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Ultimate upgrades: Busyman Bicycles bar tape

Sam Challis
23 Jun 2017

Get to grips with bespoke leather tape, however you like it

Busyman Bicycles is, appropriately enough, run by a busy man. ‘My waiting list is usually five months but has been as long as nine months, with a three-month delay when Busyman was run alongside my old job,’ says Mick Peel, the company’s Australian founder.

‘My friends say it is in my nature to always be doing something, so that’s where the name came from. Business is going well, so it looks like I’m living up to it.’

As Busyman, Peel has been producing bespoke bicycle-based leatherwork since 2008. He works on a case-by-case basis, with customers contacting him through his blog.

His repertoire has extended to saddlebags and even wallets, but he mainly focuses on saddle coverings and bar tape.

‘The tape was my first product,’ says Peel. ‘I lectured in fashion design at the University of Melbourne so I made some leather tape to fix up the bike I used to commute on.

‘That was fun so I tried wrapping a saddle. After that it’s quite a common story – I did a few bits for friends then somebody else enquired and suddenly it turned into a business.’

While there is definitely the demand to expand Busyman Bicycles, Peel is determined to keep things as they are.

‘I’ve always found great joy in making things myself. For me it’s about the craft. I’ve no interest in being a product developer or production manager making stock stuff, being removed from the process. I have to work directly with the material,’ he says.

In Busyman’s case the material is always leather but it varies in type depending on the product.

Saddles are wrapped in kangaroo leather but bar tape is made from cow leather because it has a little more cushion than kangaroo, Peel says, and the hides are much bigger so he doesn’t have to join as many strips to get the required length.

‘I’ve done a couple of products in synthetic leather for vegans, but that stuff is much more difficult to work with,’ he adds.

Keeping it simple

To make a roll of tape, Peel cuts straps to width off a dyed hide. Once he has the length, the edges of the tape are ‘skived’ with a surgical scalpel – chamfered down so the tape wraps neatly.

‘Then I repeat the process with a narrower strip of underlay – if the top layer is designed to be perforated, this would be the strip of contrast colour,’ he says.

Then it’s a matter of preparing the details, which is usually a sequence of uniform perforations. ‘I do every single one by hand with a mallet and hole punch. That takes a while,’ says Peel. ‘After that the tape is pretty much done.’

The material properties of the bar tape are so different to normal tapes that installation does come with its foibles. ‘There’s no adhesive backing on the tape – it just relies on the tension of the wrap to hold it in place,’ says Peel.

‘I recommend immersing the tape in water before applying it to soften the leather. The fibres can move more freely and conform better to the bars. It also tightens as it dries, making it secure.’

Peel explains it takes patience to install properly, but that you won’t regret the time it takes. ‘It lasts a lot longer than normal tape.

‘Nowadays I don’t get to ride enough to tell you for sure, but I’ve had reports of people riding 25,000-30,000km before replacing it.

‘I’d say that’s a bit longer than most.’

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