the same.
      There are Diverge models with aluminum frames for less, but they don’t have the thru axles and there are some other differences.
      I think it’s not useful to suspect Jan of unfairly favoring Specialized. From reading a lot of his writing, it seems obvious to me that he has personal preferences that are very different from large manufacturers produce, and speaks his mind no matter what. The fact that he likes the Diverge so much is refreshing because it shows that he doesn’t uniformly dismiss anything made after 1955.

      March 25, 2016 at 2:55 pm
  • Michael

    Speaking of bike visability…
    Has it been settled if more lights and reflective materials are better than less?
    I know BQ,iirc, advocates less, because of target fixation or something. But most Randonneurs I have seen and talked to use alot of lighting and lots of reflective materials, way beyong RUSA guidelines.

    March 24, 2016 at 11:11 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Obviously, there are many opinions… Here is my take: In the city, where there is lots of light pollution, it’s best to be as visible as possible (without being blinding or offensive, like the flashing strobe lights that were popular a few yeats ago).
      Out in the country, target fixation is a real concern, and it seems best to be easily visible, but no more.
      For those unfamiliar with target fixation, I wrote about it here.

      March 24, 2016 at 12:39 pm
      • SmoothestRollingBike

        Jan, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for the target fixation article. I was preparing to buy the most bright bicycle taillight. Now I have to think about it one more time.

        March 25, 2016 at 3:01 pm
  • Edgardo Ignacio Gariando

    I purchased a Diverge Comp Carbon this winter and have happily pedaled it ~700 miles thus far….the most in any winter that I can recall. I credit this to the wonderful riding qualities of the bike and how it has allowed me to explore many of the quiet dirt/gravel roads around Puget Sound. I’ve had the misfortune of being blind sided by a “distracted driver” two years ago which put me in the hospital for 18 days followed by many months of rehab. It’s been an absolute joy to discover a cycling world far away from traffic and much closer to nature.
    On a more technical note—-do you think it would be practical to put 650b wheels and 42-45 mm tires on this bike? I’ve been bitten by this new (to me) lifestyle of riding and would like to explore even more remote roads and pathways.
    Best Regards,
    Edgardo Ignacio Gariando
    Sumner , WA

    March 24, 2016 at 3:18 pm
    • Nikolas

      Regarding 650b wheels — it might be difficult getting a rear hub to build those wheels, because you need an SCS hub, and those are not very common. For some reason, Specialized set things up so you need that weird hub to get the chainline right.
      All for the purpose of having a short chain stay (which is what SCS means); in my opinion, that’s foolish. If the chain stays were a bit longer, that wouldn’t hurt anything and it would make several things better — you could use a normal hub, and there would be more room for tires. The supposed handling advantages of short chain stays exist only in the imagination of some people.

      March 25, 2016 at 11:26 pm
  • Guy Washburn

    Perhaps a small front bag that doesn’t require a rack would be a better choice for this bike. This one seems to work well for bikes like this:
    (no connection to them just a happy user…)

    March 25, 2016 at 5:35 am
  • Michael

    The Rivendell Sackville bar sack with F15 handlebar rack is a fantastic option, too.
    Or the Berthoud handlebar bag with the same kind of handlebar rack. Clamps next to the stem so you can still ride tops.
    BQ will not think these are optimal bags but I think they would be fine and I have seen many anciens who seem very happy with their high, bar clamped front loads. I mean, they do successful 1200’s this way.
    But I agree that a front bag that sits on a front rack does improve comfort, handling, and allows the rider to grip the bars right next to the stem (like I like to do). But if your bike doesn’t allow a front rack and decaleur, the Sackville and Berthoud handlebar bags on F15 bar rack offer a great solution.

    March 25, 2016 at 7:30 am
  • David Feldman

    Addenda to my previous comment–it’s already happening. Specialized lists six or seven Diverge models starting with an aluminum frame, Shimano 8 speed equipped model for $850.00. FWIW I have a bike business but am NOT a Speciailzed dealer!

    March 25, 2016 at 8:48 am
  • David T.

    The carbon camping bike with canvas bags and no front fender looks ludicrous. It is two incongruous sensibilities. I think if someone pulled up to a campsite on that bike I would have to choose between laughing and throwing up.
    A bike looks good if its appearance is in harmony with its function. The all-black bike at least sends the message of speed and modernity. Not everyone wants that, but it has style. Just like a rugged and comfortable steel touring bike with camping equipment has a recognizable style. But the stealth carbon bike with camping load is as ridiculous as a formal black suit with worn brown leather loafers. It clashes.

    March 25, 2016 at 9:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Clashing or complementing may be in the eye of the beholder. Just like some will consider jeans and a high-end sports jacket incongruous, while others (especially Italians) consider a mix of textures and vernaculars quite appealing. Going all-black or all-retro always is the easy option, but it also can be quite boring.

      March 25, 2016 at 12:29 pm
  • Chad

    I must respectfully disagree with you David. I actually find the contrasting styles and materials to be quite appealing personally. As stated above though, it is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I would like to see more contrast like this in bike design. I can appreciate both the modern design of many carbon fiber bikes and the classic styling of lugged steel. I see no reason to not combine the two in a tasteful way.

    March 25, 2016 at 2:02 pm
  • David T.

    Ah, the jeans and sport jacket ensemble! Always a hit with junior professors on campuses across the land. Business up top and party down below? 🙂
    You are right Jan, mixing it up can look good but it depends on who’s sporting it. Whether Italians have a special sense of style I will leave up to your judgment.

    March 25, 2016 at 2:28 pm
  • Larry Parker

    I LIKE the color contrasts. I have been riding a Litespeed Classic, from the last year Lynskeys owned the company.. Nice Ti gray. but add a Brass Chain, a leather saddle, and some color in the bar tape, and things “pop.” I still haven’t settled on the ideal color for the bar tape. Yellow matches the downtube logo, and looks good, but it gets dirty so easily. Leather may be in the future, if the color matches either the saddle or the chain. I get lots of positive comments on the brass “gold” colored chain. I started using wax lube, just to keep it from going greasy, dirty black 😉 I wish I could fit a little bigger tire, or fenders, but I have a nice Bianchi all fitted out for bad weather. This is just a fast, fun ride bike.

    March 26, 2016 at 2:39 pm
  • Michael

    Are Titanium frames as planey as steel?
    I’ve heard them described as “whippy”, whatever that means.

    March 26, 2016 at 9:41 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Every material can be used to make a bike that is flexible or stiff. The Lynskey Helix racing bike we tested for Bicycle Quarterly was made from titanium, yet it felt very similar to my steel bike. On the other hand, the Surly Long-Haul Trucker felt completely different from my bike, even though both have steel frames.
      With all materials, what matters is how much you use and where you put it.

      March 27, 2016 at 9:15 am

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