A friend recently reached out to me after buying a new bike. “What are these clear stickers?” he asked. “Are they some sort of brand decal?” In the sometimes intimidating world of cycling, it’s easy to look at something like this, clear stickers packed with your bike, and think, “there’s something here I am missing.” Often the answers are simple, but finding them isn’t always.
In the case of these clear stickers, they are not decorative, but rather protective. Over the course of the life of your bike, it will take many bumps, dings and hits. It is the large ones we tend to worry about, the ones that throw our derailleur out of alignment, that chip our paint, that make our chain fall off, and while these get most of the attention, there are smaller, subtler forces that can do damage to your bike.
One of the most frequent of these? Friction. Riders often see it with the cables for their brakes and derailleurs. When the cable for you brakes or derailleur bumps or rubs up against the frame of your bike once, it is insignificant. But, if that same cable rubs thousands upon thousands of times on the same point over the course of the bike’s life, it can cause some real damage. It’s like how my gym teachers in elementary school both needed hip surgery from doing the same kicking and throwing motions day after day. Small friction, over time, can cause real damage.
On bikes, that usually means rubbing the paint off of your frame. And depending one the composition of your bike, condition of cable, and cleanliness of it all, there is even the potential to do some real damage to the frame. To combat this, many bike manufacturers add protective layers in areas that are likely to experience a lot of rubbing and friction. And sometimes, all that means is a clear, protective sticker.
This friend had recently purchased a gravel bike that came with cable wear protection pre-installed. The stickers that came with his bike were instead to prevent other friction that might happen elsewhere on the frame.
The bike company was concerned about friction that might come from riders attaching bags to the frame of their bike. Many riders do this to carry more gear on their bikes, load up on groceries, or go bikepacking (camping with your bicycle). Many of these expedition packs secure to your bike by wrapping a sleeve of velcro around one of the frame tubes of your bike. If you ride long enough with these bags on, or a piece of dirt or grit gets between the velcro and frame, you can cause wear and damage over time. To prevent this, the company provided the stickers to secure to the bike frame beneath the bag straps to protect the paint.
If your bike didn’t come with these, but you still want to attach bags, and are worried about wear, many companies make similar stick-on protection. It might be worth investing in something like the All Mountain Style Honeycomb Frame Guard. These products provide paint protection and a bit of cushioning to areas that will see abuse as you ride and wear. And if they wear out, you ditch your bags, or you don’t like the look of them anymore, you can just peel them off.
If you decide against added protection, but still want to add bags, make sure to check the straps and frame regularly to ensure you’re not getting any wear or rubbing dirt into your paint. Similarly, if you don’t use bags, it is still a good idea to check near your cables once in a while to make sure they are not rubbing against your paint, or causing damage, during regular riding.
Whether you need to protect your bike, or don’t, if you have any questions about something unknown with your bike, like large clear stickers, be sure to reach out to someone else who rides. Odds are they’ll be happy to help, and keep you and your bike on the road, riding your best.