Sunday, January 25, 2009

More about mudguards

Who would have thought it? The posting about mudguards (fenders) generated more comments than another other post I've written. It seems a lot of people feel the same way, road bikes should be more versatile. The recent popularity of cyclo-cross bikes helps, at least there is clearance for fenders on them but very few have eyelets.
Thanks for your comments. It is good to know people are reading this stuff.

Son Michael, who got me going on this in the first place, has written the following:

The Giant Roubaix bike made this past off season much easier. I never rode the indoor trainer, I didn’t have a chaffed, sore butt from riding without mudguards in the wet and I was able to find some new and scenic quiet, routes as I could ride on the gravel roads comfortably.

On a normal road bike without mudguards it is possible to do long rides in the rain but it is pretty uncomfortable. After about two hours in pouring rain with temperatures just above freezing the going gets tough. And, after four days of riding in the rain, it gets really hard to step out the door on the fifth day.

As my Dad mentioned in his last entry, David Millar saw how much more enjoyable a bike ride in the rain could be with mudguards and he now has his bike fixed up for the foul weather. Twenty years ago when bikes were steel, most professional had custom built winter bikes. Now, most simply try to fit clip-on mudguards to the carbon frames so they can endure the wet winter months. A proper winter bike makes more sense as it increases the bike’s versatility.

If I were to own one road bike—and wasn’t racing professionally-- it would be a bike with clearance for larger tires, mudguards and slightly more relaxed angles for comfort. The wheels would be handbuilt with 32 spokes: tough enough for the gravel and easy to fix. And, it is always better to have a heavier tire so I don’t have to worry about cut sidewalls and multiple flats. I do not want to be stranded on a mountain road, hours away from home, with no mobile phone reception.

While riding for Discovery in the Classics we also had special Roubaix bikes with different angles, an elastomer in the rear to absorb the bumps, and more clearance. After riding them most of my teammates commented that they would love to train on them through the winter. Sadly, using them for training didn’t end up being an option.

Julien DeVries, the team’s head mechanic, (he was also Greg Lemond and Eddy Merckx’s mechanic) insisted we all have 32 spoke wheels for training. The wheels, built with Bongtrager rims and hubs, had straight gauge spokes and weren’t light-- for training they don’t need to be—but were resilient and easy to repair. Each season we were given a new set even though the old ones were still in good shape. During the five seasons I rode for the team I never had a broken spoke while training and I rode them for hundreds of kilometers on gravel roads. The wheels are still good and true today.

While living in Boulder (our residence for 10 years), I spent my winters on the dirt mountain roads. Riding on the plains east or north of town irritated me, as the roads were busy with traffic and dead straight. Cycling is so much more than just pedaling to get a work out. So, I built up a cross bike, fitted some mudguards, added higher gears to descend the canyons, and dressed for the weather. The bike was great. I was able to ride for 3 hours uphill, on snow packed gravel roads, and then descend down slushy paved roads without getting wet, or too cold. Amazingly, I was the only guy up there on those roads in the middle of winter: the locals would wave as they drove past, the UPS guy would give a friendly honk, and the odd dog would give chase. Not more than a dozen cars would pass, the training was ideal, and the views were magnificent. Instead of coming home scared, annoyed and, irritable, I felt alive.

---One thing the Giant doesn’t have are mudflaps which I intend to add. With a good mud flap at the bottom of the front mudguard ones feet are kept much drier. A mud flap at the bottom of the rear mudguard makes riding in a group in the wet more pleasant as nobody is getting sprayed in the face. As a teenager I spent the winters training in Victoria, BC. There, where the roads never seem to dry, a rider isn’t allowed to ride with the group unless he has a mudflap on the back.
Basically, with the right bike there is no excuse not to ride in the rain. It is even quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mudguards (fenders)


I have just returned from Girona Spain, where although better than here in Toronto the weather wasn’t as good as I had hoped. The first week I managed to get a few rides in. The weather was cool but definitely pretty good for riding.

The second week it rained steadily every day. I wasn’t keen enough to go out but son Michael, a pro with Team Columbia, had a training schedule to follow so he was out everyday for four to five hours, often in the mountains. Normally in such circumstances he would fit clip on fenders to his training bike, which is essentially the same as his race bike. The clip-on fenders help to keep some of the water off but don’t really do a good job.

This year he had a bike that he could fit full fenders to. He acquired a team bike that had been built by Giant for George Hincapie to ride in Paris-Roubaix should the course be really muddy. Last year the course was dry so the bike was unused. It is built with much more wheel clearance than the standard race bike and has cantilever brakes, in fact it is much like a cyclo-cross bike. There is good clearance to fit full mudguards and 28mm tires.

This set-up made all the difference. It kept Michael much drier and warmer than his training companion David Miller. David was so impressed he intends to get a similar bike for his winter training.

All this got me thinking. Why don’t all bikes have fender clearances? Until the late seventies all bikes did. Just take a look at the photos of the pros' race bikes of that time, all have clearance for fenders and have fender eyelets incorporated into the drop-outs. In the winter they just fitted fenders. Towards the end of the seventies clearances got much tighter and the eyelets disappeared. It became just about impossible to fit fenders to any road bike other than those specifically intended for touring. This doesn’t make any sense. The reason given for the closer clearances was that the shorter chainstays and fork blades made the bikes more responsive. Baloney. Even if this were the case it need apply only to pure race bikes not to the other 95% of road bikes sold. For the last thirty odd years it has been almost impossible to by a road bike, unless it is a tourer or is custom built, onto which one can fit fenders. That just doesn’t make any sense. And what is the problem with having eyelets incorporated into the drop-outs? Even if they are not being used they are certainly not doing any harm. They are handy for fitting fenders and racks and make the bike more versatile.

Because clearances got smaller brake stirrups were made shorter and the manufacture of deeper brakes was discontinued. So even if you could find a frame with larger clearances it was impossible to find brakes to fit. In the last three or four years deeper brakes have been introduced again, mainly I think, because of the demand from the custom builders. Let us hope that road bikes go back to a more sensible design. We don’t all live in sunny California and some of us do like to ride in other than perfect weather.