One of my first posts on this blog was about where the trousers meet the chain — a peculiar but persistent sticking point in the story of North American transportational cycling. Any American who has cycled in everyday clothes has had to confront this issue at least once. You’ve rolled up your right pant leg, or stuffed it into your sock, or decided that you’ll only wear knickerbockers — all because otherwise your pant leg would get grease-stained or shredded by the chain and chainrings of your bike.
This is a good example of what’s wrong with the bikes we’re accustomed to. Instead of designing the bicycle to solve the problem, we solve the problem by changing the way we dress, in a minuscule but significant way (and if you’ve ever walked around a conference for two hours, shaking hands and passing out business cards, only to realize that you forgot to roll down your right pant leg, you’ll know what I mean by “significant”). The American way: Going by bike? Wear special pants, or at least a Trouser Accessory.
In contrast, on a city bike, the bike protects your clothing by using a chainguard or chaincase to keep your pants or skirt (and shoelaces) out of the chain and chainring teeth. With a chainguard on your bike, you can go ahead and wear whatever you want. Et voilà, Vélocouture!
But the majority of bikes used by Americans don’t come equipped with functional chainguards or chaincases, and until recently there were no effective, well-designed chainguards available for the various bikes that North Americans use.
Enter the SKS Chainboard, an aftermarket chainguard designed to be fitted to a wide range of bikes. The Chainboard is a new item on the market. I knew I needed to give it a test as soon as I found out about it. My first thought was that if this thing actually works, it wil change the way that Americans dress on their bikes. Here is a chainguard that offers nearly full coverage of the chain and completely encircles the chainring. Most significantly, it is designed to fit a variety of bikes and to accommodate both front and rear derailleurs. This last bit verges on revolutionary. Nearly all bicycles used by North Americans have derailleurs front and rear, and until now there has been no chainguard designed for use with front derailleurs.
The Chainboard comes in three sizes. The smallest size is designed for hub gears or singlespeeds. The larger two are compatible with front and rear derailleurs, and differ in the maximum chainring size they will accommodate. The largest 199mm size, which I tested, works with a large chainring of 44-48 teeth and would thus be the guard of choice for most triple chainring set-ups. (The SKS web site has more details on which size is right for your bike.)
I tested a 199mm Chainboard on my Kogswell P/R, a fat-tired city bike with front and rear derailleurs. I use a triple chainring up front, but I almost never use the big 48-tooth ring.
If you like to install metal fenders — the ones you have to drill yourself, and install/test/remove repeatedly until you get the fit just right — you will LOVE installing the Chainboard. The rest of us should leave it to our bike mechanic. Believe me, it’s worth the labor costs. I did manage to install the Chainboard myself, but did not get it to run smoothly and silently until I had it adjusted at a shop.
If you do decide to install it yourself, note that the only instruction included on the package is a small diagram indicating how to sandwich the chainguard mount in between the bottom bracket shell and the bottom bracket cup. SKS says there will soon be more informative installation instructions available online.
Theoretically, using the 199mm Chainboard, I should have been able to use my front derailleur and all three of my chainrings. However, neither I nor a local bike mechanic could adjust the guard so that I could shift to the big ring. As I don’t use my big chainring, this is not a deal-breaker for me, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Another oddity with the 199mm Chainboard is that there is a gap in the top plate, near the front (see above photo). I assume this is intended to allow free movement of the front derailleur, although on my bike the gap is forward of the front derailleur (and despite this, the front derailleur shifts from middle ring to small ring, and back, without difficulty). An unfortunate side effect of this gap, whatever its intended purpose, is that my pants kept getting caught on it! I covered the gap carefully with a bit of duct tape, which solved the problem but did nothing to improve the chainguard’s inelegant appearance. Speaking of which…
Here is an instructive moment for those who seek the true nature of this blog. Sometimes we talk about making your bike pretty, or the stylishness of one bike part or another. But the Chainboard is all about enhancing the way you look, not how your bike looks. To put it bluntly: It ain’t pretty. It’s big, it’s clunky, it’s black, and it’s plastic. Think of it as orthopedic shoes for your bike style, except instead of you wearing ugly black shoes, your bike wears an ugly black chainguard so that you can dress however you want.
Now that I’ve resolved the few glitches mentioned above, the chainguard has worked just fine. After a lifetime of rolling up my pants or paying the price, it feels genuinely odd to just get on my bike, trousers flapping freely, and pedal away. It seems like such a minor thing to fuss about, until you’ve tried it, and then you see that a chainguard is essential to cycling as an everyday, every-person form of transport. Chainguards (and built-in lights, and fenders, and skirt guards) remove cycling from the realm of the “special” — special equipment, special knowledge, special clothing — and into the realm of the normal and the everyday. You just don’t think about it anymore: whether you’re wearing long pants; whether you can find that blasted trouser clip; how cold your ankle is on a winter morning with your pants rolled up; whether you remembered to unroll your right trouser leg before walking into the job interview.
Let the great unrolling begin!
Click here for product information on the manufacturer’s website.
List price: US$27.99
Where to buy: Online, or can be special-ordered from any bike shop