Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

30 November 2016

THE Tape Wasn't Number 1: A Pump Was. Or It Claimed To Be, Anyway!

Shopping online is like going to swap meets:  You find all sorts of things you never thought you'd see again.  That can be reassuring, especially if you remember something you used decades ago but have not encountered since and no one else seems to remember.  At least you can reassure yourself that your mind isn't doing the things you feared it would do when you got old--or that you're not having a flashback of something you first encountered in a haze of cannabis or the mists of Jack Daniels.

Last week, while surfing eBay, I found (and bought) a bike part that hasn't been made in decades, in its original packaging, for a reasonable price.  It's one of those things I might use if I actually go ahead with a project I'm contemplating.  If I find that I have too little time or disposable income--or simply feel too lazy--to carry out that project, I will probably hold on to that part I bought:  I might have use for it later. (Really!)  Also, it's something I used and liked in my youth, and the quality of it is very good.

When I decided to buy that part, I looked at the seller's website to see whether or not he had anything I wanted or needed.  Nothing else in his inventory (from a bike shop that closed down) fits either category, at least right now. But I did see something that brought back a memory or two:

In Philadelphia, there was a company called Skethea.  I don't know whether they aspired to be another Cannondale or Rhode Gear.  They seem to have made (or, at least marketed) only two products.  Both of them had names that proclaimed their superiority.  One of them is, the tape (or THE Tape) in the photo above.

Now, if you were around in the '70's, you might recall (if you can recall anything ;-)) that suede was very popular.  At least, stuff that looked like suede was en vogue.  Most things that purported to be suede weren't.  One example is a coat I had, which was made of cloth with a nappy finish.  Another is THE Tape.

I bought a set of it, in blue (of course!), to replace the plastic tape I shredded on my Nishiki International. I saw the same tape, in red, on another bike and thought it would look--and, I hoped, feel--good on my handlebars.

THE Tape was just a vinyl wrap, thicker than most, with a suede-like finish.  It could be had in a number of different colors, including two other shades of blue (Mine was a cobalt-ish hue.) as well as other shades of red and green, a few other colors and, of course, white and black.  As I recall, it didn't cost much more than plastic or even cloth tape.  And, because it was stretchy, it was easy to wrap.

If you've ever ridden a suede saddle, you know that, at first, it's more difficult to slide forward or back, as you might when you change hand positions on your handlebar, on it than on a seat with a smooth finish.  Likewise, it was a little more difficult to change hand positions (for example, to slide up or down the "hook" of the bar when climbing or descending) on THE Tape than it was on smooth or textured vinyl, or even cloth, tape.  

That little bit of extra force I needed to slide my hands along the bars revealed another flaw of THE Tape:  It had no adhesive backing, so the tape shifted and revealed gaps of bare metal.  The good news was that the lack of adhesive made it easier to un- and re-wrap.  The bad news:  The extra force needed to slide up and down on the bars made the tape stretch and, eventually, break.  

And normal use wore the nappy finish away.  So, after a few months you were left with "bald" discolored tape that soon disintegrated.  And, oh, yeah, it didn't look as nice as it did when you applied it.

I am aware of one other product made by Skethea, the company that manufactured THE Tape.  The Number 1 Pump (Yes, that was its name!) came out at around the same time as THE Tape:  about a year or two after Zefal introduced its HP Pump.  You still see lots of those Zefals in use today. But, unless you are around my age, you've probably never seen a Number 1 Pump.  I saw a few "back in the day", but I never owned one myself.

It was, I believe, an attempt to combine the best features of the Zefal HP  and Silca Impero pump.  So it had a thumb-lock valve that could be converted between Presta and Schraeder, and a mechanism that enabled the pump to bring high-pressure tires up to full pressure.  The Zefal had those qualities but was heavier than the Silca and required a clip.  The Number 1 Pump, therefore, put--or tried to put--the best Zefal HP features into a plastic body, like Silca's, that fit on the frame without a clip.

In an apparent attempt to distinguish it visually from the Zefal HP, Silca Impero and any other pump, the Number 1 had a clear plastic body.  Yes, you read that right.  So, you could see all those wonderful inner workings that the clever folks at Skethea dreamed up.  

Image result for see-through watches

I once had a watch like that.  For a while, thought it was pretty cool to see all those gears and pinions at work.  But after a while, the novelty wore off and I admitted to myself that watches with opaque faces and numerals in contrasting colors were much easier to read.  I stopped wearing the see-through watch, and I think I left it behind in a move.

But at least that watch held up to downpours I encountered while cycling and hiking, as well as some other forces of nature and my own recklessness and stupidity. So have my Zefal pumps.   I don't think the Number 1 Pump would have survived such things.  For that matter, I don't think the Number 1 Pump survived much of anything:  Within a couple of years of its introduction, it seems to have disappeared.  

I wish I could find a photo of that pump--or any information about Skethea.  They seem to have been one of those many small bike-accessories companies that sprang up in the US during the Bike Boom.  Cannondale is one of the few that have survived though, like most other manufacturers, they are making their bags (as well as their bikes) abroad.  A few other companies made it to the '80s and beyond; apparently, Skethea was not one of them.  A 1980 Bike Warehouse (now Bike Nashbar) catalogue lists The Tape; I can find no later reference to it.

If I ever find an image of a Number 1 Pump--or information about what happened to Skethea--I will post it.


  1. Tease, now you have us all wondering...

  2. 70's faux suede! Oh hell yeah. Fire up the El Dorado, light the incense and slide in the Barry White 8 track. We're going cruisin'. Bwahahha.

  3. "Personally, I'd rather be in Philadelphia"
    W. C. Fields, commenting of a titanic hangover.

    A Walt Kelly quote that I should have posted a few days ago, with good advice for you over there in the states at this time:
    "Now is the time for all young men to come to."

    And a LBS was cleaning out their cellar and found several boxes of French NOS Guidoplast cotton bar tape form, they estimate, the 70's. I dropped in and they gave them to me, knowing my ways! Holy relics. I will use them carefully.


  4. Coline--I know. I'm such a tease! ;-)

    Phillip--Barry White was cool. But Isaac Hayes...He was "da man"!

    Leo--Great advice. And great bar tape!