SKS Race Blade Fenders
Winter arrived the other week and we attached the SKS Race Blade Fenders before we ventured out. It's not the cold that makes winter. It's the stuff on the road that really makes things wintry. Salty water, slop, and ice, along with grit, detritus, etc. Take the average bike out on a long, base-building ride mid-winter, and you come home looking like a salt miner and your ride appears to have been salt-blasted. Salt is great in our food, drinks, and on our pretzels, but it doesn't go well with clothing or bikes. Some years back, we decided the nasty rooster tail centrifuging off the rear wheel, leaving our clothes stained and our backside cold and wet, had to be minimized or banished. The salt-lick look for bikes is bad. As Roubaix as we might feel riding begrimed bikes and soiled clothes, the havoc the salt can do to our gear is no good.
We did not retreat to the sweat lodge known as indoor riding. We bought a backscratcher-type fender. Easy to mount, the plastic paddle kept puddles out of our chamois, which made rides on sloppy roads much, much more pleasurable. It also keeps tops drier, warmer, and in better condition. The bike still needs a good hosing afterwards, but there's little to do about that. Combine a backscratcher with a good rain jacket and the right layers, and most rainy rides become pleasant.
The problem with the average backscratcher is that they're clunky and obtrusive-both visually and practically (plenty of riders hit their leg on the fender while getting on or off the bike) -- and still allow the hamstrings to get a good soaking. The average backscratcher does nothing to make the life of drafting any more pleasant. The guy behind gets a wet, dirty face, chest, and gloves that can be both distracting and chilling. And without a similar-style fender for the front, the rooster tail off that wheel ends up beating the downtube, soaking the exposed cables, and allowing some of the splash to soak the front of our booties and tights.
One of the reasons for choosing the backscratcher was the ease of which the fender can be installed and removed. At the time, fenders were an effort. Most were made from steel, making them heavy. Most needed to be attached via threaded eyelets on fork tips and dropouts (which most racing bikes never had) and attaching to the brake pivot bolt. If your bike didn't have threaded dropouts, you needed four little steel clamps that inevitably chipped paint.
Besides, full-time fenders were supposed to be the province of heavy commuter bikes and accessory-laden full-on touring bikes, complete with generator, Avocet Touring II saddle, and Grab-On foam grips. But there is something indisputably Euro' about fenders. It used to be Euro' dork, like when Americans would scoff at a European in white sneakers and black socks, but as with socks, things will change. Find a copy of 23 Days in July for the evidence of why. The Kangaroo, Phil Anderson, comes out of his house with his fender-adorned Peugeot racing bike and proceeds to warm up wearing not only his team jersey and shorts but a cycling cap and leg warmers. Anderson, like other Anglophone pros lived in Belgium both for the plentiful racing and proximity to English-language television broadcast from England. Rain was a fact of life, and as the Belgians are wont to say, riding in the rain makes you strong.
But the backscratcher habit was developed before these Race Blades were created. It is certainly time to re-evaluate our fender preferences. The blades are a bit harder to set up and take a bit longer to attach, but definitely keep us cleaner and drier when riding through road muck. But with technology these days, the fenders are light; we measured 120g for the front and 150g for the rear. While that's a bit heavier than advertised, 270g for fenders is pretty light. Besides, this isn't about racing, it's about riding.
First, the assembly. The fenders come largely ready for attachment. Each fender is a length of curved plastic. The rear is 57cm long, the front is 41. Ours are the "carbon look" finish, which appears to be carbon fiber on the outside. On the inside, the color is silver. They are attached to aluminum stays that have a plastic "C" that the fenders run through. The aluminum stays are attached to both the seat stays and fork with the help of a curved plastic mount that is strapped in place with strips of rubber.
We started by strapping on the fenders, two on each point where the stays meet the bike. Most will find that there is plenty of excess rubber strap. We took off the straps, oriented them so the first cutout on each strap started on an inside mount, then stretched each around the frame tube, and cut off all but one cutout worth of rubber. This way, there's nothing flapping around and with the cut-off material, we have extra straps in case the straps on the bike break. SKS also provides two full-length straps in case of breakage.
We saw pretty quickly that the fenders weren't ideally situated on the bike. The fenders had big gaps between the fork crown and the rear brake and the start of the fenders. The instructions call for the tire to be 1.5cm from the stay, so we adjusted the height. We also ended up sliding both the front and rear fenders forward through their clips so that the front edge was within 1cm of the fork crown and sitting a few mm above the brake pivot bolt. The SKS instructions call for the rear fender to be 1cm behind the rear brake pivot, but we are hoping to catch a bit more slop before it lands on us. Having an oversized aluminum-tubed frame, one big thing is to mount the front fender close enough to the wheel so the fender stays don't rub on the down tube. Another small annoyance is that our fork-mounted speedo' pick-up is exactly where the front fender's support stay meets the fork. We had a concern that the plastic fender mount would interfere with the speedometer's mount. It doesn't, even if the fork doesn't look too pretty around the pick-up.
Riding, the fenders did pretty well. The rear one seemed to keep us cleaner and drier, and our riding partner also benefited from the closer-fitting, longer fender. The front one got in the way of our left foot as we threaded our way through a slippery low-speed turn. Our foot knocked the fender sideways and we got some spray on our left shoe until we realized what happened.
When we came home, we checked the fenders and readjusted. While the overlap between the fender and the foot is not ideal, there isn't much to do about it. Otherwise, the fenders did their job and stayed in place.
SKS sends along several extras with the fenders. They and the fenders came in a clear plastic bag, which we're keeping for fender storage. In addition to the rubber straps, there are also eight zip ties, four clear stickers, and four self-tapping screws. The screws are for permanently setting the fenders' position on the aluminum stays; you just screw in from the inside of the fender through to the plastic "C." The stickers are to either protect the frame where the stays meet up or to give you a reminder of where to place the fenders. If you put in lots of gritty, wet kilometers, the stickers will save the paint on your frame or clear-coat on your carbon fiber. We can see abraded paint and clear-coat after several hundred miles. The zip ties are for affixing the fenders to the bike if you know they're going to be on for a long time. Like all of the winter.
So much good comes out of the fenders. Drier, cleaner, less time spent on cleanup afterwards. The only bad is the time it takes to attach. We read somewhere that it takes 10 seconds. We timed ourselves, and getting them in position and strapped into place took about 90 seconds per wheel. We started with a clean bike, but if we started with a gritty one, we'd take a few seconds longer still to make sure the mounts were being placed on top of grit. Removing was a bit over 10 seconds per, but that was out of concern that we not grind in the grit around the mounts.
Now that the fenders are in place and another snow is beginning, we're wondering when the fenders will come off next. The forecast is for more snow and rain over the next few days and another cold week ahead. The zip ties are starting to make more sense. If riding in the rain makes you strong, we're wondering if riding in the snow makes us stronger.