The past two or three years have seen the rise of a movement that has gotten impossible to ignore.
I am talking about the rise of Chinese companies in the bicycle industry.
If reviewers and YouTube punters are to be believed, Chinese-made cycling products have matured – in varying degrees – and they now offer a compelling option for today’s cyclist possessing more enthusiasm than cash.
Nowhere is this more obvious than with carbon wheelsets and rims. For years, Farsports was a budget rim option for people keen on building up their own custom wheels, with a price point low enough to offset any perceptions of dubious quality or other such product-related risk. That seems to have paid off, and now we have quite a few players in the field, including Winspace.
The final prong in this onslaught into the bicycle industry is with groupsets. With SRAM, Shimano, and Campagnolo now committing into the premium space at the expense of the average Joe, as evidenced by the ridiculous price jump of Shimano 105 Di2 R7100, Chinese firms have dived into the market vacuum the big three left behind – with surprisingly quick development pace. It wasn’t very long ago at all that a Chinese-made LTWOO drivetrain was obviously just a cheap knock-off of the real thing. Nowadays, though, they’ve taken the fight to the big boys, first with hydraulic braking, and now with electronic shifting capabilities of their own – product patents be damned, I imagine.
So, where exactly do I stand in all of this? Should I not be celebrating this development, because it upsets the established pecking order, improves competition, and enables the poor cycling enthusiast another way of indulging his/her enthusiasm?
As I said, I am biased. In particular, I am quite heavily biased against Chinese products.
I live in the Philippines. That’s no secret. What also isn’t a secret – but perhaps is less known to any international audience reading this blog – is how China has openly antagonized and bullied my country several times since 2016. This is chiefly done by its insistence on an absurd “nine-dash line” marking its territory within the South China Sea which makes a mockery of the territorial claims of at least five other nation-states.
It is very tempting to give in to the allure of cheap Chinese cycling componentry. Honestly, I am impressed how far they’ve gotten in a very short span of time. I remain biased against them, however, because I believe any purchase of a Winspace frame or LTWOO drivetrain goes almost directly into the Chinese military’s efforts of intimidating and bullying much more helpless nations like my own – seeing as no company in China is truly private and the Chinese Communist Party always has a say whether your company lives or dies. As such, buying Chinese is akin to me buying a gun and shooting myself in the foot with it.
Perhaps this is a futile effort, since China has successfully positioned itself as the world’s leading manufacturer of anything and everything under the sun. If I buy anything else that isn’t expressly meant for cycling use, chances are it came from China, too. At least for cycling and motoring, however, I will stand by this principle.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram likely already know this, but in February I became a first-time father.
The adorable little addition to our family has taken up quite a bit of my time, and nowadays I am more likely to be changing diapers instead of chasing watts.
In addition to my son’s arrival, things have also gotten hectic with work. I have a day job in the software development industry, and automating webservices API tests is quite a challenge when it makes up a good chunk of your day-to-day tasks.
All of that has left me with, frankly, not a lot of spare time and/or energy to document my musings on bicycles and riding. That said, 2023 has been pretty interesting on that front, and there is definitely a sea change going on at the expensive, pointy end of the bicycle industry.
I still train, but the demands of fatherhood mean that I’ve had to change up my approach to riding, since I have more obligations and less time. That will be worth talking about in the future.
For now, though, please feel free to comb the back catalog of my ramblings over the past eight years. I certainly didn’t expect the blog to last this long, but here we are. Thanks for reading.
If you’ve followed my ramblings for any significant length of time, you know that I’m a big advocate for fenders (mudguards) on bicycles – especially the full-coverage kind that mount to your bike via metal stays and bolts – as they are the single biggest improvement you can make to a bicycle to make it an all-weather vehicle. I actively sought out fender mounts while shopping for my bike Hyro almost ten years ago, and way before they were embraced by the local hipster cycling crowd, I was privately importing the things from overseas because there was a rat’s chance in hell of buying them locally in 2014.
That said, the landscape has changed, and nowadays there are fender sets that cater towards bikes that have a distinct lack of threaded holes for bolting stuff to (which is a trend I dislike, but I digress). Having run my 53 mm SKS Bluemels for a good long while, I decided to shake things up in a couple of ways – firstly, by mounting Panaracer’s 38 mm Gravel King SKs, and secondly, by pairing them with SKS’ Speedrocker fender set.
Meant for disc-brake road, cyclocross, and gravel bikes with 700C wheels and tires
Before we begin, I think SKS has done a bang-up job with the packaging of the Speedrockers. It’s just two big pieces of cardboard, creatively cut and folded up, with a single plastic bag for the fixing hardware, some office-grade staples, and two large zip ties to secure the actual fenders themselves. That’s it.
The Speedrockers pride themselves as a fender set you can simply strap onto your bike, without having to mess around with cutting metal stays or needing threaded bosses on your frame and fork to mount them with. SKS has had similar “quick-release” fender sets in the past, but these have been tweaked into their ultimate iteration on the concept, and I find it fascinating how they arrived at this design while benchmarking their traditional full-coverage fender models for performance.
Looking at the rear of the packaging gives a few hints. The Speedrocker fenders have their own stays built in. One set is integrated into the same impact-resistant plastic of the fenders. The other set are one-piece U-shaped aluminum stays that run through the fenders themselves. Both sets terminate into angle-adjustable plastic fittings with angled nail-like nubs, which you work the supplied rubber grommets over. These are what contact the frame and fork, held by two types of straps.
Improving on their previous Raceblade clip-on fender design for road bikes, the Speedrocker front fender comes in two parts, one for both sides of the fork crown. With the front piece, they’ve accounted for the road muck that a cyclist’s face can pick up once riding past 20 km/h on a wet road. These two “halves” of the front fender are then lashed to the fork legs via a single common Velcro strap, which is plenty long and has a rubberized backing on one side to protect from scratches. SKS even throws in some clear frame protection stickers, should you wish even more scratch protection.
The aluminum rear stay is then free to rotate within the fender, accommodating any mounting angle the rubber grommets will make with the lower fork leg, as they are strapped down with another pair of rubber-backed Velcro straps. A closer look at these stays reveals that they use a similar mechanism to those of SKS’ full-length fender sets, which should enable automatic release if a sufficiently large object gets wedged between fender and tire. Lastly, the stays can move in and out a certain amount by loosening a 2.5 mm hex bolt. SKS recommends snipping these if you’re running them on a bike with narrower tires.
The rear fender mounts up to the frame in a similar way, with four rubber grommets contacting the seat stays. One difference is that the straps back here no longer use Velcro. Instead, they’re made of a stretchy rubbery plastic with two rows of holes, slotting into tongues in the plastic fittings like how a belt buckle works.
Securing the rear fender to the seat tube is quite clever. There is a sliding projection which you can extend from the rear fender until it makes contact with the frame’s seat tube – it’s even scalloped for a better fit. You then thread the remaining rubber-backed Velcro strap through its two holes and strap it down against the seat tube. This is an elegant solution to a perennial problem I’ve had with Hyro’s full-length fender sets, as the TCX frame doesn’t have a chainstay bridge or some other way of bolting down the forward edge of the rear fender. In practice, my solution was to simply never remove the rear fender; by contrast, this arrangement makes rear fender removal dead easy.
SKS recommends a 15 mm gap between fender and tire tread for best results, and they “enforce” this by having a flat square area on the inside of the fender to serve as a crude go/no-go feeler gauge. I’ve gotten the Speedrockers to fit about as close to the tire tread as my old sets of Longboards and Bluemels, which should avoid them acting like air brakes or drag parachutes while riding at high speed.
While the 950 mm Speedrocker rear fender isn’t quite as long as my Bluemels’ 1285, the Speedrocker Extension exists for folks who want better, more paceline-friendly coverage out back. This add-on hooks into the rear fender’s aluminum stay, bringing 170 mm of length for a not-too-shabby 36 g weight penalty.
The result is a pair of quick-release fenders that look pretty good and promise most of the coverage of a full-length set. Measuring 46 mm wide on my vernier calipers, they certainly seem to fit pretty well over the 38 mm Gravel King SKs, with little extraneous material. What’s even more impressive is how easily and quickly I got these to fit on Hyro’s frame. With the cutting of fender stays and threading of eye bolts eliminated, installing the Speedrockers is vastly simplified, taking me only 75 minutes and a single 2.5 mm hex key to complete. Subsequent dismounting and remounting will be even faster and tool-free.
As far as fenders went, I already had a perfectly good set of SKS Bluemels. So why did I get the Speedrockers?
Loading bikes into my cars using the Minoura Vergo-TF2 rack, I had to remove any front fenders to avoid them fouling and crumpling on the load floor. This meant having to bring a 4 mm hex key, or a cordless drill with 4 mm hex bit, to remove the bolts holding it fast to the fork, plus spacers to clear the disc brake caliper and rubber washers to dampen fender-cracking vibration. This got old pretty quickly. The Speedrockers make this process tool-free, while having a smaller footprint in the process, as there are no conventional metal fender stays to contend with. This all contributes to at least a 230 g weight saving over the 53 mm Bluemels set.
Second, they are much easier to fit onto multiple similar bikes without modification, especially if you don’t cut any of the straps or stays. Installing a full-length fender set to a bike usually means that that set is made to fit that one particular bike, unless you buy yourself another set of fender stays and repeat the measuring and cutting process. In a sense, the Speedrocker set is quite a bit more future-proof.
Lastly, as much as I loved my full-length fender sets, I think I pigeonholed Hyro and myself into pure road cyclist mode by running them. Since the TCX frame lacked a chainstay bridge, or any provision around the seat tube for easy mounting and dismounting of a full-length rear fender, I ended up running full-length fenders permanently because I practically had to. On a bike whose primary virtue was versatility, this was a glaring weakness.
The SKS Speedrocker fender set solves all of these aforementioned problems – quite well, I might add. Riding around with them mounted, they are surprisingly solid and rattle-free, which is no small feat for what would have been mocked as merely a “temporary” fender set in years past. There isn’t even any tire rub to report, save for tight steering situations at very low speeds, where toe overlap sees one of your shoes catch on the back edge of the front fender…which will then induce rub on the front tire tread. That will happen on even the Bluemels fenders too, though, so it’s a total non-issue.
I was expecting the Speedrockers to be a disappointing, heavily compromised step backward from the Bluemels. That simply isn’t the case. Sure, the set gives up some ultimate protection against road muck, especially in terms of length and lower headset bearing coverage, but it’s still miles better than an Ass Saver while being about as easy to mount and dismount.
The Speedrockers also free you from requiring fender bosses on your frame, while delivering practically all the benefit of a full-length fender set. With more and more bike makers stubbornly refusing to make a few threaded holes on their frames for whatever ridiculous reason is in vogue at the moment, these are one of the much better options to add all-weather capability to your ride. Those of us who desire more coverage up front can modify them to fit a mudflap, while friends of the paceline can avail of the Speedrocker Extension for added length at the rear.
The best thing I can say is the Speedrocker set brings back the versatile character of the TCX chassis that I championed to begin with, and frees it up for more adventurous off-pavement riding scenarios such as gravel and dirt routes. Recommended.