Monday, April 20, 2009

Toshi Stitch On Leather Handlebar Cover

Remember those Cinelli bars from the 80's decked out in Almarc leather? Boy, I sure do - sexy Italian curves covered with tight, wrinkle free leather, the James Bond girl of bike parts. And nowadays, as equally inaccessible as a James Bond girl to most of us.

However, I once had a set in yellow leather on my full Campy Tommaso. One day, in a moment of youthful disdain, I decided that I was sick of the yellow and discarded them as blithely as I would a romantic interest that no longer intrigued.

Those were the days, and they are appreciated much more in retrospect than in the moment. Unfortunately, for those of us wishing to relive those times, stitch on handlebar covers have been rather rare of late. Yes, Velo Orange does offer a fine Elkhide cover, but it is less of an exotic Mediterranean beauty than a stolid Marge Gunderson in its somewhat plump and rustic manner.

To the rescue, it would seem, is Toshi with a stitch on leather cover. The pictures of the smooth, fine grain leather and tightly stitched edges drove me over the edge, so I could no more resist ordering some than I could taking my next breath.

As is common with affairs of the heart, it cost me - in money, time, and heartbreak. I could go on for hours about my various attempts to get these right and the imperfections that remain. But no joy is without its costs, and despite its flaws, Toshi delivers.

This is an endeavour for the bold and resourceful. No instructions are provided, and the supplies are incomplete; certainly, two needles rather than one should be provided and the black thread was not nearly long enough. But these deficiencies challenge one to make this one's own, in this case learning stitching techniques, substituting a more ample supply of red thread, devising strategies to prevent the cover from slipping around the bars.

The slippage is a particular challenge, many suggest vexatious remedies such as double-sided tape or first applying a substrate of cloth tape. However, there is a delightfully easy gambit that will not complicate the installation nor compromise the aesthetics, and that will leave the covers so stable that it would take a pipe wrench to move them. I'm surprised that the several manufacturers of these products have not figured this out and recommended it to their customers.

While gentlemen do not tell all, sometimes they provide a hint of their trade secrets. Consider the following:

Update: Ok, what I did was apply some shellac to the bars and let it dry before installing the covers. This provides more than enough tack to keep the covers in place while not at all complicating the laceup process. There is no need to use double sided tape, cloth tape substrate, or excessive tension. Anybody selling these types of covers should include this option with their instructions, imo, were they even to include instructions of any sort.

In closing, The Toshi leathers are beautiful. A cold hearted calculus would suggest 3 Otakus (out of 5) at best for this product. They are expensive, incomplete in the needle/thread, and bereft of any instructions. They are finicky to install, getting the stitching to look good, running a fair line with a consistent pattern. One false move and the soft leather stitching holes can tear, an irreparable tragedy. But despite these obstacles, they do offer the possibility of fulfillment to those who can complete the course.

So I can't separate my heart from my mind on this product and will simply leave you with the thought that the dream is alluring, the reality is harsh, and the choice is yours.

Update: Learning the ropes for a proper installation required me to lace and unlace the right cover repeatedly. Eventually, several of the eyelets failed. This damage is discreetly avoided in the pictures in this posting.

I presented my sad story to Ben's Cycle where I purchased these. They responded in a blink of an eye, telling me that they would ship me another set immediately.
All hail Ben's Cycles for their prompt and understanding response that wins them a coveted 5 Otaku vendor rating.


Darren said...

Hi, I think you've done an admirable job on the leathers here, bravo.

I'm going to try an make some of these - could you tell me, do you know what sort of leather the Toshi's are made of? Or how thick they are?

Many thnaks,


Joris said...


I really like what you've done with the handlebar. I want to do the same, but have a question:
did you wet the leather before applying it to the handlebar (to make it more flexible)?



robatsu said...


Yes, wetting is good for getting a tight, wrinkle free fit. However, try not to get the thread holes wet, just wet the center area. The wet leather is weaker/softer and the string can cut through the eyelet leather much more easily if the leather is wet or even damp.

robatsu said...


The leather for these is very fine and thin. It is stiffer than nice glove leather, but not a whole lot. But it is much thinner than the Velo Orange version of this product.