Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Better Match

I've been putting a lot of miles on the Sequoia that I finished restoring earlier this spring. The bike has become a new favorite for its superb ride and handling. The frame is well-designed and beautifully built, the 32mm tires handle all kinds of road surfaces, and the gearing (50/36 chainrings, 13/28 freewheel) offers great range and really helps on the long steep climbs out of the Cuyahoga valley.

I also love the way it looks - but there was one thing that kept distracting my eyes. I had wanted to match the bar tape and the saddle, but the match was just a bit off and it was really bugging me! I'll bet a lot of people might not have even noticed, but my eyes were instantly drawn to the difference. Yes, I know - I get obsessive about things like that. I probably need professional help. That doesn't change the fact that I felt like I needed to unwrap the bars and try again.

Re-wrapped bars are a much better match this time.
I have two other bikes with Brooks saddles in the "Antique Brown" color, and my "recipe" for matching the bar tape was to use brown cotton tape with several coats of blonde shellac (it's usually sold as "clear," but "blonde" would be a better description). That gives a nice chocolatey brown color which usually matches well with the brown leather saddle. But whether it is due to the kind of natural variations that can occur in leather, or quality control at the Brooks factory, or whatever, the saddle I selected for the Sequoia has a decidedly "reddish" tone to it. The chocolatey brown just wasn't "right" this time.

Amber and garnet shellac flakes. Grind them in a coffee
grinder and dissolve them with denatured alcohol.
Before undertaking the time to re-wrap the bars, I did some experimenting with different colors of tape and different colors of shellac. The most common colors for shellac are the aforementioned "blonde," as well as "amber" - and those are usually the only colors available at most paint/hardware stores. I checked around the internet and found "garnet" (very dark red) shellac flakes from a place that usually supplies violin-repair shops. I made up a jar of garnet shellac, along with the other two colors I already had. Then I mounted a few short strips of bar tape (brown, yellow, and white - a couple of each) onto some card stock and started applying shellac in different combinations. Though it seemed doubtful at first, it turned out that white tape with garnet shellac gave me the closest match to the saddle. However, it took a lot more coats of shellac to get there.

Here are some progress pics:

This was the white cotton tape with two coats of garnet shellac. It's just a light buff color, and it's hard to believe it will ever be a match for the saddle. My experiment convinced me it would work.
A few more coats, and you can see it's starting to get closer.
It probably took twice as many coats as what I typically use for the desired effect - but it did get there. That also means that the bars have more "shine" than what I usually go for. After a few rides, some of the shine will get knocked down a bit and they should have the soft satiny look of nice tanned leather.

Finished. I think it took about six coats to get this rich reddish brown - and it's a spot-on match to the saddle this time.

Now when I look at the bike, the only thing that's going to catch my eye is how well the bars and saddle go together.

Thanks for indulging my obsession.


  1. Why not go with leather bar tape !

  2. Garthy—I have used leather bar tape. It looked nice at first but faded badly and didn’t hold up well.