Handlebar Barwrap/grips - Whipping and Shellac Covering




About: http://twitter.com/michaelk42

After posting my Benotto on Velospace I was asked to describe how I did the handlebar wrapping, so here it is.

I've used normal "corky" handlebar tape, medium weight cotton twine and amber shellac on these handlebars. Wrapping over and pulling under the twine (or other string-type substance) as a finishing is called whipping. The shellac works to glue it together and make it look nice.

Note that this isn't a hard process, but it does take some time - and it can't be undone without destroying the materials used. So make sure your brake levers (if applicable) are where you want them and you've got the right stem on if it's a quill like this one, because you're not going to be able to change them later without undoing this and starting over again!

(final result photo updated 7/5/2007)

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Step 1: Things You'll Need

The bar tape of your choice, I stick to the corky kind but cloth is good, too.

Electrical tape for the initial bar wrap.

Cotton twine. I use plain white medium weight cotton/polyester, it's cheap and looks good. I've tried the hemp-type hairy kind but I didn't like the stray fibers or the feel of it after applying the shellac. I like the cotton because it lets the shellac soak in and color it, as well.

Shellac; I use amber because I like the coloring effect, but clear is available too, of course.

Denatured alcohol to thin the shellac.



Rubber bands (to keep the levers from flopping around) or just tie them out of the way with some twine. I find it insanely easier to do this with the handlebar assembly off the bike.

Step 2: Remove the Old, Clean Up the Bar, Re-wrap

Get all the old junk off, and get everything in place where you need it.

Like I said earlier, this is something of a commitment, so make doubly sure that your levers are where you need and want them! This also goes for the stem, if it's slide-on/off like mine and not a threadless with a detachable clamp face.

I don't do anything special with my bar wrap, just end plugs and tape as usual. Park Tool has a page on that right here.

Twisting a rubber band around the levers and then stretching the over the hood area is highly recommended for keeping them out of the way while doing the whipping.

Step 3: Start Applying the Twine

First, take the end of the twine and fold over the end. The bend points in the direction you're going to be wrapping towards. In this case we're going to start wrapping on the handlebar where the tape ends, and up over and covering the tape. If you try to wrap from a larger to smaller circumference, the thread will separate and look pulled apart.

(Make sure that you measure how far you'll need to go to cover all the tape on both sides! If you have a little more tape to cover on one side than the other, you want to make sure that you wrap each side the longer measurement so they look even when you're finished.)

Step 4: Get the Wrap Started

The difficult part is getting started.

You want the portion of string you're covering with the wrap to be on the bottom/out of sight if possible, in case of any lumpiness.

So you have to hold the starting loop in place until you get the twine wrapped around and hold it down by itself. Be patient.

Once started, keep the twine pulled tight as you go, and make sure each successive wrap is snug against the previous.

Step 5: Cut and Get Ready to Pull Under

Once you've wrapped far enough (remember, if the other side is going to require more wrap to cover its taped end, you might have to go farther on this one than just covering its tape), cut the twine and thread it through the loop.

Step 6: Pull Through and Trim

Now pull the end of the loop thread, which will drag the twine end down under the wrapping. Don't pull too hard or you will yank it all the way through! Tug at the ends and get everything snugged up, then trim the twine ends.

Step 7: First End Down...

Now on to getting the other side. Wrapping the brake hoods is optional, and also the bar ends depending on if you used end plugs or not, etc.

Step 8: Warning!

This process may attract wandering felines. You might want to clip off a sacrificial length of string to distract them with.

Step 9: More Wrapping

Here I've wrapped the hoods. First on the hood starting from the lever-end to the bar, then up starting on the lower bar up to the lever, then down starting from the upper bar down to the lever.

Step 10: Start Applying Shellac

Always remember: short controlled bursts. Or in this case, many thin layers applied with time to dry in between, not one heavy thick layer. It won't dry right that way and will crack and just not be good.

I start with the shellac thinned down 1:1 with the denatured alcohol. Let the first few coats dry for a fair bit in between.

Also be sure not to inhale too many concentrated fumes, otherwise you might end up with cats in your instructables or something.

The first time I tried this I didn't thin the shellac down at all, and though it wasn't too entirely thick to dry right that way, it could have been better. Also, it didn't soak into the twine very well, and as a result I thought it looked too orange-amber in those spots since it effectively became a translucent amber coating over near-pure white.

Step 11: Be Patient, Apply More Shellac

For the last coat or two, you can use a less-thinned shellac:alcohol mixture (2:1, 3:1) and be sure to let it dry thoroughly!

Put everything back together, and there you have it.

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    13 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Looks awesome! I have a question though. Can you use any type of varnish? I live in South Africa and can't find anything called Shellac here :(

    Will normal wood varnish do the trick?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sorry, I just don't know. To the best of my knowledge it's been replaced with synthetic (plastic) types of varnish, you might have to ask a local place that works on furniture or something.


    9 years ago on Step 10

     Very Nice!
    I'm totally doing this to the next bike I get!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    If you mess up are the bars themselves salvageable, or are they ruined too?

    Well, I've done it both with twining at the end (like on the inside there) or simply tucked the tape into the end of the bar and secured it in there with the insert/cap. It's really up to you if you want to add the twine whipping at the end of the bars.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Nice! Question though, concerning the shellac. Being that I'm on my bike rather regularly and have a fairly tight/sweaty grip, do i have to be worried about the shellac chipping, wearing, etc.? It is a hard coat on top of a "soft" base, after all. I'd imagine the shellac doesn't hold up to the flexing too well. Am I wrong? I hope so, because this looks really cool.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Well, it kind of depends on the tape you're using - extra cushy is going to break a bit, yeah, but also, it soaks in too. This is where many thin coats and patience comes in.

    Of course, over time it IS going to wear, and you can re-apply as well - but that's *character* man!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I tried this once and did a couple coats of shellac. When I was done it looked nice, but the cotton tape was very rough to the touch and didn't feel very nice. I ended up taking it off, but am considering trying it again on a restoration project. Did I make a mistake the first time? It always looks so smooth in pictures.

    1 reply

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I think it really depends on the texture of the tape AND how well it absorbs the shellac, and how much the shellac is thinned. I noticed when I tried the hemp twine it was really rough - the shellac strengthened the loose fibers a lot. If what you start off with is coarse to begin with, the shellac is only going to enhance it. The "cork tape" I have here is crazy smooth, though.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Looks nice! I'm due to re-wrap my handlebars- maybe I'll do this.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Damn, that's nice. Your cat is fun looking too. Very classy!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    It looks a lot tidier than many other people's conventional method of taping their bars.