It’s a long time since my default riding costume included white bell bottoms, but once that fashion statement comes back around, as all bad ideas must eventually, I’ll ride with a devil-may-care attitude and a jaunty elan knowing I’m protected from a guaranteed grease pasting by a sturdy chainguard. Since we’re all wearing leotards on our bicycles now, the once de rigeur chainguard has become somewhat vestigial.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “Exactly what was being guarded?” As a self-centered lot, we usually default to the view I expressed above, that the guard was there to protect us from the chain, but what if it was also protecting the chain from us? Or protecting us from ourselves?
I forget how old I was the last time I hopped on a bike with a poorly tied shoe, the dangling lace dancing lasciviously in the danger zone between chain and ring, eventually, inevitably, sucked into the vortex of doom, then winding tout de suite around the crank and yanking me tragi-comically off the saddle for an intimate encounter with the ground. This particular bit of performance art comes in two acts though, because as you come to terms with the fact that you’re no longer riding a bike, and quite possibly bleeding, your initial attempts to reverse your misfortune are foiled by your foot still being bound fast to the bike. That this scenario played out more than once in my life tells you everything you need to know about me as an advanced life form, and also about the high value investment a good chainguard might make.
You may have noticed, as you read these addled ramblings, my frequent discourse to French-isms. The French invented the bicycle. Also the chainguard. How else to explain its whimsical extravagance and the fact that the rest of the cycling world readily removed and discarded it, as soon as the French weren’t looking, like a beret given as a Christmas gift.
In days of yore, the chainguard was a standard component and carried a brand’s name proudly emblazoned across its steel facade. Those were proud days, and a chainguard’s status was like that of a royal guard, its role both ceremonial and also of great import. Today, the chainguard is more like a mall cop on a Segway. It doesn’t solve any real problems, it’s vaguely comical, and likely overweight.
For me though, the chainguard has a certain je ne sais quois. It expresses a joie de vivre like Marcel Marceau, silently bringing the world joy by simply existing. And so what if it affords the same protection as the French resistance in the Great War? What if its value, in this modern age, to both bike and rider, is roughly equivalent to Jacque merde?
I still love it. 10/10.