Want to know the surest way to improve the weather? Buy your bicycle mudguards! As I pedaled home, my new Zefals gleaming in the unfamiliar sunlight, I could almost hear the dry roads laughing at my formerly sleek and minimalist fixed gear steed, now looking more like an overburdened pack mule.
Earlier I have written about a Dawes touring frame that fell into my hands, with exaggerated "long and low" dimensions. We set it up as a "transporteur," then passed it around so that a few riders could try it on for size. When my turn came to use it, it was clear that the bicycle was too long for me. It was also clear, however, that I loved the setup in itself, having found the drop bars + porteur rack + mudguards + flat pedals combo very handy for commuting this relentlessly windy season. So while I didn't keep the Dawes, I decided to reconfigure one of my own bicycles with an identical setup.
For the job I decided to use my Mercian single speed. On the surface, it may seem that my DIY 650B bicycle - low trail and already fitted with lights, mudguards, and small front rack - would have been a more obvious candidate. But I like to keep that bike sporty and light for hilly mixed terrain adventures, and would rather not overwhelm it with a pizza-sized rack. That, plus I used super-thinwall blades for the fork, which are not rated for a heavy front load. The Mercian, on the other hand, has continued to go under-utilised this year. And so finally, I think I am ready to admit that I am just not able to ride a fixed gear bicycle in the same manner (i.e. as aggressively and over the same terrain) as I do a geared roadbike. Therefore, to keep the Mercian set up as a minimalist, lightweight, recreational-use roadbike began to seem pointless. Better to experiment with turning it into a "transporteur!" The Reynolds 631 frame and fork should be hardy enough to carry some weight in the front and rear, I figured. The single speed setup would be sufficient for the elevation gain I encounter during commutes. And it even has eyelets for mudguards. My only concern was, how it would handle with lots of weight in the front. Well, there was only one way to find out.
In moving the Pelago commuter rack (review soon) from the Dawes, I quickly realised it was not a straightforward swap. The Mercian's wheels are a bit smaller, so the rack as shown sits slightly too high and is secured at the rear with a cord rather than properly with a bracket (which will need to be adjusted). Mainly I
In the rear, I fitted my Carradice Barley for extra storage.
Then headed to my local bike shop, where they happened to have a pair of lovely lightweight Zefals lounging about.
What I like about these mudguards is that, aside from providing good coverage, they are subtle and unobtrusive - neither oversportifying nor overFrenchifying the bike. That, and the adorable tiny mudflaps.
I also "flip-flopped" the bike's rear wheel from fixed to free mode, not wanting to make things overly difficult for myself while testing the front load setup. If I like it, and once I get used to it, I will change it back to fixed.
Finally, after testing this setup once with the bicycle's usual clipless pedals, I decided to switch to flat ones, so that I could ride in ordinary shoes.
The overall look is, I think, quite nice and not overly clunky. But more importantly, I knew from the first ride this setup is a keeper. While stuffing the front bag full of groceries does make the bike noticeably more flexy, as far as handling the utility-sized front load feels just fine over the Mercian's mid-trail front end. I am aware of its presence, and it does dull down, or at least "de-sportify" the handling somewhat. But the front end remains stable on turns, and neither "wanders" nor threatens to topple over when I stand out of the saddle on hills. So, as far as safety, and for the purpose of commuting, it is absolutely fine in my book. The only problem really is the usual wheel flop, when the bicycle is being "walked" or parked; the front end wants to turn in on itself and, in the absence of one of those springs, I just have to watch it doesn't buckle when, say, leaned against a pole.
On a day like today it was hard to believe that the past months have made transportation cycling hell with constant gale-force winds and lashing rain. I hope this bicycle - its sport geometry and aggressive road position now supplemented with the ability to carry work equipment, and provisions for riding it in ordinary clothing, will help me cope with these conditions better. The Dawes, while I had it, did a splendid job. But the Mercian's size and geo make for a much better fit. When I bought this bike 4 years ago, I had deliberately chose it to be versatile. My idea was to ride it as a minimalist, sporty fixed gear "while young," then fit it with racks and mudguards, possibly even a geared hub, in old age. Well, it looks like this came a bit sooner than anticipated - but not a moment too soon nonetheless. For no sooner than I snapped these photos, the sky turned black and the wind picked up again, making for an epic push home along exposed country roads on a happy, befendered bicycle.