Surreality and Commuting in Connecticut

For the third or fourth commute in a row, it’s rained heavily the night before.  Life here in middle-Connecticut (8 miles or so from the ocean) has a quality of surreality to it.  Dark, shiny streets; wet leaves everywhere (we have enormous sycamores in the back yard, and I’m thinking these days that I made an excellent bargain with my son to have him rake every Friday).

Sidenote:  two barristas talking behind me just now:

He:  “It’s so ___ dark.  When does the sun rise?”

She:  “It doesn’t.”

So, that’s what Connecticut is like these days.  Oh, hey.  I just looked out the window and noticed that the air has been replaced with water.  Weather rader looks like this:


See that “+” sign just above and right of center?  That’s me.

So, right, today I’m going to talk about fenders, and why I never take them off my bike.

Act 1.

I used to think fenders made a bike, particularly a bike with drop bars,  look stupid.  I mean, who would need fenders?  When it’s wet, you drive, amirite?

Well, that lasted a year or so into my re-born riding career.  Then, as a born-again rider, I acquired bike #2–my rain bike.  a rain bike is, traditionally, a beat-up, rusty, sacrificial unit, one designed to get wet and to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous corrosion.  But riding in the rain was per se uncomfortable, because I got a skunk stripe up my back and spray in my face. (My worst ever ride in the rain was not actually on a rain bike, but on my Ergo-equipped Bianchi road bike on the last day of the last Midwest AIDS Ride, when it poured all the way from our entrance into Illinois to our destination at the lakefront.  But that’s a story for another time.)

So I put fenders on my rain bike.  At first, clip-ons, then full fenders, and then I wondered why the hell I hadn’t done so before.  Then I was given a very nice frame–the first actually brand-new frame I’d had in 25 years–and it came with all the necessary fittings for fenders.  It had eyelets front and rear (including separate sets for rack and fenders in back), a threaded fitting on the bottom of the brake bridge, the works.  I bought some nice stainless steel fenders and installed them, and the bike looked great.  And you know what?  I no longer needed a rain bike.

From then on, fenders went on every bike.  The most challenging was a 1985 Trek 560.  Curiously, while this bike was designed for road sport/racing and lacked any front or rear eyelets, it still had threaded fittings at the brake and chainstay bridges.  So with P-clips in hand, I fit SKS P35 fenders to that Trek, and rode it in the rain.

That was the bike I was riding when I was involved in The Accident.  I was sorry to see it go.

When I replaced it with my current ride, a Velo Orange Rando, I once again had a bike designed for fenders, and since I had liked the SKS units, I put a set of those on.  Eventually, though, I decided to be more elegant, and installed some “hammered” aluminum fenders.  These have the advantage of not being too shiny (in all honesty, I prefer the flat look of anodized aluminum) and of being a bit wider than the SKS fenders, though they’re significantly more difficult to install.  After months, I’m getting close to having them just right.

Where was I?  Oh, right.  That’s the bike I’m riding this morning, presently sitting out the downpour outside, but it’s perfectly equipped to travel in it, if need be.  I hacked the fenders to use Planet Bike’s excellent and unbelievably cheap Cascadia mudflaps, and the rear fender sports a Pixeo taillight, running off my Velogical dynamo.  So I’m ready (there are two plastic grocery bags sitting next to this computer to give it a dry home in my pannier, and the rest of the pannier is stuffed with rain gear).

But fenders are for more than rain.

Act 2.

When I lived in Wisconsin, much of my riding was done on the state trail system.  The La Crosse City trails were paved, but the state system was paved with “limestone screenings.”  Limestone screenings are what’s left over when you cut limestone or pulverize it into gravel–very, very, very fine siftings.  Each spring, Wisconsin dumped tons of the stuff on the trails, and within a few months, there were these beautiful white roads stretching across the state. (When 19th-century writers talk about “white roads,” this is why.  This is how roads were paved before asphalt.)

A friend of mine who ran one of the better bike shops in the area also did a lot of riding on the trails, and he was convinced, rightfully so, I think, that fenders on those roads kept down the limestone dust that otherwise coated bicycles and their drivetrains, protecting gears, chains, and brake pivots from the ravages of those fines.  Given the wear that I saw on other bikes that I didn’t see on my own, I suspect he was correct.

Act 3.

Also in Wisconsin, a friend of mine used to point our that “what comes down is clean–what comes up is not,”  by way of justifying his own set of SKS fenders.   To put it even more succinctly, and more appropriately with respect to more urban riding, BSNYC has this to say on the subject of puddles:

See, it’s not that getting wet is a big deal. Really, it’s what you’re getting wet with.

Act 4.

If you own a car, go look at it, now.  If you don’t, find one.  They’re easy to locate.

Does it have lights?  Fenders?  Do you take them off when it isn’t raining?


Enough said.


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