Friday, March 25, 2011

(elk)Hide I Seek

I get lots of questions about what handlebar tape I use on my mixte, so I've taken some close-ups. It's actually not tape at all, but elkhide sew-on city grips from Velo Orange. From a user's viewpoint, these are probably my favourite things to put on upright handlebars, because they feel the most comfortable to grip: not too hard and not to soft, just right. However, from an installer's viewpoint, they are kind of a pain to sew on and it takes forever. I've put them on two of my bicycles so far (the Royal H. and the Gazelle), each time thinking "never again!" while doing it. And yet, they are so comfortable, that I've just ordered another set.

The reason my elkhide grips look like bartape in pictures, is that I do have a layer of cloth tape installed underneath the leather. Doing this provides extra padding without making the gripping surface too soft. And the texture of the cloth tape printing through the leather feels ergonomic to my hands.

My grips are "espresso," to match my brown Brooks B72. When you first get these, they are kind of a dusty brick colour and don't match the Brooks brown at all - but they do once treated with Proofide (just install them first, then the Proofide).

As for the installation process... Let's just say lots of profanity was involved both times I sewed these on. VO recommends doing a 2-needle baseball cross-stitch, which is utterly foreign to me. After a half hour of unsuccessfully trying to figure out the instructions and undoing some very ugly sewing, I gave up and used my own stitch, which has held up pretty well since last September. Elkhide is a soft, almost buttery leather that weathers nicely and adapts to the shape of your grip - especially if you install it over a layer or cloth tape. Overall I find that it's worth it, despite the not-so-fun installation.

37 comments:

  1. Once again, you are making me want to emulate you... I was just going to recover my new-to-me mixte with some bar tape and call it good. Now I must reconsider. I have to ask-- did you purchase the elk hide long enough for drop bars, and then cut it down? It looks like the shorter one is not long enough to cover the entire length of the porteur bars.

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  2. Velouria, I was considering the elkhide drop-bar grips for my Bleriot, but found some "almost honey" Salsa tape (Salsa calls it brown) that goes with my honey saddle, so I decided to give that a try instead. I'm used to the foam-type tapes on my road bikes and generally like them. I checked out the elkhide installed on some bikes when I visited VO the other day, and it did feel nice, but I wasn't sure that I would like feeling the stiching. They did not have anything under the elkhide, as you have. I like your look with the cloth tape underneath, I'm sure that it feels better. The elkhide is also pretty economical at $35 for a full drop bar set, vs. higher prices for leather bar wraps. After I ride for while with the Salsa tape, maybe I'll treat myself to leather of some kind. Thanks as always for your informative blog, Steve in MD

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  3. I was thinking about using that on my drop bars, Never thought about the cotton tape underneath - good idea. To me, on the drop bars, you have to cut away the leather around the brake blocks, that's the part that spooks me.

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  4. They look great though! Lacing leather around tubing from the underside really is a pain in the arse. There was much profanity involved with the installation of the leather grips I have on my mixte. I had looked up the lacing instructions that VO provides, and had a similar experience to you, which also ended in me giving up and using my own method. Glad to know that I wasn't the only one who couldn't figure that out!

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  5. They look absolutely fantastuic!! I think I have some I ordered but, I ended up not using them. I'll have to check. You put in lots of work getting them on but the end result seems cetainly worth the effort.

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  6. They look good. I bought the same but for drop bars. Did not use them yet since I can not quite decide on the setup on the bars, and I do not want to do the job twice. Been thinking that maybe I`ll cut the lenghts in two or three and use them like you do instead of on a dropbar.

    One of the things I worry about is if they are soft enough. Have been thinking of putting something under, but not sure if a cloth thape is enough for me. Of course this depends on ridingposition and how much weight is on the hands.

    Keep up the good work! Badmother

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  7. What happens when your elk grips get wet?

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  8. Looks-wise, this is my favorite handlebar treatment. It is so pretty. I like how it almost veers into burgundy/cordovan when combined with the frame color.

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  9. bob - They've gotten wet a few times and nothing bad's happened. I think the combination of proofide and the natural oils from my hands form a protective barrier. The ones on my Gazelle have survived winter and are fine as well.

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  10. The elk hide over cotton tape looks great! I will have to remember this when I, ahem... my wife, builds up her new Soma mixte! I do just love the natural color variegation of leather.

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  11. ha somervillain, you sound like my husband wrt my VO mixte frame. I maintain that just because he is holding the tools does not mean it's not a collaboration. :)

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  12. I don't think anything could induce the Co-Habitant to sew these on for me : ) The variegation is mainly from the cotton tape underneath, which pushes into it and stretches out some areas more than others. The look is pretty interesting, and tactile-wise thus forms finger grooves over time.

    badmother - If you worry about softness, one additional thing you could do is put a very thin layer of cork underneath instead of cloth tape. Not cork grips, but cork from an art store - buy a thin sheet. I will be doing this to another bike shortly and will post the results.

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  13. neighbourtease - In cases like this I also see myself as providing the fuel: He wrenches, I feed him. How is that not a collaboration?

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  14. Amanda said...
    "did you purchase the elk hide long enough for drop bars, and then cut it down? It looks like the shorter one is not long enough to cover the entire length of the porteur bars."


    Nope, these are the city-sized grips. I even had a bit left over. The ones for drop bars are much longer. Incidentally, the city grips used to cost $18, but the price recently went up to $25 : ((

    dave talsma said...
    "on the drop bars, you have to cut away the leather around the brake blocks, that's the part that spooks me."


    Yup. For that reason I don't feel like attempting it on drop bars. Also, the curvature of dropbars is more complicated than that of Porteur bars, and it's especially difficult to install the elkhide grips evenly over the curved parts. You'll see what I mean once you try it. [Shudder]

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  15. Velouria, they look very nice. Do you find that dogs have started paying more attention to your handlebars now? Plus, I wouldn't recommend leaving the bike parked outside the city for too long - I can name at least three wild animals that like to chew elk hides :-)

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  16. What brand of reverse brake levers do you have on this mixte? I love the all silver finish.
    Chris

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  17. Chris - They are Tektro inverse levers.

    Micheal - I don't leave this bike locked up for very long, but wouldn't the proofide keep the animals away?

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  18. The grips look lovely. How thick is the elkhide? i was going to order them, but I recently found a source for scraps of leather and some are big enough for drop bars, others for upright bar grips. I've got a bag of gorgeous leather to work with. I'm going to download the velo orange instructions to figure out how they do it. Do you think there is a better way? What about something prestitched?
    I bought some leather needles for my sewing machine and could just sew them, but it might be hard to get over bar tape. So I also thought of doubling the leather for the city grips to get extra cushioning. They would slip on with some cursing and that could be tightened up with some fine stitching if need be.
    Would sewing a tube, sliding it on and then cutting out the brake holes also work for the drop bars?
    I'll let you know how my first attempts go.

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  19. I don't think these can be pre-stitched, because the key is making them stretch very tightly over the handlebars.

    On my Gazelle bike I did double the leather, but in retrospect I think that was a waste. I should have used 1/2 the material with tape underneath, saving the rest for another bike.

    There is also the question of what to do with the ends. On the mixte, the inverse brake levers solve that problem, but on the Gazelle the ends are kind of droopy and ugly.

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  20. Heather: If you want to DIY, i think you're going to need a small leather punch and hand-sewing leather needles. I can't imagine sewing a tube and trying to get it onto a bar. The kits from VO are pre-punched.
    V: I was thinking about the ends for drop bars, as I'm not going to use bar-end shifters. I have black rubber Velox bar plugs (uninstalled) that would seem to provide a suitable end, as the they have a "lip". Also I've seen online some very nice-looking Gilles Bertroud (sp?) bar end plugs in leather that I just might have to spring for soon, regardless of my bar wrap. But on another note, I'm concerned about making my bike too precious. (This, as I've just done a test run of two types of twine with shellack, and I'm waiting for the first coat to dry.) It's a fine line, ya know? Steve in MD

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  21. Velouria, my experience with the craft store cork sheets (during one of my DIY grip projects) was that it cracked pretty easily if I messed with it too much. Shellacking prior to handling helped. Your experience may altogether differ from mine, but just thought I'd offfer the tip. I ended up not using it. Not sure how it would hold up underneath bar tape or elk hide.

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  22. Putting cotton tape underneath is a great idea. I tried using cork tape underneath the elkhide on one of my bikes, but the tape was too bulky. Cloth tape would have worked better; I'll have to try it next time.

    For those who are afraid of using it on drop bars because you have to cut it, here's a secret: you can avoid cutting a hole in the wrap by making the seam run on the same side as the levers. If you get it nice and secure right above the brake lever, you can tie off and restart the lacing right below the lever. The gap this creates can be covered by the hoods.

    I don't know if that really improves the look at all, but it does make it easier to reuse the wrap in the future. And I like having the seam on the opposite side of where my palms go.

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  23. I remembered that back in the early 80's I bought some leather wrap made by Rhode Gear. You had to soak it then it was sewn on, the seam ran the same as the brake blocks and it worked out rather well - but I thought the bars felt hard as a rock too.

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    1. I too, remember using this handlebar treatment, like you, in the early 80's. I was struggling to remember, for sure, the manufacturerer, so thanks for that affirmation. Rhode Gear, as I recall, was also the innovator behind the Flickstand. Anyway, my experience with them was quite different. I felt they were quite "cush" but I suppose they would as my switch was from "thin as sin" Benotto wrap!

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  24. I feel so sorry for the Elk. Poor Elk once a majestic creature and now just handlebar grips :(

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  25. I have done this on all my bikes. I originally got the idea from Cinelli. they did it on high end supercorsa models. I have never used the V.O. leather mostly because I was doing it long before they offered it and it hasn't worn out yet.
    I first shellack the bar then wet the leather before streching it on and stitching. Yes you can avoid cutting by running the seam in line with the brake levers. I usually waterproff by coating liberally with mink oil brushing into the seams. there is a guy in Japan that makes leathre break shrouds. He answers only to Japanese e-mail so I'll be trying that next.

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  26. JohnnyK said...

    I feel so sorry for the Elk. Poor Elk once a majestic creature and now just handlebar grips :(

    And yummy steaks, roast, burgers and sausage!

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  27. I don't want to get into animal rights talk, but a couple of things: First off, just the word "elkhide" makes one feel worse for the animal, because it it acknowledges the animal, whereas "leather" abstracts the fact that it's someone's skin. In that sense, the former is more honest. If reading "elkhide" bothers you but "leather" doesn't , that's something worth giving more thought to. Second, an argument can be made that synthetic saddles destroy more animals than does naturally tanned leather, due to the chemical processes used in making the synthetic products and the contamination they cause. So those are my personal thoughts on the matter.

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  28. There are elk farms near here. They really don't seem to be any worse or more wasteful that beef farms. Plus the animals don't go to feed lots. I also do not want to make this an animal rights commentary. I just wanted to say that if you are vegan, I understand why you don't approve of this product. If you had a burger or steak this week, the elks were not any worse of than your lunch.

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  29. Elk farms! I have never seen that,

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  30. Yes...the male elk with a full set of antlers are pretty impressive. It's my understanding that, in addition to meat and hide, the antlers are quite a valuable commodity. Up here in the NH seacoast region, one can do a beautiful ride that goes by an elk farm and a buffalo (bison) farm within ten miles of one another.

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  31. I love the elk hide grips. I have a Christiania trike and want to replace the rubbish grips supplied. Have Brooks bar tape at the ready, but these too good. Do you think this might be possible?

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  32. andrew - I've never seen a Christiania trike up close, but in pictures it almost looks like the handlebars are a continuous long handle sort of thing? You'd probably need the drop-bar length grips for that set-up, but it should definitely be doable.

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  33. Many thanks. I'll report back when the job is done!

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  34. I just installed Elk hide grips on my drop bars. I was able to figure out the sewing instructions, although it took a little while to get used to the whole "dual needles" thing. I love the feel of them and think it really classes up my retro Raleigh! Also, I didn't cut out a hole for the brakes; instead I rotated the slit from the forward side of the bars to the top (where the brakes come out), tied the thread off at the top and bottom, and then resumed sewing again underneath. Works like a charm.

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  35. 05.30.12 Big Bozo here . . . I just installed the Elk Hide covering from Velo Orange on my Cinelli drop bars. I got the black version hide and like most people had some questions about the installation process. If you follow the directions, it does indeed come out perfect. The challenge of the brake mount was not all that complicated. First install the brake handles on the bare handlebars where you want them and wrap a bit of masking tape around the band that holds the handles on.
    Remove the handles leaving the bands taped in place.
    Start installing the handlebar covering and when you get to the point where the brake bands are, simply take a razor knife and cut an X across the top of the brake band. The hide will then slide down around the brake band mounts.
    At this point, you need to start twisting the hide around so the stiching remains on the bottom of the bars. It does twist around without much swearing.
    Once you've stiched past the brake band, you can re-install the brake handles and continue stiching all the way to the end of the bars.
    My bars were a little more complicated in that I am using "Aero" style brakes and the hide covering had to wrap around the brake cable as well so mine are pretty snug.
    The first side took about 2 hours. The second side took about an hour and looks just like the photo on the Velo Orange website. When it came to the end, I was able to just cut it off an inch too long and stuff the tail end into the end of the handlebars and insert the cap - just like with normal tape.
    I wish I'd thought of the normal tape under the hide cover idea - if I do this again, I will definitely make that my first step. Nice work on your bars! They look great.

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