Adventures with Shellac: Olive Handlebar Tape

Okay: So say, hypothetically, you acquire a Mixte. It is a beautiful pale marine-blue. And it comes with drop handlebars. And after reading an article by Sheldon Brown, you decide to give the drop bars a try rather than immediately replace them. Now, keeping this entirely hypothetical scenario in mind, what kind of tape would you get for said dropbars, if the awful rubbery stuff they are covered with will not do?

It is surprisingly tricky to complement pale marine-blue. I think that black deadens the colour, but brown tape can have a look of medical bandages to it that I don't like.

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Inspired by the above picture from Rivendell, I thought that olive tape would look perfect. It is a neutral colour that seems to tie together the blue frame with the brown saddle and accessories. And it has a classic touring look to it, evoking images of the countryside.

Olive handlebar tape is pretty much impossible to find. But colour-theory tells us, that applying amber shellac to standard green tape would be akin to mixing brown into green, producing an olive drab colour. Let's hope it works out that way!

Dreadful rubberized wraps after surgical removal. Ewww!

Naked handlebar. Mmmm!

Handlebar wrapped in green Tressostar Cloth Tape. This is a standard green, looks very Christmasy. Definitely not the colour we hoped to end up with, but we have faith in colour theory. I should mention, that of course it was the Co-Habitant who did all the work, since I am still in Europe. He tells me that wrapping handlebar tape is not the easiest thing to do. So this project is definitely one step up from cork grip installation.

And now, voila: The green tape covered with amber shellac. This is what it looks like before the shellac sinks into the cloth and dries. I posted the above pic on bikeforums in response to someone's question about shellacking green tape, and the nice people there promptly told me that my tape looks like sh!1 : )

Here is the colour after it soaks in a bit. It becomes a true olive drab, exactly what I wanted. Hurray for colour theory! (Oh and that enormous reflector will soon be gone.)

Of course, this is all entirely hypothetical. Mixte? What Mixte!


  1. There is a piece in this month's Bicycling magazine about taping bars and includes a a few hints about shellac but it looks like you guys don't need to read it. It came out great on that "hypothetical" bike. You are getting as bad as me in regards to collecting bikes.

    Ok...about drop bars. I have them on my touring bike and I would not change them. Sometimes, I like to be stretched out over the bike. If you plan to use it for longer rides, I would suggest a womens specific saddle. It really does help. (The Terry Catalog has a really beautiful brown leather saddle that I'm thinking of for one of the bikes that I'm restoring).

    I bet you can't wait to get home!

  2. Interesting...bring back memories of art class from several decades ago. Turned out quite well too. Drop bars have their place, I still use them on at least one of my bikes.


  3. Thanks for that tip -- I will have a look at Bicycling magazine. We do read a lot of how-to guidelines online before attempting these projects, and the Co-Habitant happens to be naturally skillful at DIY. Plus, both of us have experience in the fine arts, so we are pretty accustomed to dealing with mixing and applying different mediums to different surfaces. Shellacking cloth tape is pretty similar to priming a canvas.

    Thankfully, collecting bicycles is not in our near future, because with these road bikes (yes, of course the Co-Habitant got one as well) we have reached the limit of our indoor storage capacity. I had been intending to get a Mixte for some time now, so it was not an impulse purchase. Now I feel that with the 3 radically different bikes (a new Dutch-style, a vintage 3-speed, and a Mixte), I have all the bases of loveliness covered!

    Good to hear encouraging comments about the drop bars. I will report on how that goes! Just over a week now...

  4. I like the color choice and the final product looks great! It must be hard for you to be so far away from such fab bikes. My husband recently bought a vintage Raleigh frame that he's building up with drop bars - makes me more and more curious about getting one for myself. As if I need any more bikes! :)

  5. Thanks Dottie -- Yes, I am very eager to get back!! I will do a thorough review of the drop bars. I know that the previous owner found it difficult to ride the mixte because of its road-bike anatomy, so we shall see how I do!

  6. @Filigree,
    If the previous owner had problems it will have been due to fit. Fitting women to a one sized fits all frame is very difficult, usually due to a shorter leg to torso ratio. Take some time to set it up and I am sure it will be a comfortable ride.

    Believe me, my bride and I stretch the limits of cycle fitting. I am 6-2" with long arms and legs, she is 5'-1" with short legs...ought to see our tandem. :-D

  7. I should point out that the scary crazy yellow tint is gone once the shellac dried. The final product (after one layer) is a smooth xmas/olive green mix. No globs of shellac anywhere. It really does soak things up and looks horrid, but have faith in the process. I am surprised Filigree did not upload the "final" pic, but this project needs at least two more coats w/ complete drying (24+ hours) in between.

    Eventually it will look like an old military Jeep soft top canvas.

  8. 2whls -- Yes, I would like to see that tandem!

    MDI -- I think that the pic after the first layer dries completely is too green and no longer matches the frame. So I will wait until I add more layers and post the updates all together.

  9. I think your tape looks fine.

  10. I like. Gum hoods would be nice, too. Old Dia Compe hoods had perforated knock-outs for safety levers, but you could punch a similar hole in the new Cane Creek hoods that fit your brake levers.

  11. you inspired me to try this, and it worked out really well!
    Thanks so much!

  12. hi,
    how did you get that rubber-stuff off the bars?
    just asking because i also have moto - i want to substitute my stem with
    a steeper nitto stem without hurting this rubberstuff.
    i want to get it off and on again (hurting it as little as possible).
    here is my bike (first one):

  13. i like your exacto knife.. looks like one nicked from a central line kit..

  14. What kind of shellac did you use for this project? I have been looking for olive tape, and it's impossible!


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