Introduction: Leather Bicycle Handlebar Grips
Ok so you’ve got a bike. And you want it to be different from other
bikes. But you are cheapskate like me. Why not make your own ultra-hipster genuine leather bar grips from old leather bags? Why make your own when you can buy a quality pair from Gropes or Walnut Studiolo? Because these grips are conversation pieces, and the fact that you made them yourself only adds to the appeal. Also, the bags might just get thrown anyway. Or maybe you’re just really cheap like me. So let’s get going.
Step 1: Materials
Leather- at least 15cm wide – length depends on your preference/bars
Thread – at least 15x the length of your finished grips
Step 2: Tools
Cutting mat or any cutting surface that you are not worried to destroy. A pile of newspapers work in a pinch
Metal ruler – safety rulers are better. DO NOT USE PLASTIC RULERS. I’ll explain later
Felt Marker / pen
Hole punch – multi hole punches are supposedly great but I don’t have the money to buy one
Rubber/poly mat for the hole punch – a pile of paper also works
Rubber/poly hammer – DO NOT USE METAL HAMMERS – you’ll destroy your hole punch
Needles – small enough to fit through the holes you’re gonna make but with an eye big enough for the thread you’re gonna use
Step 3: Get Your Leather
Get your leather
It has to be thick enough to be comfortable when you grip it once installed. 3mm thick is just right. Nothing thinner
It also has to workable. Some finished leathers do not bend in any way, stay away from these.
Look for full grain leather. They’re very workable and feel and grip amazing. Vegetable tanned ones tend to be very tough to work/bend when used with a finishing agent.
I get my leather from thrift stores, mostly designer handbags. I get them for the equivalent of $1-$2. How do I get them cheaply? Because the ones who can afford to buy these new, always want them to look new, and once they look old they just donate it or sell it. Eventually, it ends up here in the Philippines, and they end up cheap.
How do you know if you have genuine leather bag?
Synthetics are getting really good. They look and feel like real leather. You can’t tell if it is real if you can only see one side. Here are some ways to differentiate.
Look at it, synthetics are too shiny, like glazed. Genuine is a bit duller, but a beautiful dull.
Grain in synthetics is uniform, genuine tends to be more random.
Look for fading in older leather, fakes don’t fade. Their surface strips and/or chips due to old age
When an edge is exposed, look for layers, synthetics have about 3 layers, outer, rubber/poly and fabric. Genuine only has 2 – skin and flesh layer
Touch, pinch and roll it in your fingers. Genuine feels organic - alive even. Synthetics are either too sticky or too slippery. Some fell rubbery and dull.
When you pinch and roll it against itself, genuine will have significant friction at the flesh side against itself. Synthetics just slide along.
When still in doubt, an extreme measure is to scratch an obscure corner with your fingernail. Synthetics will immediately chip and reveal the rubber inside. Genuine will be very tough to cut with your nail, if ever you do cut it, you will see the flesh side and you’ll be sure its real (note: only do this on bags that are already damaged, as still clean ones still have a chance of being bought)
Step 4: Cut Your Leather
Cut your leather
Cut your leather into two 7.5cm wide pieces. Why 7.5cm? Because that’s how the pros do it, so that’s what we’re gonna do. Length depends on you. Riser bars only need about 15cm each side, bullhorns about 40cm full length, dropbars about 50cm+. If you don’t plan to cover your entire bar, you can cut any length you please. Just don’t cut shorter than the length of your closed fist.
Make sure all corners are perfectly perpendicular.
The reason why I required you to use a metal ruler is 1: plastic tends to get stripped more than metal due to the contact of the blade to the ruler, you’ll have one useless ruler after one session. 2: plastic has a tendency to “ride up” the cutter blade if you cut too fast. Meaning the blade will ride up the top of the ruler while you cut, thereby cutting your pretty little fingers. I/you don’t want that.
Step 5: Mark Your Holes
Place your ruler cm side on the edge of the grip, end at the 0 mark.
Measuring 0.5 cm from the long edge and short edge, mark it at 0.5cm. From that 1st point, mark the length in 1cm increments.
Do for both sides of the grip and for the pair.
Always start form the same short side. If you start from different sides for the marking, the marks will not align with the other side.
Step 6: Punch Your Holes
Get your hole punch. I use a #8 punch. Its about a 1mm hole. I used to holesuse #7 punch but the holes tend to be too big after installation.
Use whatever backing available, and follow your marks. I tend to punch the holes just outside of the marks, but that’s just me. Where ever you punch, follow it for the entire grip.
Step 7: Cut the End
Cut 0.5cm after the last hole, and believe it or not, that’s it. We’re done!
Step 8: Quick Tip
If you are gonna make a lot of these (like me-I want to have a lot of grips), buy a stitching wheel from your local sewing shop. It’s this little pizza cutter looking gadget but it’s so small it can only cut a pizza for ants. It has multiple teeth and it’s used to mark holes in whatever you’re sewing to ensure uniform stitch length. Try to look for one that has 28 teeth. We’re gonna modify it. Get a file and file three teeth off, file up to the inner circumference of the wheel. Skip one tooth. File the next three teeth again. Do this for the entire wheel. What we’re left with is a 7 tooth wheel with a near perfect 1cm gap per tooth. Choose one tooth and mark and assign as “tooth 1”
How to use: in step 2, instead of using a marker, get your modified wheel and starting from “tooth 1” run your wheel the length of the grip. This will mark holes in your grip that will guide your punching. Now, you might be asking, why start from tooth 1? Because as I’ve said, it’s a near perfect 1cm gap. If you start from any tooth, the little differences in distance between teeth will not align to the other side. If you start from tooth 1, the difference will be the same as on the other side, ensuring alignment.
Now, some experienced leathermen will say “Why would I wreck a perfectly good stitching wheel if I can buy one from Tandy that does exactly the same”? Because 1. the stitching wheel costs 10 pesos here, and the real 1cm stitching wheel costs 400 pesos, that’s if you can find one. 2. you’re cheap like me.
Don’t forget to vote for me in the Leather Contest. Thanks for reading!