Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cotton & Shellac Handlebar Treatment

"I'm against it!" was the response I received from one bicycle shop as I went scrounging up my supplies for my latest project.  Truth be told, that was my first thought too when my friend, Ean Parsons, suggested that wrapping my bars the old fashioned way, with cotton bar tape and shellac would be an affordable, classier option than my re-purposed inner tubes.

Ean Parsons

Ean is one of those guys who lives and breathes bicycles, approaching the whole genre with the sort of reverence usually attributed to a record collector (he's that too).  Where I am someone who is approaching cycling from having been on hiatus from the sport since fourth grade, Ean never stopped.  I respect and appreciate his aesthetic. His suggestion, while initially ignored, eventually peaked my curiosity.  So I asked him if he'd lend a hand for this tutorial.

What You'll Need:

counter clock-wise from top left, Newbaum's cotton handlebar tape-Oak Cliff Bicycle Company $6 a roll , colored assortment twine-Joann's Fabric $4.99 or hemp twine $1.99, throw-away "chip" brush, $1.19, Zinsser Bulls Eye amber shellac-Home Depot $13.78, corks-Ace Hardware $0.30 each, plastic drop cloth-Home Depot $1.19

1. Cotton Tape.  Oak Cliff Bicycle Company stocks Newbaum's, a relatively young company that also makes rim tape, and although other shops may carry it, most don't. I purchased two rolls of gray, and two rolls of orange Newbaum's cotton tape from Oak Cliff Bicycle Company.  Unsure of my color selections, I popped in to a couple other local bike shops and found smug rejection. It's available in 16 colors, and runs 5-7 bucks a roll, but remember to get two rolls if you're going to be wrapping drop-bars.  

2. Hemp Twine. This provides a classy finished look to the project.  Forget electrical tape!  You can get crazy with the twine and wrap it around all sorts of stuff, but for this demo we are sticking to the top center.  I found an assorted bag of colored twine for pretty cheap at Joann's, who also stocks the natural jute kind.  Any hardware store will carry twine, but probably will sell you a larger roll than you need for this project,  however if you think you might be using it for other stuff then it makes sense.

3.  Chip Brush.  I'd like to say that it's worth it to use a nicer brush for this project, but I would argue that cleanup is going to be worse on the environment than throwing that brush in the trash.  While I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I will just say that most of the elements used to make this brush are natural, and biodegradable, including the Shellac, and you don't need a nice brush for this application.

4. Shellac.  There are many options here, but the easiest one is going to be the Zinser shellac you buy from any hardware store.  While you aren't going to use it all before it goes bad, it's readily available, comparable in price to other options like shellac flakes,  and it's easy.  Flakes are something I want to experiment with in the future,  but for now, easy does it.

5.  Corks.  Of course you can source these from any number of places, but the hardware store offers unused, tapered, natural corks, in a variety of sizes.  They are extremely cheap, and fit better than wine bottle corks, and will take shellac very well. 

6.  Drop Cloth. You can always wheel your bike outside and not worry about spilling, but unless your extremely careful, you're going to get little flecks of shellac on you're bike.  While I don't know how hard it is to remove them, Ean tells a sad tale about getting shellac all over his bike, and not noticing until he was done. It costs less than 2 bucks, so do it the first time at least until you know what you're dealing with.  This can get messy. 

Start With Clean Hands and Clean Bars

Cotton Bar tape is going to suck up all the muck from your fingers, and although your about to cover up your bars, just remember, you'll be handling them the whole time your doing this, so even if you start with clean hands, you may end up getting nasty scum all over your new cotton tape if your bars aren't clean.  Wipe them down with alcohol or some other solvent, or pre-wrap the bars with electrical tape.

start with clean handlebars

Begin With 1/2" Overlap.  Ean learned to start from the top, going away from the bicycle, and while I learned to start from the bottom, going toward the bike, it seems to make no difference, other than giving you a way to remember which direction to wrap (same either way).

Continue to wrap, overlapping about  1/4" to 1/2".  Watch for bubbles, keep it nice and tight, and don't expose too much adhesive before you need it, or else you'll find yourself sticking it to all sorts of things other than the handlebars.

You'll notice once you get to the brake lever bracket, doing a simple figure 8 is going to leave some bar exposed, so before you get that far you should cut a couple 4" pieces of tape and wrap them around the brake lever brackets.  Tuck the ends up under the brake lever hoods. Most modern bar tape is much wider than Newbaum's, and only requires one piece to cover the bracket. We found we needed two strips of the much narrower cotton tape to completely cover the bracket.
you can see how much of the bars and bracket are left exposed if you don't cover them with a small strip

Ean applies a strip over the bracket, we ended up using two for each side

Continue wrapping, making sure you've got no bubbles, you'll want to pull it pretty tight.

Use sharp scissors, these kitchen shears were a pain.  As I noted in the "Tube Wrap" 'how to', there are many slight variations on this subject.  Here, Ean shows how he cuts his tape at an angle, starting from the outside, and finishing towards the center of the bike, different than what I suggested in the "tube-tape how-to". I thought about this for a long time, and realized, it would be better to do it Ean's way if you were using a different tape that was thicker in the middle, like leather or any of the synthetic tapes, due to the chamfered edge,  so better to learn it this way.

Ean cuts a transition starting from the outside toward the center of the bike

Finish by wrapping up to the edge of the center handlebar shim

Go ahead and put your corks in, tuck the overhang into the bars and hammer em in, "good n' tight".

tap the corks in gently with a hammer


For wrapping the twine, you're going to want to cut a length a little bit longer than one "wingspan" (arms stretched out).  I would suggest doing "two wingspan's", maybe 6-8 feet.  You're not going to need it all, but when you don't have enough it's a real bummer.

Starting from one end of your twine, take a section 6"-10" long and "reserve it".  Run your "reserve" along the top of your bars, starting with the end of the twine near the brake lever going towards the center of the bike.

Start wrapping the twine carefully around that little "reserve" piece, starting from the end of the tape going towards the brake lever.
carefully line up your twine snug, take your time

attention to detail here will payoff

Once you've wrapped about half way of your total desired thickness, you're going to want to take the end of that "reserve" and make a loop.  For the rest of the process, you will be wrapping around both sides of the loop.

Once your twine has reached it's desired width, take the end of the twine and thread it through the loop.

Pull the end of your "reserve" piece tight around the end of your twine.

Cut the remainder of the twine, leaving only a little nub, no more than a half centimeter.

Now pull the other end of the loop, until the cut end from the last step is pulled through.  On the other  side of my bars, my twine did not make it all the way through, however, it posed no problems.
pull the "reserve" end through, it should pull the other end under the twine.


Once you've pulled the end through all the way, clip off the rest of the twine

both ends of the twine exposed

You can hide the ends underneath the wrapped twine using your finger nail,

push the cut ends of your twine under the wrapped twine

It's easier than it looks!  Rivendell Bicycle Works has an excellent video tutorial that should bolster your confidence.  You also get to listen to Mulatu Astatke while you take it in.


Tape off anything you don't want shellacked.  That includes brake hoods, and handlebars.  You may want to drape your drop cloth over your bike right about now too.  I will say, this can pose a problem if you're working outside.  That cheap, thin drop cloth will catch even the slightest wind and blow right into your wet shellac.  Anchor it down if you foresee this being a problem, otherwise, you may find yourself tossing the drop cloth before you're even close to being done.
Ean was worried that folding my vintage brake hoods back would ruin them, so we taped them back.  
tape off your bars, shellac will stick to them and look ugly
Shellac is messy, and that cheap chip brush doesn't hold much shellac right at first. Go slow, your brush will start to hold more shellac as you work.  Most people like to apply a thin coat and let it dry.  This allows for a nice even application.  If you get too heavy with your coats, you may end up with drips or an uneven appearance.  Also you may find you're happy with less shellac then you anticipated.
take your time, this stuff can get messy
Shellac the corks too, and double check for spots you missed.
Ean finishes up a first coat of shellac
After four coats, I was happy.  Three probably would have been good enough. Four coats made the bars feel a little slippery to bare hands, however, with a pair of leather gloves it feels perfect.
This is one classy look, and, while I may have agreed with that -anti cotton tape- shop owner before, I'm very excited about it now.  First of all, it's extremely durable.  If the shellac starts to wear, you can simply apply another coat.  Second, with the proper pair of gloves, you really don't need all that padding that synthetic materials offer, especially if you're on a comfortable steel frame. And finally, as long as you don't put too much shellac, it's very tactile.  You get lots of traction on this setup.  It reminds me of all the marketing gimmicks that saddle makers have employed over the years, pushing more and more padding, while tensioned leather saddles still remain the hallmark of comfort.  This wrap offers no padding whatsoever.  The bars are skinny and sleek.  It feels rough, and hard, and to my surprise, I really like it that way.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Free Handlebar Tape! A Low Cost or No Cost Solution

For Joe

A friend recently gave me a 1979 chrome Schwinn Voyageur (I think) that was in need of a little love.  It had been rotting away in the garage for some time.  I hadn't actually seen the bike before agreeing to take it, nor did I have any Idea what it would be.  Needless to say I was giddy as a school girl when I saw it.

This project is going to take some time and careful consideration (and some cash!), but I can't wait to ride it!  I know I want to put a Brooks saddle and matching bar tape, but I don't exactly have the cash, nor do I know what color/style I want.  Still, that crusty, crumbly, old foam couldn't wait.

A friend of mine, let's just call him Joe Harris, found himself in the same situation, and I had told him about using old bike tubes in place of bar wrap.  Since he tends to be a little squeamish in the DIY department, I thought I'd make this post for him.

What You'll Need

1. Scissors
2. Electrical Tape
3. Old Tube
4. Corks (if you don't have this, don't let that stop you, you can do this part later)

Let's Get Started

First, remove that old crusty foam!  Just pull it off, it ought to tear pretty easy, the bottom half may even slide off.

Second, cut your tube near the valve stem, both sides.  This may seem obvious, but just in case...

This step is optional.  I like to cut my tube along one of the seams.  I do this because the edges of the tube where the rubber folds over tend to be raised, which is the opposite thing you want with grip tape. another reason, it makes sure one of the tube seams is not under your hand.  You could always use the inside part of the tube as your grip surface for a smoother feel, but it might be more likely to curl up on the edges, and it's pretty slippery due to the talcum powder that's inside. Even after cleaning if off, the inside still feels a little slippery.  I also like to see the print that's on the tube.

Next you'll want to very carefully wipe the talcum powder all over your pants. :)

wipe it on your pants!

There are so many good tutorials about how to wrap your bars.  You'll find slight variations, because people have different preferences.  I was taught to wrap starting on the bottom going in (towards the center of the bike) and over the top.  Remember to leave at least a half inch of overhang at the bottom so you can stuff it inside the bars when your done.  Keep it nice and tight, and watch for wrinkles.  One of the great things about doing this is if you mess it up, you can start over, it will also give you confidence to wrap your bars with something nicer in the future.

I should have mentioned that you need to fold  your brake lever hoods up so the wrap will go under them.  You can also cut a little piece to go over the clamp that holds them on, tuck it up under the hoods and wrap over it.  Then fold the hood back down when your finished.

I like to cut the end of tube tape at an angle, starting from the inside (center of bike) to the outside.  Your cut should be pretty long, maybe 8 inches or so.  This allows for a nice gradual fade to the end of your tape.
cut the end at an angle to provide a nice transition

your transition can be anywhere from 6-10 inches long

Get your electrical tape and cut a piece about 8 inches long.  Wrap it around the end so that it looks and feels nice.  Someone recommended to me that you let the end of the tape rest before pushing it down.  That's because it tends to contract a little, and this prevents it from pulling up later.
Let the tape rest a few minutes before you fold the last little bit down

Finish the job by folding the overhang of the tube into the bar and stuff it with a cork.  One blogger suggests using olive oil stoppers.  You can also get little corks from home depot that fit a little easier than wine bottle corks.  Get creative, look in your junk drawers,  I'm sure you can find something!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lezyne and Topeak Mini-Pump Test And Review!

How I Came To Hate The Cartridge

Before leaving for my ride, I quickly glanced in my saddle bag to make sure I had the appropriate tools and supplies to fix a flat, although I really didn't see what was, or wasn't in there.  It took the inevitable flat for me to learn that all I had was one half full cartridge and one empty.  I couldn't find the hole in my tube and used the rest of the half full cartridge to inflate it just enough to find the leak, which I didn't find. Thats when I realized my predicament.

I clickity-clacked my way back to the studio in my spandex and road shoes, stewing the entire way. Never again would I be beholden to the mercies of the CO2 cartridge! I got changed and drove all over town looking for a suitable mini pump.

The selection was suprisingly limited, but I was determined to divorce the cartridge and marry the pump, and my momma told me, you better shop around.

Testing, Testing, 1 2 3 4 5

My criteria for the perfect pump were few.  I wanted it to fit discreatly in my jersey pocket, and I wanted it to work. What I ended up with were three options from Lezyne, and two from Topeak.

All of the Lezyne pumps I tested featured the "Flex Hose", which fits neatly inside the pump, and then threads onto the other end. Actually each pump had a slightly different flex hose, which I find to be a little strange.

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Lezyne flex hose threads into the handle when not in use (Lezyne Pressure Drive CFH Shown)

Lezyne, Flex, Hose, Review, Pressure, Drive, CHF, Pump, Pumps, Mini
Lezyne flex hose attached for use (Pressure Drive CFH shown)
The two from Topeak were slip fit only.  I did see that Topeak has a product line with a flex hose type system called "Smart Head Thread Lock", which looks remarkably like the Lezyne pumps at first glance.  From what I can tell it looks very similar to Lezyne's, but it would appear that Topeak has found a way to make it a little more simple.

1. Lezyne Road Drive

-160 max psi, 11.0 bar, Presta Only, 

-two sizes: Medium 216mm 96g, Large 283mm 110g

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Road Drive shown with included mounting hardware

The Road Drive is Presta only, one side of the hose slips on the presta valve, and is designed to be more speedy, while the other side threads onto the valve, which gives you a much better seal.  It's also got an "Air Bleed System", which is supposed to relieve friction by releasing the air trapped between the hose and the valve. I found that it just releases air from your tire. It comes in white, black and silver. It feels a little awkward to thread the hose onto the valve once it's already attached to the pump, since you have to rotate the entire contraption, but it's not really a big deal. At first I thought the hose had an adapter on the slip fit side that was completely useless.  I've since realized that it's made so you can rebuild it once it's worn. Sometimes threading the hose back into the handle proves to be difficult to get started, which makes you wonder if you're doing it wrong, especially since every single end of every piece has threads. I found that the little rubber gasket that keeps the handle in place wants to move around a lot, which is another irritating thing that makes it less than perfect.    Overall, I think this pump is just over engineered.

2. Lezyne Pressure Drive 

-120 psi, 8.3 bar, Presta and Schrader

-two sizes, Small: 170mm, 89g, Medium: 216mm 102g

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The Pressure Drive is very similar to the Road Drive, but without some of the hangups. First off, the flex hose can be used for both Schrader and Presta. You'll have to thread it on either way, no "quick slip" option. The hose does still feature the "air bleed system". Secondly, there are no extra pieces to loose or fumble with, other than the hose itself of course.  And finally, no rubber gasket. It's a lot shorter than the Road Drive, but a little fatter, and less sleek.  The handle has a bit of a flare right in the middle, which makes it a little bit uncomfortable in the pocket, but it feels good when using it, which is important when using a mini pump, because you are going to be using it for a long time.  This was my favorite of the three I tried from Lezyne due to its balance of efficiency and size.

3. Lezyne Pressure Drive CFH 

-120 psi, 8.3 bar, Presta or Schrader

-108g 190mm

Pretty much the same pump with one major difference.  The hose, which is braided stainless steel (the pressure drive hose is rubber), also doubles as a CO2 inflator.

First you choose Presta or Schrader, there is a little adapter (you're gonna loose it) that screws off and flips around to let you switch back and fourth between the two, then you thread that onto your valve,

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flip this piece around to change between Presta and Schrader

and finally you thread the CO2 cartridge onto the other end of the hose.  Since there is no way to regulate the flow, watch out for frozen fingers.
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Thread the hose onto the pump or the CO2 Cartridge

The under bottle cage mount for this one is pretty ridiculous.  It kinda makes your bike look like it's got a batman tool belt.  Now, if I can just reach my shark repellent!

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the mounting hardware holds two CO2 cartridges and the pump with a neoprene velcro strap

4. Topeak Pocket Rocket

-160 psi, 11bar, Presta or Shrader

-size 22.2 x 4.2 x 2.5 cm 115g

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The Pocket Rocket is your run of the mill mini frame pump.  It's compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves, slips on, you flip the lock on the back and pump. It's very comparible to Lezyne's Road Drive in size, but without the over engineering.  It's kinda underwhelming really, but it works well.

5.  Topeak Micro Rocket CB

-160 psi, 11 bar, Presta only

-size 16 x 2.4 x 2.1 cm 55g, (also available in an aluminum version)

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I generally don't care about carbon fiber. If there had been an aluminum verson of this pump at the store, I'd have bought that one.  But luckily there wasn't, because now I am a carbon fiber man, at least when it comes to micro pumps.

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This pump fits in your pocket, pants pocket, jacket pocket, shorts, jersey, you name it.  It's design is incredibly simple, no pieces to loose, no levers to flip, nothing. It's like a big lipstick tube, smooth and shiny.  You press it on (Schrader only), and start pumping..... and pumping.....and get comfortable there guy, you're gonna be at it for a while. Yes, size matters when it comes to pumps, which is why traditional frame pumps are so big.


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I'm keeping the Micro Rocket. At 55 grams, it's almost half the weight of its nearest competitor, and there are no parts to loose or fiddle with.  Take the Micro Rocket, some tire levers, and a patch kit and you're good to go.  As a commuter, I don't want to strap something to my frame, just more stuff for people to steal, and they're ugly, unless you're doing a Silca on a clasic frame, or maybe on your Mountain bike. Sure, if you've got a bag, a larger pump might be a better choice, they defineatly move air faster, but if you just want to ride around on your bike without a bunch of baggage, the Micro Rocket is a great option.  If you have to have Schrader valve compatibility, take a look at the Lezyne Pressure Drive.  It's way better at putting air in your tube than the Micro Rocket due to the size of the barrel/piston, but you are going to feel it in your pocket.  You'll probably enjoy the Flex Hose too, it makes for a better pumping experience (what kind of blog is this?).  If you like Topeak products better you should probably check out the "Smart Head Thread Lock" thing.

As far as the C02 cartridges go, save them for race day (aren't you going to lose if you get a flat anyway?).  Group rides you say? Your buddies can wait. They'll probably get a kick out of watching you work that tiny pump.  Plus, you save money, you don't have to throw that empty CO2 cartridge back in your bag, or worse yet, on the ground.  Yeah, I'm talking to you douche bag!  Stop that!  Get a pump!