Why use shellac? It is a very practical coating for bar tape, providing a tough and weatherproof coating, whilst still retaining the grippy texture of the cotton bar tape beneath. It can last for many years and can be re-touched or re-coated to prolong its life. Constructeurs such as Alex Singer, René Herse and Routens used it regularly. In my opinion it looks aesthetically very pleasing too.
What is shellac? Mostly produced in India and Thailand, shellac is a secretion from the Lac beetle on the bark of trees, from which it is scraped. It is melted down and purified and then dried in thin sheets which are broken up into flakes.
Various shellac colours are available and you can mix your own or buy ready mixed. I mix my own, since shellac has a shelf life of approximately six months, it works better, and it’s cheaper too. It also allows you to mix up small quantities for re-touching if you scrape the finish at a later date. Be sure to mark your jar with the date the mixture was made! Amber or Orange shellac is the most useful colour. Important: The flakes should be of the de-waxed variety. In the UK there is a shellac supplier called W.S.Jenkins, who can provide what you need, located in North London. It can also be obtained via ebay listings – 100g or 4 ozs will be enough.
In a jam jar I fill it about 40% full with flakes, and then fill the jar to just above the level of the flakes with methylated spirits (denatured alcohol). Denatured alcohol is simply alcohol with an additive to make it unpalatable for drinking! Stir well and then leave for about 24 hours, stirring very regularly. You will find that a thick residue forms in the base of the jar overnight so stirring (not shaking) with a stick is necessary to dislodge and dissolve this before the mixture can be used. The consistency should be thick-ish, like synthetic varnish, with a rich amber colour. If it’s too thin, add more flakes, too thick add more alcohol.
Different tape colours can be used to create various finishes, but in my experience white and brown tape are the most useful. White combined with Amber shellac gives the classic French look of rich amber, such as used by Alex Singer. Brown tape followed by Amber shellac produces a nice dark brown finish which may be suitable if you want to match a dark coloured saddle, for instance.
Amber shellac over white bar tape:
Amber shellac over brown bar tape:
Lemon or blonde shellac over white tape to match the copper-gold colour of this René Herse:
Roll back the brake hoods and secure with tape, if they are flexible enough. If they are fragile vintage items you will have to carefully work around them!
You can usually get away with two rolls of tape for a pair of drop handlebars. It depends on how much you overlap when winding it on. I tend to wind on with quite a bit of overlap, so I sometimes end up using a little more than two rolls – wish they made the rolls a bit longer! My first preference for make is Velox Tressostar. Newbaums also make good tape. Velox is slightly stretchier, making it easier to use around the brake housings.
Make sure your hands are clean before starting! Before applying the tape, cut six 2 inch long sections for the brake lever area. This prevents any bare metal showing around the lever hoods. Apply the back pieces first, then the side sections tight up to each lever housing.
Tape in place any cables on more modern machines, in two or three places, starting and finishing tape underneath the bar.
I prefer to wind the tape from the bar end. I start with the left hand side of the bar seen facing the handlebars from the front of the bike. Anchor the tape underneath the bar, with the roll towards you, allowing enough to tuck inside the bar end, and then wind away from you round the bar, keeping the overlap as even as possible, and the tension tight at all times, taking particular care around the lever housings. This is the most difficult bit, as tension needs to be tight and great care needs to be taken to prevent creases. If you get a crease, unwind a bit and do it again.
Finish the end towards the centre of the bars by making the cut underneath the bar where the end of the tape will not be visible. Measure distance of finish to the stem, to match on other side.
Important: The other side should be a mirror image of the first side. Make sure that you are winding correctly.
If you don’t have nice end plugs, you can use natural wine corks inserted into the bar ends. If you do that, insert them now as it’s best to shellac over them.
On my porteur I used a cork from a bottle of French Cider, just for fun. You can use shellac as a glue to fix the cork in place:
Prepare the bike for applying shellac by covering the frame and front wheel with an old sheet or towel, so that it doesn’t get splashed. Best to have the front wheel in a floor bike stand, so you can move around the handlebars. The first coat can be put on generously, using a small soft decorators paintbrush (natural bristles are best), as it will soak into the tape. Try to apply smoothly and slowly, so as not to ‘froth’ the shellac, and watch out for drips, particularly underneath the bars. Leave at least 2-3 hours between coats, ensuring that it is dry before re-coating. Three or four coats usually suffice. Keep the coats even and free from runs and drips. The aim is to retain the texture of the bar tape for grip, rather than a smooth slippery gloss finish! Leave for at least 24 hours before using.
Brush is cleaned using meths/alcohol, and any drips on frame or other parts can also be removed this way.
If you scrape the bars and remove some of the coating at a later date, you can mix up a small amount of shellac and touch it in. Effectively, the tape is ‘glued’ to the handlebars by the shellac. There’s no need to use twine wrapping at the stem end, so beloved by Rivendell! Personally I think twine looks messy, and is an unnecessary bit of decoration. It was certainly never used by the great ‘constructeurs’.
Shellac was used as an adhesive for sticking on solid bicycle tyres, back in the 19th century. Solid tyres were held together using interlocking spiral wires in the UK, then stretched onto the rim, the shellac being used as a security measure to prevent the tyre rolling off the rim.
Just like today where cycling clubs have their own design of jerseys, in the early days of cycling it was also common for each cycling club to have an official uniform for riding. Unlike today, though, this usually constituted a tailored jacket and breeches, wool stockings, and a cap or even a type of protective helmet.
Recently I came across the certificate above, issued in 1890 by the CTC to appoint an official tailor for club uniform. The uniform specifications were laid down by the club in their rules, although the uniform was not compulsory. In the British Library there is a copy of the CTC Uniform Rules and Regulations, which is dated 1888. Remarkably this allows us to see the exact materials specified for the uniform, since there are samples of the actual cloth glued into the publication. Additionally there are details of the uniform requirements for women. The author of the regulations was E.R.Shipton, the Secretary of the CTC, whose flowing signature is on the certificate above.
Carton Reid on his excellent blog Roads Were Not Built For Cars writes about this publication and the CTC uniform in detail. Initially the club adopted green serge for their garb, but it was found that ‘it showed every speck of mud or dust’ of which there was plenty on the roads of the time, so it was discontinued in 1882 in favour of grey tweed. This was settled on ‘after many months of patient investigation’ and testing of over forty different cloths. At the time wool was favoured against the skin, as a hygienic and sanitary fabric, far better than cotton for the rigors of riding. Dr.Gustav Jaeger was partly responsible for this, with his ‘Sanitary Woolen System’ which was popularised by the Royal Family, amongst many other patrons. So, woolen undergarments were also specified.
Jackets were either Norfolk or Lounge style, with knee length breeches or knickerbockers, a grey checked flannel shirt, hand knitted socks, and a choice of headgear ranging from a cricket type cap to a helmet. The helmet would probably have been lined with cork, like a pith helmet of the period.
For ladies there was a coat bodice or Norfolk jacket in the same cloth, and a skirt with or without apron or pannier. Knickerbockers were also an option, and would seem to be a little more practical than the skirts pictured below. However, at that time there was still opposition to women wearing such a garment.
Three weights of wool tweed were available:
After settling on the regulation uniform, the CTC then appointed official tailors in major cities, so that the quality of the product could be assured. The certificate in question appoints Gulland and Kennedy of Edinburgh as their official supplier. In London one of their appointees was Goy and Co. who made the racing cap in my previous blog post.
Gulland and Kennedy was a well known tailors established in 1886, and the certificate is a very rare survivor of it’s type.
In The Cyclist Christmas Number for 1890 (above) the uniform colours of all recorded clubs are quoted. For instance, Clapton CC of East London, wore dark blue with white cap, whilst Edmonton CC wore grey check. This would generally have been of tweed or wool serge, with different weights of cloth available for summer and winter use… if you were wealthy enough! The Anfield Bicycle Club of Liverpool adopted an all black uniform, leading to them being dubbed ‘The Black Anfielders’. However, a number of clubs took a more casual stance with no uniform specified. Amusingly the Farleigh CC states ‘grey imitation CTC cloth’ for their outfit. The CTC would not have been amused having claimed that their fabric was of unsurpassed quality and warning about the inferiority of imitators:
Thanks also to Ray Miller and the Veteran-Cycle Club online library, for The Cyclist Year Book 1890
This type of cap was worn by racing cyclists in the 1880’s and 90’s. Typically silk caps would have only been used for racing on the path (track), whilst wool caps would have been used on the road. On the front peak are embroidered the letters L.B.C standing for London Bicycle Club, which was one of the earliest cycling clubs, founded in 1874. The cap is of silk, in dark blue, claret and black panels. The lettering and braid are of silver, which has tarnished to black. Imagine what it looked like when it was new!
The cap was made by Goy, the leading Cyclist’s outfitters in the City of London. Goy’s seem to have been a large company that also sold bicycles and accessories, as well as equipment for other sports. Their logo of the ship mast and sails is beautifully printed in gold on the lining of the cap. The cap is in exceptional condition for it’s age.
Some images of cap-wearing racing cyclists of the 1880’s…
It is a very rare item indeed. My friend Gertjan Moed, who owns and runs the wonderful Nationaal Fietsmuseum Velorama bicycle museum in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, told me that he had never seen one in 40+ years of collecting.
Here the cap is modeled by the perennially dapper Guy Hills of Dashing Tweeds fame.
In April 1975, shortly before René Herse died, Jean Desbois returned to frame making at the Herse workshop. He had previously worked for Herse in the 1940’s and 50’s before leaving and pursuing other avenues of work. He had made some of the finest frames that the workshop had ever produced, including some of the concours machines, as Herse’s lead craftsman. He probably made the spectacular chrome framed machine on the front cover of The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, by Jan Heine. That machine was built in 1952 for the Salon du Cycle.
Over 20 years later he again produced beautifully crafted machines under the René Herse name, marrying Lyli Herse (RH’s daughter) in 1980. This example, built in the year of their marriage, is a typically understated yet beautiful bicycle. The frame is constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing. The fork crown is Desbois’ characteristic simple and exceptionally elegant spearpoint. The lugs are beautifully filed. It features internal cable runs for rear brake and both gear cables. Even under the bottom bracket, where the gear cables emerge and run through guides, the finishing is perfect.
The rear derailleur cable emerges through a brazed on fluting which also incorporated the mount for the chainstay protector. By this time Herse’s signwriter that painted the names on the frames had died, so Desbois used transfers instead. As usual, wiring to the front lamps runs through the custom made rack.
Desbois’ stem design was quite different from the earlier design. They were cut out of a solid piece of duralumin. Holes were drilled for the cutout and the hand filing took over four hours to complete.Here the stem is contrasted with the much earlier item on my wife’s 1946 Herse:
Other equipment includes Philippe bars, Weinmann levers, Huret titanium rear derailleur and Super Champion 700c rims on Maillard 700 team issue hubs.
As with most of machines under the Herse name, it is the highly understated and subtle detailing combined with the exquisite craftsmanship of a gifted skilled artisan at the top of his game, that makes these wonderful machines so appealing.
Click on photo’s for large scale images
Whilst signs for national cycling clubs are fairly common, for example Cyclists’ Touring Club, Clarion and NCU, those for individual clubs are hardly ever seen. In fact I have never seen one, and neither have collector friends of mine with far more years experience than me. So when I saw this sign in the boot of a trader’s car at the Beaulieu autojumble, I negotiated with the owner to acquire it, despite the fairly poor condition. It is no good waiting for a better one to come along as it is probably a one-off! The added bonus is that it is of a club that was based locally to me, less than five miles away.
Forest Gate is a part of East London, bordering onto a large open area of land called Wanstead Flats. When this suburb was being constructed in the mid to late Victorian period, it was indeed the gateway to Epping Forest. Of course it was a great starting point for escapades into the Essex countryside, when the cycling craze took hold.
It is probable that the club was founded under the name of the Glen Cycling Club, in early 1896, possibly because their headquarters were at the Forest Glen Hotel (above), in Dames Road, Forest Gate. In 1897 it seems that the name was changed to the Forest Gate CC. There is very little information available about the club, but they did take part regularly in the Woodford Meet, a very large local meeting of cycling clubs, at the end of the century, and the early 1900’s, as evidenced by the programmes for those gatherings. By 1905 they were no longer participants, and they may well have folded at that time as so many other clubs did, due to the decline of interest in cycling. Alternatively they might have amalgamated with other local clubs under a different name.
The members of the club provided some amusing sounding entertainments for the revels of the Woodford Meet. For instance, in 1902 they provided a “Ping-Pong” tableau. The mind boggles at what that might have been – probably something horribly politically incorrect by today’s standards! They also appear to have participated in a concert and other entertainments opposite the Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford.
Photo: The Woodford Meet 1903, Harry Gulliver
In 1904 they provided the “Forest Gate Non-Slipping Band” with, as in 1902, some members being mounted on a ‘Quad’ – a four seat bicycle, and others on a ‘Trip’ or triplet, a three seat version, playing such well known instruments as the Cyclophone, Piccalooloo and the Kazoone!
It is likely that this sign was a one-off, made to hang outside the Forest Glen Hotel c.1897 when the club was founded. It is a good size, measuring 32 x 24 inches, and was manufactured by the Patent Enamel Company Ltd, London. It’s a really very rare piece of cycling history.
With thanks to the Vestry House Museum, LB Waltham Forest for the Woodford Meet program information, and to local Forest Gate historians John Walker and Mark Gorman of the E7 Now and Then website, for further information.
Osmond Cycling Club
This is perhaps the favourite club badge of my collection. Being that of the Vice-President of the club makes it all the more special. Made by Vaughton and Sons and hallmarked 1896, it is imposingly large at 90mm tall.
The name Osmond is a famous one in the history of cycling. F.J.Osmond was one of the most successful amateur racing cyclists of the Victorian era. He began racing at the age of nineteen, and just a year later started to capture records, riding an Ordinary and tricycle. In 1889 he made the successful transition to riding a safety bicycle, and in 1890 he won the 1, 5, 25 and 50 mile championships, also setting a new mile record at 2 mins 28 4-5 secs, reducing this to 2 mins 16 secs a couple of years later.
Is there a connection with this badge? Whilst he was still racing, Osmond was working for The Whitworth Cycle Company. In 1894 he left them and formed his own company to manufacture bicycles and tricycles. The headquarters of that company was in The Tower, Bagot Street, Birmingham, and it is the tower that is seen in this badge, confirmed by a look at the 1900 catalogue for the company (below). In fact the Osmond Cycle Co. was dissolved in 1897 and taken over by investors, who changed the name to Osmonds Ltd., although F.J. stayed on as Managing Director for a few years. He died in 1919, aged 52.
Clearly a club was formed by the company for employees and/or riders of their machines, something which existed for other makes such as Humber and Centaur. The date of this badge, 1896, is significant as the peak year of the 1890’s cycling boom, and it is not surprising that the company failed in 1897, as bicycle manufacturers over-extended themselves whilst the cycling craze went into decline.
Veteran-Cycle Club online library
Ray Miller: An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers
Perseverance Roadsters Cycling Club
A beautiful badge with intriguing imagery. The handlebars have the shape of typical 1890’s road racing bars, although the grips are more like those of an Ordinary. These are topped by a Castle, and behind the name there is a dog like creature and a star above. What is all that about?
There is a photograph in existence with a group of cyclists (and a dog) captioned with the club name. Judging from the style of the bicycles, this dates from the mid 1890’s.
South Shields Cycling Club
This club from the North-East coast of England, was formed very early in the history of cycling, on March 22nd 1878. In the 1891 ‘Cycling’ Annual, its headquarters were listed as being in the Royal Hotel.
The motto on the badge reads ‘Always Ready’ and depicts a rowing boat packed with men. This is the motto of the town, which relates to the World’s first purpose built lifeboat stationed in South Shields in 1789, and the later formation of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in 1866.
Lombard Cycling Club
The reasons behind the name of this club remain obscure, but it was based in Stoke Newington, London, N16. Founded on April 3rd 1889, headquarters were at the Neville Arms public house (below). This pub still exists, but has strangely now lost the ‘e’ at the end of it’s name. Their uniform was listed simply as ‘grey’.
This is a most unusual badge, as the three legged central section rotates on it’s central axis.