How’s that for a freaking title? And we’re not even joking!
Join Christa, Ned and I on a bike shellac-ing adventure
For years we’ve been shellac-ing cork and cotton handlebar tape at BBP. In 2011 we got really into it and actually hosted a shellac-ing party during one of our Friday Night Bikes classes. And then for some reason it, shellac, fell out vogue. So much so that last month when I asked Yann (the Flying Frenchman) where we were keeping our Amber Shellac, he said we haven’t had any in years. I didn’t think that could be true so I asked some of our other mechanics, and they had no idea what Amber Shellac even was or why you’d use it on a bicycle.
So, I’m bringing it back and bringing some science to go with it!
And… I bought a new can for the shop. BBP Members, if you’re convinced after this article, swing on in for some Shellac-ing!
So What is Amber Shellac?
Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, Kerria lacca (also known as Laccifer lacca), on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. The insects suck the sap of the tree and excrete "sticklac" almost constantly. Shellac is scraped from the bark of the trees, processed and sold as dry flakes (pictured) and dissolved in alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish. Shellac functions as a tough natural primer, sanding sealant, tannin-blocker, odour-blocker, stain, and high-gloss varnish. Shellac was once used in electrical applications as it possesses good insulation qualities and it seals out moisture.
…Phonograph and 78 rpm gramophone records were made of shellac until the 1950s.
Why Use Shellac on Bicycles?
Cork and cotton handlebar tape and grips will naturally absorb grease, oil, sweat, and everything else your dirty hands touch. Over time cotton bar tape fades and becomes less grippy. Both cork and cotton can get a little soggy when it rains. By coating your bar tape and grips with Shellac, you create a sealed glossy layer over the material that will keep color from fading and the material from absorbing just about anything. If you were eating a hotdog and ketchup fell on your nice yellow cotton bar tape, that coating of shellac would let you wipe it right off. It will also add a little extra traction for your hands especially when it’s raining or your hands are sweaty.
But the best part… is how it looks! Amber Shellac on natural cork will take on a glossed leather look. On cotton tape, the color will get a lot deeper/darker with an incredible shine. You can see this demonstrated on my natural cork grips wrapped with faded cotton tape and Christa purple cloth bar tape. What a huge difference!
Ok, Here’s How It’s Done!
Bulls Eye Amber or Clear Shellac (1 quart)
Cheap Paint Brush (1’’ wide or so)
Masking Tape (if you don’t have a steady hand)
Paint Tray (you will drip)
Ammonia (for clean up)
Put your bike on a surface that won’t be ruined by dripping shellac
Set your bike up in a way that your handlebars won’t swing (Jimmy toe straps his front wheel to his frame. Christa uses a jig)
Pop the can of Shellac and stir it for a couple of minutes
Brush a small amount of Shellac on a test/hidden area. Let it dry and make sure you like the new color
Carefully paint the Shellac onto your grip/tape one grip/side at a time. Don’t forget the bottom. Use masking tape on areas you want to avoid run over
Now do the other grip/side while your first coat drys
If you want another coat (recommended) it should be ready after 5 minutes
Clean any drips, the brush and your fingers with ammonia
Wait a couple of hours to fully dry
Go for a ride!