French Porteur Handlebar


I have a perfect bike. It did NOT need to be tinkered with. However, and you’ll soon realize this as I create more posts, I seem to have an addiction and it is only cured by changing things and customizing. Houses, cars, furniture, bikes… everything. The other day, I chipped the end off one of my cork grips. It was right about the time I saw a vintage French porteur bike, so what better time than to change out the entire configuration!

I have a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub and had been using their supplied grip-shifter on it. Somewhat clean, looked good when I cut down the grip… but then I saw they have a super-svelte bar-end mounted model! I was instantly in love. I had been wondering how I could convert an antique non-indexed model before finding this and it was going to make my job so much easier. Next up was to find a simple reverse brake lever, and I found them at my local bike shop, a DiaCompe model that was supplied from Velo-Orange.

My current bars are Nitto, the Dove model, and they are superb. Nitto makes gorgeous parts, and the finish was excellent. I wanted to stay with them, but they won’t accept my bar-end mounted components, and the Nitto model that does, was at least a couple inches wider. I really like the Dove because it’s nice and narrow – I’ve heard it was built for the Japanese market to navigate narrow streets and sidewalks?  After looking around a bit, I came back to a Velo-Orange model, called the Porteur (of course!). Initially, I was worried that the bars would be too chrome-shiny from their picture, but I was going to wrap them completely with cork tape anyway, so it didn’t really matter. After receiving them, the finish really surprised me. Clean, satin-polished finish – not quite as muted as the Nittos, but still very nice.

I went with cork tape instead of cloth tape to get a little more cushion, and I’ve had shellacked cork grip before and really liked it. This process could be easily done with cloth tape too. In fact, there’s some great coverage of this at Lovely Bicycle. More good cork info too from Rivendell. Both of those sites are great reads. If you want an excellent tutorial on wrapping handlebars, the Park Tools site is very good, although I had to wrap my bars from top-down instead, so the cables could sneak out successfully.

To begin the install, I mounted the new handlebars and components to get the general feel and fit. Then figure out cable lengths and tape them into place with electrical tape. (You can wrap right over the elec tape.) Make sure your brake and shifter lines have ample curve to smoothly operate. I left cables un-attached at this stage, so I could more easily apply the wrap around things. To start with the wrap, I cut an angled piece to go along the stem, and started wrapping from the top-down. Be careful, and go slow. Wrapping bars is kinda tricky, ESPECIALLY if you’re gonna get weird if they aren’t perfect… like I do. One thing you don’t have to get perfect is the ends, because you can cleanly wrap them with some cotton twine and shellac over the whole thing. If you tuck your cork into the bar-end, you’ll make it lumpy, and it wouldn’t have even fit with my components. Cleanest, most classic way is to use twine. Rivendell has some good links for this as well.  My secret with the twine is instead of tying, I use a little super-glue and trim it to the glue and it’s perfect. Once you shellac, it’s all completely sealed up.

Final step is the shellac. I bought a small can of amber and a cheap brush from the hardware store. Applying shellac is easy enough, but know that it will soak into the grip material and be somewhat un-even for the first coat. Still probably un-even for the second coat. I applied two coats to start, and a third coat the next day. (note in the pics, I did this inside where it was warm. Don’t paint or shellac when it’s snowing out.) Each coat will darken it a little more, and by the third coat, it will have a beautiful, deep, leather-looking finish. If your shellac cracks, you can smooth it out with a little denatured alcohol, and apply a new coat when it is dry.

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54 Responses to “French Porteur Handlebar”

  1. megan says:

    that is one sexy bike!

  2. Ken B says:

    That’s one sweet ride!

  3. chrispito says:

    Wow! Beautiful. My knees won’t let me ride without gears, boo hoo!

  4. kristin says:

    Wow, that looks great. What kind of frame is that? I love your wood fenders, too!

  5. Melinda says:

    It may not have needed to be tinkered with, but the “after” is awesome.

  6. Sally says:

    I recently bought my husband a old 1971 Carlton frame (pre-Raleigh) to build up a fixed wheel bike. It looks great but the only problem is he can’t strap a handle bar for love or money. Thanks so much for your tips – and the twine idea is genius! I think I will give it a try – I imagine it needs a deft hand and a slight touch. I also think your blog is great – a really enjoyable read.

    • MMP says:

      I just saw your bike on your blog, and that’s an amazing frame! But yes, sorry about your bar-wrap situation! The Park Tool guide is really great for drop bars, remember to overlap the wrap plenty, even more when you’re in a curve. Good luck!

      • Sally says:

        Hey – we just wrapped our bars in cork tape and got some shellac in a dark tone but it has taken us many, many more coats to get it glossy. Did you mix the shellac yourself? Also did you apply it with a brush or rag? It is a bit rough in places and we were also wondering if you would recommend a light sand before the final coat? Sorry about all the questions – I have been looking around to get some idea but thought I would go to the master first! thanking you in advance (and I promise pictures are coming!)

        • MMP says:

          Hi Sally, it took me three coats before the cork stopped absorbing the shellac… then it finally was glossy. I didn’t mix myself, I bought pre-mixed from the hardware store and put it on with a cheap natural-bristle brush. You certainly could sand, but I never had rough spots… maybe yours are due to so many coats? I’d let it dry a good 24 hours before sanding, then coat. Shellac coats re-soften the undercoats some, so that’s why I’d let it dry plenty between final coats. Hope that helps some! Can’t wait to see the final!

          • Sally says:

            Thanks for this – we are going to sand and re-shellac one even coat. I think you are right about leaving enough time in between. I guess that is what you get for being excited and impatient. Jason has been struck down by the flu but the photos are coming – I promise I’ll let you know once they are up. It is looking rather nice. Thanks again for all your help.

  7. Sally says:

    I promise we will put photos up of it completed – and I may come back with questions about the twine option because it wasn’t explained in the Park Tool guide. Thanks so much for your advice and fingers crossed!

  8. j says:

    I think I may have taken a photo of your bike as a tourist when visiting Portland in 01/2009. It was chained to a blue rack with a yellow and black lock near the Pearl District. Perhaps not even your bike at all (though identical) but nevertheless was compelled to take a pic for my archives. It’s beautiful, by the way.

    • MMP says:

      Wow, really? It could very well have been mine. I have that lock and I used to live near there and would bike to and hang out at a friend’s restaurant… I’m really curious now!

  9. Rick says:

    Pimp. My. Bike.

  10. The saddle looks like a Brooks Team Pro S Copper model, but the honey leather looks darker than new. Does it get darker through wear, or is it another model like the B17 with a custom copper finish on the saddle bracket?

    • MMP says:

      Hey Jordan, actually it’s just a B-17 special in honey. It’s definitely darkened since first getting it… with riding, and proofide on it, the leather had changed a bit.

  11. That is officially the perfect bike. I just found your blog… I am afraid I may be asking you some questions. It is time. My poor ratty single speed is just silly at this point. Those handle bars are well, I want to marry them. Ok, not really but they are super awesome.

  12. [...] Modified Cast-Iron Candle 2. French Porteur Handlebar 3. Wood & Faulk Carpenter Bags (For sale in the shop!) 4. Pickled Brussel [...]

  13. Tone says:

    Nice bike!..I just found
    This bike is MosDef worthy of a spot on that site.

  14. Garrett says:

    Wow nice bike! And great website!

  15. AJ Lamb says:

    Love your project bike. I’ve been meaning to start one myself with a old race frame from my days with the Levi’s / Raleigh Team. Is that a Shimano generator front hub? Look forward to seeing your other projects evolve.


  16. Gerhard says:

    I really like you’re shoes :D

    But the bike is nice also

  17. Teke says:

    honestly, i’ve seen & rode 1000s of bikes across the world, and this is the closest to ideal I’ve ever seen. This is going to keep me up @ night.

  18. Anna says:

    Beyond perfect, love it!

  19. Charmaine says:

    This is hands down the most gorgeous bike I’ve ever laid eyes on. Where did you get those fenders? They’re amazing and I love them!

  20. Trevor says:

    So sharp.

    I’m guessing this was repainted. Did you do it or was it an outside job?

    I live in Portland also, and am looking to get mine repainted.

  21. Rachel says:

    What a beautiful bike! I especially love the wooden mudguards.

  22. Masahiro says:

    Great bike! I am about to build mine and can’t decide which handlebar to go with. I am looking from more upright position so I may need to go to Nitto or VO Side bank model but I also like the Porteur. Did you notice the dramatic difference in your posture when you switch from Nitto to Porteur? With Porteur, I may be leaning forward more…

    • MMP says:

      I really liked my Nittos for upright riding… and I definitely noticed a big change in posture with the Porteur. Even though they are a mild drop, I find myself riding on the uppers near the stem more. If you’re wanting uprights, the Nittos really can’t be beat.

  23. kim w. says:

    how does the tape feel after it has been shellacked? is it sticky or slick?

    • MMP says:

      Once it’s cured, it’s not sticky at all. I can get slick with a little sweat or water though… since the surface is quite glossy.

  24. Danyelle says:

    Gorgeous bike! I’ve been trying to gather parts for my own version over the last year, but I have a question: Did you paint the cables and the shifter housing, and if so with what kind of paint and how?

  25. anonymous says:

    front wheel’s on backwards.

  26. Olivia says:

    Beautiful bike. I’m just now starting to build up my own – can i ask what make and type your reverse break levers are?

    • MMP says:

      Those are made by Dia Compe… Velo Orange had carried them, but looks like all sold out currently. Good luck on your build!

  27. Ricardo Paris says:

    This is my old/new bicycle. It was originaly a French 1972 Porteur, and with some small changes came out like this.(similar to pashey guvnor) Future changes will be a standard Brooks b17/special, and I am looking for some decent mudgards due to living in the uk and arriving home always soked wet because I havent got mudgards.

    You have a very nice bike. Details: I love the 3 speed changer sturmey archer? And what type? Regards, Ricardo

    • MMP says:

      Thanks Ricardo, yours is pretty cool! The shifter I have is a Sturmey product. Google “Sturmey bar end shifter” and you should see some results.

  28. Skipper says:

    That’s a great looking handlebar set-up. I’ve been scouring the internet and my local bike shops for the cork tape, and no one seems to carry any of the plain natural cork tape and if they do, it has a company emboss on it, which I don’t care for. Could you point me in the direction of where to pick up a roll from?

    • MMP says:

      Can’t quite remember where I picked mine up in Portland… maybe you could check with Rivendell folks online? Seems like they’d have it if anyone would.

  29. Jonathan says:

    what type of paint did you use to paint the bar end shifter? looks nice

    also what type of cork wrap is that? i can’t find anything that resembles real cork

  30. devin says:

    Hey i really ur bike.. i love french style bicycle..
    I actually never seen reverse brakelever in person before, can u tell me how reverse brake works? How it can stick to barend and where to put cable from it? Because i wanna make some like that from my skateboard.
    me kinda DIY thing. Lol

    • Matt Pierce says:

      Works pretty much the same way, except the fitting goes into the bars and the cable is reversed. If you’re making a stand alone, you’d just need a small amount of tubing to secure the lever too.

      • devin says:

        Thanks for info
        I dont get it how the càble’s work? And how it fit to the bar?
        Would u please send me some details photos of reverse lever please?

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