Monday, August 6, 2012

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry Fender Long Term Test

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry
Five or six years ago in college I wanted a bicycle mudguard that was detachable, lightweight, suitable for a very tall rider with a large bicycle frame, kept my butt dry, and looked better than the cardboard bits and 2-liter plastic bottle pieces my old roommate used to use. The SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry fender fit the bill. After putting a lot of dirty, slushy city miles on it, here's my take.

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry

I used this on an enormous Schwinn Impact frame over a big, fat Schwinn Slickrock tire with a tread pattern that truly excelled at grabbing sand and dirt (not to mention moisture) and vomiting it all over my butt. Now, instead of freaking out when it rains, I just attach the SKS Equipment X3 and let it get dirty. I'm saving my butt one puddle at a time, plus it's saving my roomies from complaining about the sand in the washing machine.

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry
The photo above is with a different tire, since the Schwinn Slickrock tires gave up the ghost when the gumwalls rotted out. The X3 does a very nice job of catching the crap that gets launched by this tire. When used with the big mountain bike tires and the deep tread pattern, though, it was a little too short to catch all the debris. Sometimes I would still get a wet spot and some sand up near the top of my backpack, but to me that was way better than having a wet spot on the back of your pants!

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry Durability
Anyway, having a fender that was durable was important to me. I routinely rode through snowbanks, over curbs, across railroad tracks and down stairs (until one less-than-graceful endo). The X3 didn't disappoint. Here's a look at the back side, where you can see there is some serious cross-bracing under the plastic shell that makes it plenty durable without adding too much weight.

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry seatpost attachment
I also wanted a bicycle fender that would be detachable so I could remove it on nice days. Here's a look at the all-important seatpost mounting mechanism on the SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry fender. A pair of rubberized pads mounted in a curved plastic piece grip the back of your seatpost, and a nylon strap with rubber woven in inside lets it hold fast even when it's soaking wet.

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry locking cam
The strap and fender are secured by a cam-like plastic piece that fits into grooves on the back plastic piece. You fit the pieces together and then flip the plastic tab back to snap the strap tight. It's a brilliant system that has a minimum amount of parts. The little plastic tabs near the strap in the above photo look like a weak spot, but as much as I've reefed on that part, they haven't broken. It's made of some tough plastic! The rubber stitching inside the strap isn't doing so well, it is pulling out of the strap a little at time, but it's still gripping the seatpost fine. Given the number of wet/dry cycles and temperature extremes is has seen I would say it's holding up great.

On the flip side, since it is so easy to remove, I was always paranoid about someone stealing my SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry because they wanted to put it on their bicycle. I know no normal cyclist would do that since they are always polite people, but once a thief figured out just how simple it is to take off, they're just a craigslist post away from scoring ten or twenty bucks. To the untrained eye it looks like a pretty permanent setup, but it would really only take 15 seconds for it to disappear.

SKS Equipment X3 Tra-Dry adjustment screw

There's an adjustment Allen screw that you can use to adjust the angle of the fender. I find that I could leave it pretty tight and there's enough friction to prevent the fender from sagging even after bouncing over the worst potholes, but I can still move it up and down as needed without worrying about breaking it. As you can see in the above image, my Allen screw has started to rust from riding in the salty brine of the Madison city winter, but it is still working like a champ.

That's my take on the SKS EquipmentX3 Tra-Dry fender. While it's designed to be used on a full-suspension mountain bike, it is pretty good on an unsprung mountain bike as well. The coverage isn't as good as a fully enclosed city fender but it's not as heavy, doesn't rattle over the bumps, has fewer parts, and is removable in about ten seconds. It's an ideal compromise! And as an added bonus the angle of the arm holding the fender means it will clear a light or reflector attached to your seatpost with ease.

But wait, what is this Tra-Dry thing all about?
I think the Tra-Dry is simply a fancy name for the texture of the flap. Maybe the crud is supposed to hit that matte surface and drip off in a controlled way instead of falling back into your tire? I've used this fender for a long time and the texture doesn't really seem to be anything too special. Just forget that it has that fancy branding on it and enjoy a dry butt.

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