Riding in 2013 – Another warm winter so far

So it’s 2013, and I’m still riding.  A lot has changed with my riding routine this year.  For starters, I’m no longer recording ride stats in a spreadsheet.  I am using RunKeeper instead, and it’s been a great time saver.  I still plan to keep track of mileage for each of my bikes separately, though, so I’ll know when to replace tires, chains, etc.

I am also commuting to a new office, on the 6th floor of the Administration building at UMBC.  This requires me to ride the elevator to get in and out of the building, a prospect I was initially dreading.  However, so far it hasn’t been too bad.  The wait for the elevator isn’t bad, because it tends to be going the same direction I’m going, that is, up in the mornings and down in the evenings.  Although the elevators are sometimes crowded, I can wait for the next one and it’ll usually be empty.  The elevators aren’t huge, but the bike fits inside just fine.  Granted, it’s winter session and the campus isn’t crowded to begin with.  My tune may change in a couple of weeks when the spring semester starts.  We’ll see.

And finally, I’m trying out an Osprey Momentum 34 backpack, in lieu of panniers.  I really like the pack so far, and will write more on it after I’ve been using it for a month or so.

This winter has started off warm, similar to last winter.  I’ve been riding my road bike almost exclusively.  The past few days have been wet and drizzly.  A couple days ago, my rear fender started making this insidious rubbing noise.  It sounded like a leaf was caught between the fender and the tire, but I couldn’t find one.  It kept getting worse and worse, until finally I took the wheel off to get to the bottom of it.  It turns out that the silver mylar lining on the inside of the fender (Planet Bike Cascadia) was starting to peel away from the fender, and the loose end was rubbing against the tire.  I pulled on it, and about half of it peeled off the fender.  Now I have a fender that’s half silver and half clear, but no more rubbing noise.  I wonder how long before the remaining mylar starts to peel away.  The mylar seems to be totally cosmetic, and the fender is 5 years old and still fully functional, so no complaints.


The weather forecast was calling for a chance of rain late today, so I took my road bike with clip-on fenders this morning.  What I wasn’t expecting, was a sudden cloudburst about 10 minutes into my ride.  It wasn’t much rain, but it was enough to wet the roads and make the rest of my ride a sloppy mess.  I was initially planning to take a longer ride, but I ended up shortening it because of the road conditions.  That’s April for you.

These were the exact type of conditions that prompted me to buy the clip-on fenders.  I bought them mainly for use in the summer, to ride on wet roads after storms.  And they’re about what I expected.  The coverage is nowhere near as good as full fenders, but they keep me from getting muddy, and they keep most of the slop off the rear derailleur and other harder-to-clean areas on the bike.  Most of the mess is concentrated on the back of the seat tube and the seat stays, which are easy to wipe off after a ride.  I’d say the only thing the fenders lack is a front mud flap, to keep spray off my feet and ankles.  I may try to fabricate one myself; we’ll see.

Faster with Fenders?

Today I took my first ride with Planet Bike “SpeedEZ” clip-on fenders.  It took me about 1/2 hour to put them on for the first time, and most of that was spent adjusting the struts.  Now that the struts are properly adjusted, it should be pretty quick to put them on and take them off.

The fenders didn’t affect my ride much.  I hardly knew they were there.  There was maybe a slight rattle when I hit a bump or rode over some rough pavement, but they’re much quieter than the full fenders I used to have on this bike.  The roads were pretty dry, but I was able to test the fenders out on River Rd, where there’s still a lot of lingering runoff and standing water.  The fenders kept me clean, as well as my downtube, but short fenders obviously aren’t going to be as effective as full fenders.  There was more spray on my seat tube and also on the fork crown and brakes.  I expected this, and I’m hoping it’ll be an acceptable price to pay for the convenience of clip-on fenders.  My intent is to use these as “warm weather” fenders.  During the summer, I rarely feel a need to use full fenders, but it’s nice to have something to ride on wet roads after storms and the like.  I’ll post a long-term update after I’ve ridden for a few months with these.

The really cool thing about these fenders is that they seem to make me faster.  I averaged 17.1 mph riding to work today, which may not be fast for some, but it’s fast for me.  It could just have been the beautiful weather, dry roads, and relatively flat route, but I’m giving credit to the fenders.

This morning’s ride

Being that this may be my last ride for a week or so, considering the weather forecast, I decided I’d depart from February tradition and try to do a longer morning ride.  I took the fixed-gear and rode out to the park entrance at Ilchester Rd, but the Grist Mill Trail was still too snow-covered to attempt on road tires.  So instead, I rode up Thistle Rd. and through Catonsville via Oella Ave.  This is a hilly route and is not my favorite to do with only one gear, but I don’t have many other options for a longer ride when the park is snow-covered, and it’s still too wet to take my geared bike, which lacks fenders.  A mountain/cross bike with studded tires would really fit the bill here.  Maybe next winter..

The chain on the fixie was getting a little floppy, so last night I tightened it up.  I also remounted my back fender so that the front of it extends all the way down to the chainstays.  The bike doesn’t have a chainstay bridge, so I wrapped a zip tie around the stays and attached the fender with a second zip tie.  It actually stays in place better than I expected.  The back of the fender also fits better this way..  previously it extended down a little too far, and the tire was too close to the mud flap even with the struts adjusted out as far as they could go.  As a result, mud and other crud was always getting stuck there.  Tightening the chain (by pulling the wheel back) would have made the problem worse.  Now there’s lots of tire clearance all the way around the fender, so rubbing shouldn’t be a problem.

Fenders on a Road Bike, Part 2

This is part 2 of my story about how I put fenders on my road bike.  Read about my motivation for doing this in the first installment.

There are a couple types of fenders made for road bikes.   “Full” fenders cover the back wheel all the way down to the bottom bracket, and the front wheel from below the cranks to just past the front brake.  There are also “clip-on” quick-release fenders made specifically for road bikes.  An example of these is the SKS “Race Blade.”  These work, but they are smaller and provide less wheel coverage than full fenders. I knew that full fenders would be a bigger job to mount on my bike, but I figured if I absolutely could not get them to fit, I could always fall back on the clip-ons.  With that in mind, I went shopping for a set of full fenders.  The two biggest names in inexpensive road bike fenders seem to be SKS and Planet Bike. I read up on both, and eventually decided to go with a set of Planet Bike “Cascadia” fenders, which I ordered from Niagra Cycle Works.  The fenders arrived after a few days and I went to work putting them on.

Full fenders typically attach to the bike in two places.  The top of the fender attaches to the front fork or rear brake bridge, and the back of the fender is supported by struts that attach to threaded holes in the bike frame near the hubs.  The rear fender is usually also attached to the “seat stay bridge,” a short horizontal piece between the bottom bracket and the rear wheel.  On a road bike with caliper brakes, the fender goes between the brake caliper and the tire, and typically shares the same mounting hole with the brake.  So, to accommodate fenders, the bike needs:

  • Adequate vertical clearance underneath the front fork and between the brake calipers and the tire
  • Threaded holes on the front fork and rear seat/chainstays, near the hubs
  • Some way to attach the tops of the fenders to the front fork / rear brake bridge (possibly sharing the brake mounting hole)
  • A seat stay bridge piece to attach the front end of the rear fender

My bike met some of the criteria.  All of the clearances were adequate, and it had a seat stay bridge and the necessary mounting holes for the rear fender (although I was currently using them for my rack).  The problems:  It had no mounting holes on the front fork, and no easy way to attach the tops of the fenders to the brake mounts.  So I would need to work around these limitations somehow.

I began by mounting the rear fender.  I unbolted my rack and attached the fender struts underneath the rack supports.  Conveniently, the rack’s mounting bolt was long enough to accommodate both the fender struts and the rack supports, so I bolted them both to the same hole.  The front of the fender attached easily to the chain stay bridge using a zip tie.  For the top, Planet Bike uses a snap-on plastic clip.  The clip has a bolt slot that’s intended to mount behind the rear brake, but as mentioned above, there’s nowhere there I can bolt it; the rear brake is attached with a recessed hex nut that does not have threads to accept a fender bolt.  However, I was able to use zip ties to attach the mounting clip to the seat stays (this is covered in Planet Bike’s instructions), so problem solved there.  This mounting method does slightly reduce the fender’s clearance underneath the brake, though, so it may not be usable on a bike with extremely limited clearance.  Once the fender was mounted, I adjusted the struts until it didn’t rub the tire, and I was done.  That was pretty easy.

The front fender was more of a challenge.  My fork doesn’t have holes to mount the struts, so I had to improvise.  A couple of web sites recommended using metal or nylon p-clamps, but I can’t use these on my fork because its arms are not round enough.  Instead, I opted to just zip-tie the struts to the fork.  This is not an ideal solution, but it works well enough.  the quick-release skewer caps keep the ties from slipping off the fork, and the ties seem to stay in place otherwise.  But I’d still like to come up with something more elegant.  On to the top.  The front fender has a permanently-attached metal bracket instead of a plastic clip.  The front brake uses the same type of recessed nut as the rear brake, so there’s nowhere to attach the bracket behind the fork.  But unlike the rear, there’s nowhere on the fork to zip-tie the bracket either.  So my only option was to remove the front brake and mount the bracket between the brake and the fork (actually behind the lock nut that retains the brake spring — otherwise the bracket didn’t clear the steering tube).  I did this, and wasn’t happy with the results.  It made it impossible to adjust the fender’s position without also affecting the brake, and it also made it impossible to easily remove the fender.  I needed a better solution, so I went web surfing again, and found out about Problem Solvers Sheldon Fender Nuts.

Sheldon Fender Nuts replace the recessed nuts that hold the brake calipers in place.  The difference is, the Sheldon nuts are slightly longer, so they protrude outside the brake mounting hole, and they have a thread to accept a fender mounting bolt.  The front fender can then mount behind the fork as intended, and the fenders can be adjusted independently of the brakes.  The nuts come in sets of 2 (one for back and one for front).  I ordered a set from Jenson USA.  The front nut was an extremely tight fit in my fork.  Initially, I had to tap it with a hammer to seat it enough to mate with the threads on the brake, but eventually it “broke in” enough that I could thread it on and off the brake without too much trouble.  I was worried I’d torque it apart or otherwise destroy it, but it turned out to be pretty sturdy.  The mounting bolts that came with the Cascadia fenders did not fit the thread on the Sheldon nut — I had to scrounge up some matching bolts and washers from my parts drawer.  After that, though, the fender went on easily and was a snap to adjust.  So far I’ve only used the Sheldon nut on the front fender.  Eventually I’ll take the zip ties off the back fender and remount it with the Sheldon nut, but the nuts were worth the price just for the front.

Initially, I couldn’t get the front wheel to stop rubbing the fender.  No amount of fiddling with the fender seemed to help.  Finally I figured out that my wheel was not properly centered in the fork.  I undid the quick release and centered the wheel, and suddenly the fender no longer rubbed.  There’s not a whole lot of side-to-side tolerance with these fenders, so buyer beware.  I’m a little worried at what might happen if I break a spoke..

After the fenders were on, I didn’t have to wait long to test them out.  I took the bike out shortly after a storm, and the fenders worked like a champ.  I hit my first puddle and watched all the water squirt out the front of the fender, instead of up on the bike, my clothes, etc.  In normal riding conditions, I don’t really notice the fenders except for maybe a rattle here or there when I hit a bump.  The fenders don’t get in my way at all.  The instructions warn that my foot might touch the front fender during slow turns, but I haven’t had that problem.  All in all, even if the installation was a bit of a pain, the fenders were well worth it and I highly recommend them for all-weather commuting.

Fenders on a Road Bike, Part 1

I’ve been an occasional bike commuter for a little over three years.  My commuter bike is a 2001 Giant OCR-1, a road bike with an aluminum frame and a carbon fork.  Back in the big 1980s, I spent my teen years delivering newspapers, and went through a seemingly-endless string of cheap 10-speed beater bikes.  I rode the bikes year-round in all kinds of weather conditions.  Every one of them had fenders – the big, heavy, metal kind that start to rust after a couple days in the elements.  The fenders may not have been stylish, but they did their job, keeping mud and grime off the bike and its rider.  Of course, back then I didn’t appreciate them.

Flash forward to the 1990s.  At some point, bike manufacturers stopped putting fenders on bikes.  I bought a mountain bike in 1994 – no fenders.  Ditto for my road bike, bought in 2002.  Nowadays, most bikes in the U.S. are sold for recreation.  Road bikes, in particular, now seem to be mostly geared towards racing and weekend club rides.  And indeed, when I bought my bikes in the 90s and 00s, I first used them for recreation.  I took the mountain bike out on trails, and used the road bike for weekend club rides.  I only rode the bikes in good weather, so I never missed the fenders from my old bikes.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot about the more utilitarian uses for bikes – commuting, errand-running, etc.  I had a college degree and a desk job, and no longer needed a bike for work, or so I thought.

Flash forward another few years.  With young kids, I no longer had as much time for leisure riding.  I wasn’t in quite the shape I was a few years before.  I wanted to find a way to do some more riding, so I decided to try riding my bike to work.  Gas prices were high at the time, so I figured I could save some money on gas and improve my fitness at the same time.  My ride to work is only about 8 miles, which is long enough to get a decent workout, yet short enough that it doesn’t take too long (with small children and a busy family life, time is at a premium).  I tried commuting by bike a few times and discovered that I enjoyed it, so I kept it up for 3 years.  At first I rode only in the summer, and then only when it was sunny and dry out.  It wasn’t until 2008 that I took the plunge into all-season bike commuting, and it wasn’t until then that I missed fenders.  Summers here on the east coast tend to be pretty dry, with occasional thunderstorms providing most of the precipitation.  That all changes in the Fall, when we have lots of damp, misty, drizzly weather.  After my first couple of wet rides, my fender-less bike (and most of its cargo) was completely covered in mud and other junk that splashed up from the road.  Not only was this bad for the bike (bottom brackets don’t like road grit), I had to spend an hour or so after each ride hosing the bike down, wiping off the grime, and re-lubing everything.  It was a major hassle, and I quickly reached the conclusion that cold-season commuting wasn’t going to happen regularly if I couldn’t come up with a better alternative.  That’s when I remembered fenders.  If I could somehow retrofit fenders onto my bike, they should solve most of my problems.

My next post will describe the process I went through to research, choose, and mount a set of fenders on my road bike.  It was a tricky and occasionally frustrating exercise, but the end result was well worth the effort.