Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Elusive Chain Guard

There isn't a feature on a Bike For The Rest Of Us more essential and elusive than the chain guard. Why elusive, you ask? Just walk into your local bike shop and count the number of bikes with chain guards. Yes, plenty of kids bikes have them, but they seem to vanish when you get to wheel sizes over 12 inches. And if you do happen to have a chain guard sighting it will probably be a partial coverage one that just covers the top half of the chain.

Torker T-300 Partial Chain Guard
On some new bikes the chain guards are so tiny that you'll probably miss them at first glance. These 1-inch strips of metal are very much the thong of the chain guard world providing only the minimal amount of coverage and not obscuring the circular lines of the front sprocket and chain.

Electra Tincino's Low Profile Approach

Now there's no question in my mind that chain guards are essential. They keep your pants clean and remove another barrier from just hopping on your bike and riding. OK, so there are other solutions that people have suggested like cuff rolling, pants strapping and knicker wearing. But a BFROU is about using your bike for transportation. You wouldn't think about special clothing modifications for driving your car, so why should your bike be any different?

Chain guards have other functions like keeping the lube on your chain and the dirt off of it. If you're really lucky you'll find a bike with a chain case. Chain cases enclose the chain on both sides and keep the weather out, extending the life of the drivetrain. Dutch bikes are commonly equipped with chain cases because, like our beloved cars in the US, are made to sit out in the weather for many years without frequent maintenance.

Mighty Batavus Chaincase
Chain guards and chain cases are not without their drawbacks. They add an extra step to removing your rear wheel. Access to your chain for inspection, cleaning and lubrication will be hampered as well. At one time chain guards were fashionable and made to enhance the appearance of the bike; however, now the bare lines of the chain are the desirable visual cue thanks to the dominance of fixie and track bikes.

I'll mention that if you want to add a chain guard to your existing bike they're hard to find and can be a challenge to retrofit. They range from the very functional and plastic
(SKS) to the handcrafted and unique (Velo-Orange). Soma even has a modular one that they say works with front derailleurs. With the resurgence of internally-geared transportation bikes we hope to see more chain guards and more BFROU along with them.

8 comments:

kfg said...

Just a few caveats on this piece:

The chainguard gave way to the open chain look in the bike boom of the 70s. It was a result of the rise of the derailleur geared "racing" bike and has nothing to do with the fixie trend.

The Ticino's guard actually covers more of the chain than the Torker's guard. The primary function of a partial guard with more surface area is actually to provide space for trademarking/branding.

And yes, actually I DO sometimes make special clothing decisions when driving a car. Certain shoes and gloves can be dangerous and I call your attention also to a type of coat known as "car length."

jamesmallon said...

A 'porteur' chaincase is a good compromise. It covers as much of the chain as your pant legs would ever reach, but leaves the wheel area open, for changing tires. I bought one from Velo-Orange for an urban singlespeed I built: http://www.velo-orange.com/postch.html

On the other hand, I still end up using ankle straps, as bikes get dirty everywhere in the city... and I am too lazy to clean after every ride. A coat/skirt guard on the rear wheel, as in your Batavus pic, might work. I wonder what mid-century riders did, Dutch and Danes do. Always wear dark colours?

Anon of Florida said...

Prolly posted up a while ago a DIY method of encasing a chain which is much cheaper than Heibe's Chainglider.

http://prollyisnotprobably.com/2009/06/chain_cover_tutorial.php

The advantage of this is that this provides for a singlespeed/IGH setup, a very economical and adaptable method of encasing the chain, and avoid problems with a greasy chain.

Tom said...

@Anon, thanks for the link. I hadn't seen that type of "floating" chain guard before. Great stuff.

@kfg I would argue that bikes today aren't trying to look like 70s road bikes, they're trying to look like the fixie bikes that are in style (or were in style last year).

@james yes the velo-orange item is really a unique product, but I haven't seen one in person yet. I'm glad to hear that it worked out for you.

dray said...

Tom- I just came across this blog. Check out www.chainthong.com. I have come up with a 14gm roadbike chainguard that works quite well at preventing tattoos and dirty chains. I would like to get these out there so if you would like one on the house let me know. Doug Ray
dray@creativec.us

Alan Smithee said...

It's so nice to find some arguing for the chain guard. I agree that I shouldn't have to adjust my clothes to my bike. I like a sexy bike, but in the end, it's a car with two wheels to me. More chain guards; more fenders I say!

Anonymous said...

the chain guard 'gave way' to the open chain 'look' because bike companies wanted to make a profit off selling new cogs and chains all the time. its filthy and disgusting to have an open chain it would be like building cars without cover over the rear differential and just pouring oil into it once in a while. hilarious and stupid.

C. Walker said...

Was not the point that the chain guard disappearance happened long before the skinny jean set found yet another way to make old bikes expensive?