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.