Friday, August 6, 2010

Dressguards and Chaincase: Do You Need Them?

Sometimes I get emails where ladies send me pictures of their bicycle and ask whether I think "it would look better" with dress guards and/or a chaincase.  Ladies... You do realise that these things are not there for the looks, right? Although a set of dress guards and a chaincase do lend a certain charm to a bicycle, aesthetics are not their primary purpose. So let me explain why I put them on my bikes, and then you can decide for yourself whether you need them or not.

The purpose of dress guards is to stop fluttery, loose clothing from flying into the spokes of your rear wheel and either getting ruined or causing an accident. The main determinant of whether you need dressguards is whether you wear the sort of clothing that requires their protection - for instance: flared skirts, dresses, long coats, or flowing tunics. Once you have had something get stuck in your rear spokes or have seen it happen to someone else, you know that the possibility is real and that it can even cause injury. Personally, I will not ride a bicycle without dress guards if an article of clothing I am wearing is long enough to reach the rear spokes. And since much of my everyday clothing is in that category, it is a good idea for me to install dress guards on any bike I plan to use for transportation.

I have also been asked what kind of dressguards are better: netted or solid.  There are probably differing opinions on this, but in my experience it does not matter. My vintage Raleigh (above) is fitted with very minimal dressguards that are basically just stretchy cords fanning out from the rear dropouts. For me, this has been sufficient; the cords - closely spaced - provide a perfectly functional barrier.  The obvious advantage to dress guards that are woven, is that they are lighter (and usually more attractive) than plastic ones. The disadvantage is that they can be more expensive and more difficult to clean.

Moving on to chaincases, their purpose is two-fold: (1) to prevent the bottoms of your trousers from being caught in the chain, and (2) to keep the chain clean from street grime, especially in bad weather. Since I seldom wear long trousers, the first function is not that important to me. So while I do appreciate that the chaincase keeps my chain nice and clean, this accessory is not as crucial for me as dress guards, because it is a maintenance feature rather than a safety feature. I can still ride a bike without a chaincase for transportation.

Furthermore, while I have found dress guards to be effective in preventing clothing from getting stuck in the spokes, I have not found chaincases to be entirely effective on those rare occasions when I do wear trousers. A couple of times, the bottoms of my trousers have actually gotten stuck on the chaincase itself, which has only increased my bias for skirts once I started cycling. Don't get me wrong, I still love a nice, elegant chaincase. But I admit that this feature does not hold as much functional purpose for me as do dress guards.

Dress guards and chaincases are not affectations, but necessary accessories for transportation in everyday clothing. As the popularity of "city bikes" rises, I hope that more American bicycle shops will realise this, and start carrying these useful items.

47 comments:

  1. I've never bothered with dress guards even though I wear dresses pretty much every day. I've never had anything get caught in my spokes. More common is the occasional bit of fabric caught between wheel and brake, which seems to be irritating, but not really dangerous. I'm not sure if a dress guard would help with that or not. I've considered getting one of those knit skirt guards, like you have on your mixte, but they look like they're kept on with little bullclips. I already have a clearance issue with my fender and tire. There's just barely enough room for the tire. Those clips look like they would rub for sure. So, no skirt guard.

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  2. I am working on making my own dress guard out of copper or brass. I have the design, based on a 1940's Skylark...I am going to use a super thin gauge so it won't add weight to the bike but will look and work great! I hope that American bike companies start making these, too, as I almost always wear skirts and have had them catch sooo many times! As far as the chaincase, is it true that if you don't have an internal hub, but have a derailleur, they may not attach correctly?

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  3. I've found that my folding rear Wald baskets on my Breezer Citizen act as a dress guard in themselves. Two jobs in one!

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  4. Panniers might also help to some degree in terms of the issues a skirt/coat guard mitigates. I do wear a long coat in winter sometimes, but haven't had an issue with it getting caught in anything on my Raleigh that is sans coat guards.

    I've never gotten my pants caught on the chain case, but I have had them occasionally get caught on the nut ends of the cotters - that was a surprise the first time it happened :) They also occasionally get caught on the lower braze-on for the frame pump (need to get a pump for it).

    It's true, much like fenders, lights, rear rack, etc - they all are practical things that are there for very specific reasons, not just to be aesthetically pleasing. A bike that incorporates all those things is not meant to be a fashion statement or a lifestyle accessory, it's meant to be a very useful tool.

    The fact that it's pretty is a great bonus :)

    @Patience: it's true, a full chain case like these won't work with derailleurs. You may be able to get a hockey-stick style chain guard (like you see on a lot of old schwinns and such) that will work, depending on the setup of the gears. They should work on a single speed or fixed gear, unless there's some obscure issue I'm not thinking of.

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  5. while i agree with the utility of dress guards and especially chaincases (i have two bikes with complete chaincases), i would say that the pressure should be put on the bicycle designers, not the bike shops, for incorporating chaincase compatibility in some of their models, like those intended for commuting/city use. the problem with chaincases, as some of the readers of this blog well know, is that fitment can be very tricky. it's not a universal accessory, like a headlight, that can be fitted to any bike (and in fact, as mentioned above, they are entirely incompatible with derailleur bikes). this is probably why bike shops don't like to stock them. rather, bike makers should build their bikes to be compatible with chaincases, and even build the bikes with them. breezer does this with their higher end commuter models.

    portlandize, the same thing happens to me! my pant cuffs get caught on the cotter nuts. and if i don't have my frame pump installed, sometimes my cuff gets caught on the pump peg. i've ripped the hem of my jeans that way.

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  6. Other reasons chain cases are less necessary is because pants clips/ties are readily available, much lighter than chain cases, and don't preclude dérailleurs.

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  7. Rose - I don't mean to be dramatic, but just because it hasn't happened to you does not mean it can't happen in principle. I have seen incidents where blood and crashes were involved. It has happened to me once as well, though thankfully the consequences were limited to a ruined silk dress. I should also add that it depends on what kind of skirts you wear. The skirt I am wearing in the second picture on this post does not require a dressguard, because there is not enough material to flutter backwards.

    Patience - Cool, send pictures when it's done! There are some chain guards (not full cases) that will attach over a derailleur, and I know that Jon Gehman @Red Barn is working on one such design. But these are in the style of small French chainguards, not the massive English/Dutch chaincases.

    somervillain and portlandize - The same thing has happened to me as well! The one time I wore pants on the DL-1, the cuffs got caught on the cotters.

    Oh, and I agree that panniers and folding baskets can do double duty as dress guards.

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  8. Steve - I know that people have mixed feelings about the pant clips; some consider them ugly and really hate to wear them - to the extent that it is actually a factor in their not cycling to work. I happen to like them and think they look pretty cool, but I suspect I am in the minority!

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  9. @Steve and Velouria: I'm not that concerned about the look of pants clips, but I'm also not concerned about the weight of my day-to-day bike, and would rather not have to bother :) Lazy, I suppose :)

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  10. I tend to cycle in jeans in the cooler weather. I have my Pashley Princess with her chain guard, and my vintage mixte, which doesn't have one. I've actually fallen over on the mixte because my jeans got caught in the chain area when I came to a halt. I love chain guards as a result.

    Good to hear that someone is working on a chain guard for derailleur bikes. I don't know whether anyone in Australia is doing them, so I might have to virtually wander over to the Red Barn and check out Jon Gehman's work.

    Patience... your dress guard sounds superb!

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  11. Carinthia - Oh, I am sorry to hear about the mixte fall. In colder weather when I wear trousers I tuck them into boots for this reason.

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  12. *Velouria, nice post.
    *Patience, I am also waiting to see some photos, it sounds really good.

    I discovered that pant clips + panniers make me go further and safe.
    :)

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  13. I found that trouser clips and bands don't protect the fabric from getting chain grease. Neither does a hockey stick chain guard on my DL-1. It catches on the cotters and on the bottom of the hockey stick. I find only a fully enclosed chain case works for trousers. When I ride a road bike in trousers, I just roll up the right leg or both legs.

    Count me in the camp of those who don't like the look of leg bands or trousers tucked into white socks. :)

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  14. carinthia, there already is a "partial" chaincase available for bikes with rear derailleurs (but not front ones). it's sold by velo orange and is a copy of the classic french porteur chaincases. it doesn't fully enclose the chain, but it does a much better job of keeping your pants grease-free than a typical hockey stick chain guard:

    http://www.velo-orange.com/postch.html

    i have one for my jeunet porteur, but i haven't installed it yet. even though these are designed for rear derailleur bikes, they are tricky to install and are incompatible with many cranksets.

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  15. somervllain - I love that VO porteur chaincase and only wish I had a bike for which it would be appropriate!

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  16. Geometry of the bicycle seems to be a factor in what gets caught up where as well. On my Hercules, if I'm wearing anything past my butt, I can count on it getting caught in the rear brakes if I don't have a guard back there. On my mixte however, I've yet to get anything caught in the spokes or brakes. So I don't feel like I need to put a guard on that bike. It would be nice if I could keep pants legs out of the chain on either bike, but I just roll them up/strap them down/tuck them in. Whatever works.

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  17. Somervillain,
    Thanks for that link to Velo Orange - that's a lovely retro piece of kit and will probably do the job for me.

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  18. Still on chainguards, have realised the VO one won't work on mine but a google search brought up this one, which, while it isn't pretty, is designed for bicycles with front derailleurs. Big, black and plastic, it does have a kind of funky look about it however.

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  19. i made the wrong assumption that jeans being heavier material would not get eaten by a chain. one time, i rolled my bootcut jeans just a little above my ankle instead of mid calf like i ususally do. i came to a stop and when i tried to get going again, it snagged my jeans! and it was at a traffic light change! luckily, i did not fall over. now i wear shorts or a skirt, but not sure what i'll when it gets really cold. i never thought about the dress thing. although i don't have particularly full skirts, i do like loose t-shirt dresses that are knee-length. they could get into the back wheel i suppose, but personally i'd modify my outfit.

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  20. Ridonkulus - I have learned at this point that even stiff fabric can get caught in bicycle parts; better safe than sorry!

    Amy - That is an interesting point; it is true that a slack seat tube puts you closer to the rear wheel.

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  21. I think that skirt guards also help keep sand and snow off your drive train and out of your shoes. These problems are much more real to me than the risk of, say, getting my coat stuck in the spokes.

    Also, if you wear skinny-cut pants, they won't get stuck in the cotters!

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  22. I recently acquired my first cottered crank bike (pre Batavus Magneet Sprint; a Dutch bike in need of Dutchification. Go figure.) in forty something or other years. The first time I rode it I was wearing jeans and sandals. Took about three pedal strokes and . . . bugger! I forgot all about that. Didn't tear anything though.

    I guess that's why God (Arthur Wellesley) invented Wellington boots, which is what I'd most normally be wearing with long pants on a city bike anyway. You can get 'em that look like dress shoes these days.

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  23. Rose, I've also experienced long flared skirts or dresses getting caught between a rear brake pad and rim. Of course, it's not the best thing for one's brake performance--or the aesthetics of one's clothing. The best solution I've found so far is to gather up parts of the skirt or dress and fasten it with an alligator or butterfly clip.

    I must admit, though, seeing a certain irony. The first time I experienced the problem, I had a "track" mark on the skirt. (Fortunately, it was a cheapie and, although a color and style I liked, not my absolute favorite.) Afterward, I thought about the first time I had a black track mark up the back of my shirt: I'd gotten caught in a rainstorm on my first ten-speed bike, which was also my first bike without fenders.

    As for chainguards: I agree that they're not terribly useful in protecting trousers. (Trust me, I know about that!) I simply used rubber bands, as I found that I was always losing the bands I bought.

    On the other hand, I have found that chainguards can be useful when I'm wearing a long skirt or dress. The first time I wore a long skirt on a bike without a chainguard, it got caught between the chain and chainring. A piece of the skirt (one of somehow found its way into the teeth at the top of the chainring and was turned into ropa vieja between the teeth and chain.

    I can see the value of a full chaincase on a commuter. However, I won't use one because it makes changing a rear flat a much longer and more complicated process. The second shop in which I worked charged seven dollars to change a rear tube on most bikes (That was more years ago than I'll admit!) but twenty-five for those bikes (Raleighs, usually) that had full chaincases and rod brakes.

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  24. Justine - Yikes! I do not wear very long skirts, so have never experienced getting the hem stuck in the chain. Oh, and knowing first hand what it is like to remove the rear wheel on a bike with a full chaincase, I think that price difference at your former bike shop was fair. But the kevlar protection you can get on tires nowadays really makes it possible to never ever have to change a flat on one of these bikes.

    Herzog - You wear skinny pants? I figured you for an older, more conservative type : )

    kfg - I like the idea of Wellingtons in theory, but they make my feet feel claustrophobic if I wear them outside the garden!

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  25. I don’t need skirtguards, obviously (since I am male), but I don’t intend to ride without a chainguard again. A while ago I had to ride without chainguard for a few weeks (because of some repairs) and it was horrible. My pants didn’t stay clean. :)

    In Europe chainguards that allow rear and front derailleurs are common, by the way. You find them on many new bikes (I have one, too).

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  26. Velouria, where do you buy the rear elastic cord with its bracket that you have mounted on pashley?

    Thanks and congratulations for the blog

    Ciao...

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  27. I love the look of a chain case on a roadster, but it would be out of place on many other styles of bicycle. Most of my bikes do have chain guards on them and for the most part they do what they were designed to do. The item I am most likely to catch in a chain seems to be my shoe laces, it has happened more than once while I was blissfully riding along. As long as I catch it on the first go around I am fine, more than one wrap and you will liked go down.

    I don't have coat/dress guards on any of my bikes...yet.

    They do make chain guards that will fit derailleur bikes, even ones with front derailleurs. I have had a couple of them pass through my hands. The last being a Staiger Typically they have been made out of plastic and quite often cracked. The one on the Staiger has been removed and an aluminum one is being fabricated.

    Aaron

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  28. All of my trousers end up with a little ragged hole on the inside of my right ankle. I'll never learn to tuck them into my socks consistently enough. (But then, once when I did tuck them into my socks, a loose elastic from the sock ended up wound round my pedal.) A chain case (or at least a pie plate) is on my wish list for the bike, right after a kick stand. But even then it won't prevent the freak accidents - like when you're standing at the light and try to get back up onto the saddle to go and realise the nose of the saddle has tucked itself into your rear pocket of your jeans... Or maybe that's just me?

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  29. Zweiradler- But they are also called "coat guards" and men's bikes have them too!

    Marco - An acquaintance sent them from Portugal, but I don't think it is very easy to find them today.

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  30. Whatever works. I'm from a different generation. My Trek touring bike (with a St. Christopher medal mounted on the handlebars is my only bike. I don't ride in skirts unless they are split, but carry them in my pannier. I fold up the legs of my pants or wear trouser clips. In weather such as we've had this summer, I shower when I get to my destination (a gym near my work lets me pay for shower privileges only).. That being said, I don't have a job that requires me to dress formally. I teach at an art college where most of us look like we are still mourning the death of Jerry Garcia.

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  31. Velouria,
    I see. But I don’t wear coats, either. :)

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  32. " I don't think it is very easy to find them today."

    Sunlite; four bucks. Available through the usual suspects including Amazon (through affiliate merchants, so the shipping costs more than the strap. Might as well have the LBS order it from QBP for you).

    Harder to find might be those Pashley cranks, although I see them in pictures of new European bikes these days. I've got an IRO Angus frame I'd like to build up into a classic triple purpose road/TT/Path bike and modern "blade" cranks just wont look right at all. Cotterless cranks in the old cottered style might be just the ticket.

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  33. Velouria, I think Marco is asking about the double-strand elastic made of flat bungee cord that is holding down your cable lock on the Pashley (and on the DL-1). In that case, it is available as a generic item (Avenir, Sun-Lite, etc) in most local bike stores in Boston. Dutch Gazelle have a rubber three-strand elastic that I haven't been able to source locally.

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  34. Oh sorry! Yes, those things are available in many bike shops in the US, as MDI and kfg said. I love these flat bungee cords and can't use the round ones.

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  35. kfg-Pashley cranks are 175mm (I think) and I imagine you could easily source them from Pashley's USA distributor either directly or through a bike shop that sells Pashleys (like Harris). Both the distributor and Harris Cyclery are nice and willing to help. I'd also ask the distributor what width/type of BB Pashley uses.

    I never bothered to take them off and weigh the cranks, but I imagine they won't be light. I suspect they are chromed steel.

    One other thing you can do is get a set of ($150) TA cranks from Harris, but it will be major $$$ to build them up with rings (or 1 ring), bolts, dust covers, etc.

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  36. "Harris Cyclery"

    I already figured that as my first port of call. Go figure. I'm hoping they'll also be able to help me with American roadster fixed gear wheels (they list English ones online, but not American. Wat's wit dat?) I'm getting tired of sharing one set of wheels between two bikes.

    "I suspect they are chromed steel."

    That's actually one of the things I like about them. Steel's great stuff for cranks.

    "One other thing you can do is get a set of ($150) TA cranks"

    Oh yeah, bring THAT up why don't you? I mean that wouldn't just be retro, but the real deal. They'd also bring the Quickbeam from "really nice" to "damn near perfect." I'm still waiting to look at Ticino cranks though. They've made a few structural improvements over the TAs and it turns out they're made by FSA; not junk - so looking to be just about as pricey as the TAs. Sometimes ya can't win fer trying. Another option I have is to find an old Fuji just to strip the Sugino Campy knockoffs off of it, but I won't find any 165s that way. It all gets so complimicated, not to mention expensive.

    "rubber three-strand elastic"

    Yeah, those are the ones I went out looking for and didn't find.

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  37. I've found bungee cords on amazon... and I've seen that its crome bracket on the frame it's pashley original...

    sorry for my english...

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  38. I swear by a chaincase! The hems of my pants all have grease stains of the edges from before I started riding the Breezer, which comes with a full chainguard. I now reserve my Specialized for shorts, skirts and black pants. The enclosed chainguard also keep the chain clean. Flagstaff is typically very dusty so the chaincase is a valuable feature.

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  39. I recently bought a vintage (80s) imported dutch bike. It has a plastic full chaincase that closely resembles the one on the Pashley. One of the little clips on it broke of as I hastily tried to remove it. Any one know where I could possibly find a replacement?
    I would actually prefer it if I could even find a metal one so that I could have it powder coated to match when I redo the frame.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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  40. my girls and i were debating this. i cant relate b/c none of my skirts or dresses are long enough to get caught in the bike wheels he heee
    but good to know to keep in mind later in life. ha haaa ;-)

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  41. @Kustomgirl, I've had good luck with both the 26" wheel (sports) and 28" wheel (roadster) chaincases from Yellow Jersey in Madison WI. The paint finish is pretty poor (they're very upfront about that) but I had both chaincases powder coated to match their respective bikes. Installing a chaincase can be really fiddly and annoying, especially if it wasn't designed to fit your bike. My advice is to fit it before you have it powder coated. They're totally worth the effort though, as I never ever have to think about what I'm wearing being a problem on the bike.

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  42. @ MDI/ Marco/ KFG
    The Suntour (et al) rack straps are nice because they're flat, but it's worth it to find some of the ones that actually fasten to the axle and toggle loose instead of having hooks on the end. Harris had these some time ago, although I haven't looked lately. I got mine from Clever Cycles when I was visiting Portland. I kept losing the suntour type- the hooks would come loose and they'd be gone.

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  43. Interesting, as I think the priorities are swapped for gentlemen - not much long flowy clothing, but lots of pants to get caught in the chain! Thanks for broadening my perspective :)

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  44. Hey, I´ve found a good one:

    http://cgi.ebay.de/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=320799921961&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT#ht_1257wt_1159

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  45. I too have been looking for decent skirtguards in the US - knit or other fabric ones would get too dirty too quickly - although nylon window screen may be an option.

    I've been riding in (mostly longer) skirts for 7 years now without mishap - probably partially due to rear saddle baskets - but it still makes me nervous not to have some kind of guard.

    BTW, I'm a "liberated male" - I wear skirts daily; both for comfort and style.

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  46. Alternatively, I invented a pant protector called the Leg Shield, which fully protects your pants from the chain and chain grease.
    http://www.bikelegstrap.com/

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  47. I'm about to buy a bike, and the last thing in my choosing between a Public C7 and a Linus Dutchi 3 is derailleur versus internal gears. Both have chainguards that cover the part by the pedals and the top chain back to the hub, but I'm not sure if that's enough to keep one of long skirts out of harm's way--can it catch in the derailleur?

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