Like a car’s hood ornament or a pirate ship’s figurehead, a bicycle’s head tube badge leads the way, displaying its maker’s mark at the front of a frame. Unfortunately, the art of the head tube badge is fading fast. Many of today’s bikes have boring, painted-on logos no better than what you’d find on a corporate business card.
Fortunately, these 10 bike brands are keeping this framebuilding tradition alive with cool head tube badges. But before we get into who they are and why they’re great, why do bikes have head tube badges in the first place?
A brief history of bike head tube badges
Although the origin of head tube badges on bikes is apocryphal, it is reasonable to assume the practice was borne out of necessity. At the turn of the 20th century, painting technology and techniques were rudimentary. It wasn’t possible to plaster a brand name across every tube of a bike frame in fluorescent colors. So instead, as the number of frame manufacturers ballooned into the thousands, companies resorted to metal badges that were affixed to head tubes, often with rivets. In keeping with cycling’s competitive spirit, bike companies went to great lengths to make their head tube badges more elaborate and memorable than the rest. And thus a tradition was born, which carries on to today, more or less.
This BSA is an example of the rudimentary paint offerings in the early 20th century. Sadly, it's head tube badge has gone missing.
Don’t ever change: Bianchi, Ibis, and Specialized
The easiest, most obvious way to land on my list of the best modern badges is to stick with the traditional mark your brand has used for years. Leave it to the Italians to respect heritage. Bianchi, the oldest bike manufacturer in the world, has used more-or-less the same badge since it started in 1885. This classic badge was born out of a time when artistry trumped branding, and it may very well be the best badge on this list.
Trends come and go. Bianchi has seen it all.
Fast forward to the dawn of mountain biking and you have Ibis, which has also stayed true to its original logo. This artistic rendering of its namesake bird is a tad abstract but immediately distinguishable. Also, give Ibis credit for using actual badges on its modern bikes, not simply a painted mark.
Ibis also kept its tradition alive and even improved upon it with actual badges, not just painted graphics.
Finally, we have Specialized. Although this might be a controversial choice, I think it deserves a nod at the very least because it is so old-school. Specialized could have updated the typography of its “S” to keep up with the times, but instead, it’s frozen in that magical ‘80s era when mountain biking first bloomed.
Love it or hate it, the Specialized "S" is iconic.
Improve on a classic: MosaicHandbuilt bike frames are often the best place to find cool head tube badges. Mosaic, one of our favorite Colorado framebuilders, is a perfect example. Not only do Mosaics have lovely, distinctive head tube art, they also have managed to evolve from their original design, a solid badge (which tended to corrode, by the way), to an elegant, modern design. But no matter the change, you can always tell it is a Mosaic.
Small builders like Mosaic almost always put care and thought into artful head tube badges.
Have fun with it: Rock Lobster and Moots
It seems that many bike companies forget that this sport is all about fun. That’s a pity. But when you find a head tube badge like the one on Rock Lobster frames, you can tell that these folks don’t take cycling too seriously. This cute, friendly lobster is both literal and whimsical — perfect for a quirky California builder.
The same goes for Moots. Are there alligators in Colorado? No. Can alligators ride bikes? Certainly not. And yet the Moots head tube badge features a silly alligator riding a bike. Legend has it that Moots founder Kent Eriksen started drawing this character, “Mr. Moots” for a junior high school paper. The cartoons ended when he graduated high school, but the alligator lives on, adorning Moots bikes.
Why not make head tube badges a little more fun?
Old school approach: Lynskey and Pegoretti
Sometimes execution is just as important as design. Anytime a bike company goes to the trouble of producing a separate head tube badge affixed to the frame, you know they care about this framebuilding tradition. Lynskey and Pegoretti both get high marks, but their approaches are distinct.
A Lynskey head tube badge is classic in terms of its shape and design. If you didn’t know better, it might have come off of a pre-war six-days track bike. On the other hand, Pegoretti is about as modern as possible with the late Dario Pegoretti’s handprint and its abstract “P” cutout.
Lynskey and Pegoretti offer two different takes on the classic badge.
Nothing cool can stay, but that’s OK: Yeti and Salsa
The final two entries are a little bittersweet. On one hand, Yeti and Salsa both have memorable head tube badges that speak to the brands’ respective identities. But on the other hand, damn their vintage badges were so cool!
Yeti started out with a hilarious cartoon of a Yeti riding a mountain bike. This character was a big part of Yeti’s branding and identity through the ‘80s, but unfortunately that faded away when the brand was sold to Schwinn. Nowadays, Yeti’s head tube badge features a pick-axe instead of a mythical beast, which connects nicely with the company’s Colorado heritage.
Salsa also has toned down its head tube badges over the years, but it hasn’t done away with the classic chili pepper icon. (Nods head approvingly.) Its old head tube badges were more colorful and hand-drawn in style, so the newest iteration feels a bit more corporate. Also, at one point in the early ‘90s, some Salsas had head tube badges that depicted the chili riding a bike with sunglasses — “If it ain’t moto, it’s worthless!” Too bad that design didn’t stick around.
Yeti and Salsa changed with the times, but fortunately they did so in thoughtful ways.
Modern bike technology, whether it’s for mountain, road, or gravel products, is wonderful, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep the tradition of cool head tube badges alive. While these 10 brands have made my list, there are many other brands that don’t bother with this classic way to make a frame look distinctive. Which companies should revamp their head tube badges? Or, which brands have a cool badge that didn’t make this list? Let me know in the comments or hit us up on Instagram or Facebook.