Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cotton handlebar tape: It's a wrap

When you buy a used bike you often don't completely know what you're getting into. One bike from the early 1970s I acquired had some traditional cotton handlebar tape and I decided to rewrap the bars with same kind bar tape like the original.

I thought this would be easy. But, I was mistaken. It turns out the original owner, rather than replacing the old tape, simply wrapped over the tape that was on the bars. I had to peel back 3 layers to get to the bars.

Initially I tried a razor blade, but the adhesive on the base layer of tape had dried quite a bit, making this more difficult. I was able to soften up the dried up adhesive by pouring rubbing alcohol onto the old bar tape and letting it sit for about 15 minutes. Afterwards, it was much easier to remove the old tape.

I used lacquer thinner to remove what residue of the adhesive layer that was left with a rag, the tough parts scraped off easily now with the razor blade. Once all the old tape was removed, the vintage aluminum bars revealed a very nice patina.

Wanting to retape the bars in the traditional style, I'd bought some Velox cotton tape from a local bike shop. The Velox tape proved to be a challenge as well. It had probably been aged on shelf for a while and had dried out somewhat. The adhesive wasn't as sticky as it should be and didn't stretch very well making it hard to wrap without forming creases as you wrapped it. I had to pull it very hard and wrap it once to stretch and then undo and rewrap again to make it work.

Once I got the bars wrapped using the full length of the tape to exactly end where it should be near the bar stem on top, I gave the tape a coat of clear shellac that turned the tape color to a beautiful deep red.

I'll give it a second coat in a day or so. I don't know what it is about cotton tape and shellac, but this has it's own particular look that no modern bar wrap emulates, plus it has a great grip.

© 2011 VeloTouriste