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I have seen these on a few bikes. What is the purpose :S

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up vote 17 down vote accepted

It protects the frame from the handlebars. The handlebars, unrestricted by brake or derailleur cables, can rotate freely to the point that they can smack into the top tube. This is particularly easy to do when carrying the bike.

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That pad will protect both the finish of the paint as well as prevent the bars from putting dents in your frame. A lot of drop bars will impact the frame with the bar ends which could cause more damage than the flat sides (which doesn't look plausible for the example bike, as the bars are dropped very low). Don't want to damage those pretty columbus tubes. – Benzo Jun 12 '12 at 17:27
It's ironic for someone without brakes to be worried about small scratches. :) – amcnabb Jun 12 '12 at 17:27
@amcnabb - most likely a "Track Bike" ( where the fixed hub allows you to pedal backwards and acts as a brake. – BillyNair Jun 12 '12 at 19:14
@BillyNair, pedaling backwards on a track bike can slow you down, but I would disagree that it "acts as a brake." And if track bikes were only used at velodromes, I would feel no need to be snarky. :) – amcnabb Jun 12 '12 at 19:18
All bikes use on streets should have 2 braking mechanisms. It's required by law in many places, and for good reason. What would you do on your fixie if you were headed down a hill and the chain broke or came off the chain ring? You would have no way to stop. Same reason for both front and back brakes. Sure you could stop with just 1, but it's nice to have a backup when one of the cables snap. – Kibbee Jun 12 '12 at 19:52

I have also seen them used to protect the paint while the bike is on a trunk mounted rack.

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