Stuff We Like: Plastic Fenders

SKS Fender with Poppies

I love Honjo metal fenders. I’ve had them on a number of bikes over the years and the classic look they impart is extremely pleasing to my eye. I also love the look of wooden fenders. I had a set on my old “Riv-ized” Easy Racers TE and I currently have bamboo fenders on my Civia Loring. As attractive as they can be, the downside to metal and wooden fenders is that they can be fairly fragile. I had a set of wooden fenders split on me, and I’ve damaged more than one metal fender beyond repair.

Plastic fenders, while not as attractive as metal and wooden fenders, are quieter, easier to install, and much tougher. They’re a necessity for all-weather multi-modal commuters who mount their bikes in racks on buses and trains. Both types of racks can destroy metal and wooden fenders in no time if you’re not careful.

Plastic fenders, while not as attractive as metal and wooden fenders, are quieter, easier to install, and much tougher.

Among the various plastic fenders on the market, I like SKS and Planet Bike the best. I’ve used the laminated silver SKS fenders forever and they’re tough, good looking, and plenty long. The new Planet Bike Cascadia fenders are really nice as well. They use a similar laminated construction to the SKS, they come from the factory with integrated mud flaps, and the hardware is stainless steel.

One thing to consider regarding fender length and mud flaps is ease of use for loading onto vertical bike racks. Often, bike racks on trains and in public storage areas are simply hooks on a wall that require rolling the bike back onto the rear wheel, then lifting the front wheel onto the hook. Long, rigid fenders like Honjos make the procedure a little tricky because they hit the ground before the bike is fully balanced back onto the rear wheel. Of course it’s possible to simply lift the bike up onto the hook while holding the rear wheel off the ground, but this can be tough and tricky if the bike is loaded and you’re in a crowded cargo area on a train. A shorter, tougher fender with a mud flap makes the procedure much simpler.

There’s another issue my son pointed out. The bike racks on our local buses have an arm that cradles the top of the wheel to hold the bike in place. He’s found he has to place the arm on top of the fender on his Breezer to hold the bike securely. The plastic fender on the front of his bike is getting a little scuffed, but it’s essentially no worse for the wear. If I had to place one of my bikes with metal or wooden fenders on one of these racks, the fender would be destroyed in one trip.

I’m not ready to give up my beautiful metal and wooden fenders. But, on bikes that I know will receive regular punishment from loading onto trains, buses, and public bike racks, I’ll be speccing plastic fenders from here on out.

Stuff We Like: Cable-Actuated Disc Brakes

Avid BB5 Cable-Actuated Disc Brake

While I prefer the aesthetics of a delicate, high profile cantilever or a classic, dual-pivot caliper, I have to admit that nothing quite beats the overall performance of a high-quality, cable-actuated disc brake (also known as “mechanical” disc brakes). Drum/roller brakes are heavy and generally provide only mediocre braking performance, and most every other type of performance brake uses the rim wall for a braking surface, a fact that guarantees your rims will be toast long before your hubs go. Rim brakes can sometimes be poor performers in wet conditions, they make an awful mess in the rain, and the caliper variety rarely provide sufficient clearance for robust tires and fenders. Hydraulic discs are typically more powerful than mechanical discs, but the difficulties associated with cutting fluid lines and bleeding brake systems are not a fair trade for their slightly better performance over their easier to set-up and maintain cousins. A high-quality mechanical disc brake such as the Avid BB7 combines the simplicity and user-friendliness of cable actuation, with excellent all weather performance and long-term, wheel-friendly reliability. Setting aside aesthetic considerations and tradition, cable-actuated discs are hard to beat from the standpoint of pure functionality.

Avid Cable-Actuated Disc Brakes

Stuff We Like: Twine

I like twine. Some people think it’s snooty (whatever), but I just think it’s fun to work with and more attractive than electrical tape. If you’ve wanted to give it a try but haven’t yet, here are a couple of how-to’s…

Rivendell [PDF] →
Epicurean Cyclist [YouTube] →

Stuff We Like: Busch & Muller Ixon

The Busch & Müller Ixon is an oldie but a goodie. This light has been on the market at least a couple of years, which is eons in the fast-paced world of bike lighting, but it still has some characteristics that makes it an excellent choice as a secondary bike light.

My ideal light set-up is a bright, focused-beam light mounted low on the bike (around mid-fork) to highlight debris and reach down the road, and a secondary light with a wider beam and more spill mounted on the handlebars to supplement the main light and improve visibility to motorists. The old Ixon, with its large reflector, wide beam, forward facing emitter, and gobs of side spill, serves this latter function perfectly. It’s pretty expensive to be used as a secondary “be seen” headlight, but the Ixon is a bit of a rarity amongst the new crop of inexpensive LED lights, many of which are designed with tight beams to put a bright, focused patch of light on the road surface. These new tight-beamed headlights are certainly good at laying down an intense patch of light, but they don’t do nearly as good a job as the old Ixon at announcing your presence to other road users.

Busch & Müller Ixon

Stuff We Like: Rivendell/Nitto Big Back Rack

We’re fortunate that we have the opportunity to play with a wide variety of commuting gear. We’ve been particularly inundated with bags and racks this past year. As much as we enjoy testing new equipment, it’s been a little puzzling, and more than a little frustrating, that many of the panniers and rear racks we test are not compatible with one another. Some racks don’t accept closed loops, others don’t accept standard clip diameters, some aren’t compatible with loop straps, and so on. The one pannier rack that we’ve had in-house that accepts every bag in the bike room is the Rivendell/Nitto Big Back Rack.

Take a close look at the above photo to see why this rack is so versatile. At the bottom, near the dropout eyelet, you’ll notice a pin that accepts loop-style pannier connectors. Above that there’s a horizontal bar suitable for S-type connectors, and on top of the horizontal bar is a loop that can be used for strap-type connectors such as those found on some European panniers. There may be others out there, but this is the only rack we’ve seen that can accommodate all three types of pannier connectors. And unlike some of the European racks we’ve tested, the Nitto is made from small diameter tubing that accepts every type of upper rack attachment as well.

The Big Back Rack is manufactured by Nitto for Rivendell. It’s constructed from 9mm tubular chromoly, the joints are fillet-brazed, and the whole thing is nickel-plated. Besides being the most versatile rack we’ve tested, it’s also one of the strongest and most beautiful.

Rivendell/Nitto Big Back Rack

Note: A similar, if not identical, rack is sold under the Nitto label as the Campee R-32 Rear Rack.

Disclosure: Rivendell is a sponsor of this website.

Stuff We Like: Gino Light Mount

The clever little Gino Light Mount bolts on to any M5 threaded eyelet, rackmount, or braze on and accepts any headlight with a standard handlebar-type clamp. It’s a must-have item on bikes with Moustache handlebars or any other bar that doesn’t have a straight section on which to mount a battery-powered headlight. It also allows you to mount a headlight down low on the fork for MUP politeness and improved beam efficiency. The Gino is machined from 6061 aluminum and is available in anodized silver or black. $20 from Paul in Chico.

Stuff We Like: Rivendell Sackville Bags

Rivendell Bicycle Works is primarily known for their beautiful, intelligently designed, lugged-steel bicycles. They’re also credited for helping to revive and keep alive traditional items such as wool clothing, leather saddles, platform pedals, and canvas bags. What some people may not realize is that Rivendell is nearly as passionate about bag making as they are about bike building. As they say on their website, “We’re nuts for bike bags. They’re the best part of the bike.”

Working with various small bag makers, Rivendell has designed and delivered to market a variety of attractive, functional, and extremely high quality bike bags over the years, the most recent being their Sackville line of dry-waxed cotton duck bike bags. Here’s a description from their website:

Our new Sackville series bags are as fine as saddlebags get. The Britamerican materials (including waxed and waterproof cotton duck), the Connecticut craftsmanship, the California design, the melted thread-ends, and the total absence of any cost-cutting measures add up to bags that cost us a mint to make, are worth three mints, but cost you only a mint and a half. They’re over-the-top good and a joy to use. They load and unload easier than any saddlebags we’ve used; they’re more secure; they’re more handsome.

Sackville bags are made in America for Rivendell by a small company led by former employees of Coach and Dooney & Bourke. These are lovely bags that some may think are too fancy, but they’re highly functional and durable too. The heavy canvas duck is waterproof and as tough as an old army tent. The heavy duty brass fittings will probably outlast most bikes. The smart designs reflect Rivendell’s 15+ years of designing and using saddlebags. If you’re interested in alternatives to the ubiquitous Cordura nylon bike bag, these are just about as good as it gets.

We’re currently using the Sackville SaddleSack Medium and the Sackville TrunkSack Small. The SaddleSack M is a relatively large saddlebag with a square-ish profile and a flat bottom. It’s a clever design that accepts a small laptop and a change of clothes, or a stack of library books and lunch. The large, rear-entry flap is held closed with a pair of brass snaps which makes opening and closing the bag a cinch. The zippered pockets on each side of the bag are large enough for a few tools and a patch kit, and the external pouch on top is ideal for quick access to items such as a wallet or bus pass.

The TrunkSack S is a small rack trunk, perfect for holding a spare tube, a patch kit, a few tools, and wallet/keys/cell phone. It features the same robust construction and detailing as the larger Sackville bags. Its size and shape makes it a perfect match for a Nitto Mini or Mark’s Rack.

Rivendell Bicycle Works

Disclosure: Rivendell is a sponsor of this website.

© 2011 EcoVelo™