Simulated fault gouges often deform more stably than initially bare surfaces of the same composition. It is important to understand why the sliding stability is enhanced because the presence of gouge on natural faults may have the same effect as seen in experiments, and thus explain the absence of earthquakes at shallow depths. Gouge stabilization in experiments has been attributed to positive contributions to velocity dependence within gouge layers from either dilation (Maroneet al., 1990) or grain fracture (Biegelet al., 1989). In this study we test the hypothesis that some aspects of gouge and initially bare surface velocity dependence are identical by measuring the time-dependent constitutive parameter b. An important result follows however from stress analysis: if both sample configurations are frictional in the Mohr-Coulomb sense, each configuration is required to deform on planes of distinctly different orientation. The measured strength and velocity dependence will reflect this geometric difference. Our observed values of b for simulated granite and quartz gouge are two to two and a half times smaller than b for initially bare surfaces. This difference is completely accounted for if gouge is represented as a cohesionless-Coulomb plastic material. The analysis demonstrates the following points: 1) gouge deformation is fully consistent with Coulomb plasticity, 2) observed gouge velocity dependence is a function of observed strength and 3) the constitutive parameter b is the same for both bare surfaces and gouge. Furthermore, the results suggest that there is no time-dependent strengthening associated with stabilizing effects in gouge. These observations provide a framework for understanding how slip on initially bare surfaces and gouge deformation are related. ?? 1995 Birkha??user Verlag.