Randofurb, Part 5

First thing’s first, obligatory bottom bracket update: it’s done!  Took it to my LBS of choice in Woolton where they sorted it out for me nice and quickly, and confirmed my ‘this bike hasn’t seen much use’ theory because the bearings in the BB basically looked brand new.  That’s enough BB talk, though, let’s do something different.

The last job I took on myself was to polish and re-wrap the bars.  Happy with the work I’d done, I had a look around online at the longevity of this kind of bar tape, as I could imagine the cloth getting quite grimy.  I was even more aware of this when, pushing my bike back from the LBS after the BB service, I got caught in a pretty nasty shower.  The bike was completely drenched, and though that’s not in itself particularly dangerous, I was left feeling acutely aware that the cotton straps were soaking up every raindrop that fell onto them.  I managed to dry them off enough when I got home that they weren’t left dripping wet overnight, but what condition would they be in after a few more rainy jaunts – would they start to rot?

Not comfortable with such a thought in the back of my mind, I started searching for information on the longevity of cloth bar tape, and one word kept coming up: shellac.  Frankly it’s a word that, outside of ‘a good shellacking’ in rugby league basically meaning flattening someone, I hadn’t heard before but, especially in relation to vintage French bikes and their admirers, the words handlebars and shellac seemed to go together more and more.  Another thing ties in with it closely (no pun intended) – finishing the bars off with twine wrap.  The articles I read seem to suggest ‘painting’ shellac onto the bars will waterproof the cloth and make it last much longer than cotton tape.  Sounds like a win-win to me, making the Peugeot more authentic and extending the lifespan of my bar tape, and after I find a ball of twine in a cupboard and a really helpful video I decide to give it a go.  Rather than potentially ruin my work up to now, I decide to do a dummy run and do a twine wrap over the finishing tape that’s already on the bars:

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I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out; I was expecting to find this a really fiddly and awkward job to do, but it’s surprisingly easy, and after doing this I’m feeling confident enough to take it off again, remove the finishing tape, and twine the bars properly, making the twine as wide as my thumb.  Cutting the ends of the twine off when it’s finally knotted is a little intimidating as there’s no going back at that point, but I’d say I did a decent job of it.

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I was also tempted to go full-retro and use corks as bar plugs, but I couldn’t find ones that were thin enough to do the job.  I did try and sand one down to fit as a prototype, but it would’ve taken a great deal of work for something pretty insignificant.

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The next step was figuring out what the hell shellac is.  The term shellac is (presumably) commonplace in France and the US, but in the UK it seems to only show up as false nails.  Even when I search on DIY sites and Ebay all I get are cosmetic accessories and fancy looking nails.  Asking few people I know who work in painting and decorating led me to dead ends, too, until finally I make a breakthrough: it’s French polish.  This whole time I’ve needed French polish, which you can buy in practically any DIY shop.  I pick some up the next day along with methylated spirits, the British equivalent to ‘denatured alcohol’ which is used to clean the stuff up.  Setting up in my back yard, I cover any parts of the bars that are to stay shellac-free with masking tape, and drape some former jeans that are now rags over the bike, just to be safe.

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Confused UK readers, this is what shellac and denatured alcohol look like to our less continental vocabularies

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Next, I decant some of the French polish into a small container and start to paint it onto the bars.  I have a few brushes to try out, and found that a 2 inch paintbrush seems to be the sweet spot for this kind of job; a smaller brush took too long to paint the bars, and larger brushes were imprecise.  The shellac is easy to work with – I’d put it on quite thick and ‘stretch’ the paint out, and it didn’t tend to drip.  I started at the bottom of the bars and worked my way to the stem.  One thing I would note, the shellac absolutely destroys the brush because of how quickly it dries, so don’t use an expensive paintbrush!

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Here you can see the difference between bare cloth (left) and one coat of shellac (right) – the stuff takes about 30 minutes to dry.  The twine shows the most drastic change in colour, and apparently the shellac ‘locks’ the knots down, setting the twine and tape in place.  The bar tape itself looks almost as though it’s wet rather than coated in French polish, and it feels like it’s a little wet, also.  Other people who have done this seem to go for anywhere between one and four layers of shellac, and I decide to go for two layers on my bars.

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The difference is really clear now.  There’s a slight sheen to the cloth, and the darker colour makes it almost look like leather.  The texture of the tape feels much much rougher now, closer to burlap than cotton, which I’m told is to be expected and wears away after a little riding.  Apparently a third coat really brings out the glossiness people associate French polish with, and I may go back to add some more in the future, but two coats is enough for me right now.

It seemed at this point that it was high time I rigged up some cabling and took the Peugeot out for a spin.  I’d ordered outer cables a while ago along with a cable tidy, so why not rig the outer cables up and make the bike look like a bike again?  Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s put a lovely Brooks B17 on there too!  Now we’re really getting somewhere 🙂

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