By Robbie Stout
Not often are the words “chain” and “condom” uttered in the same sentence, much less in the name of a bicycle product. Don’t worry, you have not inadvertently stumbled into the wrong website, nor has VeloNews.com been hijacked by an S & M fetish merchant site.
But with a name like Chain Condom, we had to check it out — and it turns out to not only have a unique name, but an unusual backstory as well.
The Chain Condom (www.chaincondom.com) is a black, nylon canvas cover for bicycle drivetrains. It’s meant to contain the grease and grime on your bike that might otherwise wind up on furniture, a vehicle interior, or anything else you’d rather keep clean.
That name’s gotta come with a story . . .
Creator Dave Bolch was a soigneur for a number of pro road teams, including the U.S. national team, Saturn pro cycling, and U.S. Postal Service. Working for Postal, which eventually became the Discovery Channel team, between 1999 and 2005, Bolch and Lance Armstrong became good friends. During that time, Bolch also experimented with drivetrain covers to make traveling easier for Armstrong and the Discovery Channel team.
In 2004, with help from a shop in Austin, Bolch made the first few Chain Condoms. Bolch recalled, “I didn’t have any ambition to produce or sell the first few and a couple years later we lost them all.”
Then, in 2005, with requests from Armstrong for more, Bolch decided to make a concerted effort for a patent and mass production of the Chain Condom. Another member of Armstrong’s inner circle, aero’ guru Steve Hed, offered to connect Bolch with his wheel bag producer. To this day Chain Condoms are still made by the same manufacturer that produces Hed’s wheel bags.
It would seem that something this simple would have been developed sooner. In fact, when Bolch applied for a patent, he discovered that several similar patents had already been granted dating back to the 1970s. The last drivetrain cover that we could find on that market was called the ChainSock, but it is now unavailable.
And the biggest question: what about the name Chain Condom? The story goes that Armstrong himself was in need of a drivetrain cover before leaving on a training trip and asked Bolch, “You got any of those ‘Chain Condoms?’” Absent a working title, the name stuck, and the rest is history.
Bolch still works as Armstrong’s soigneur, but mostly stateside, for training. His primary responsibility is as the ranch manager for Armstrong’s 450-acre property in Austin, Texas. The Chain Condom business is a grassroots side project. Bolch’s wife is a university consultant and attorney, but manages the Web site and shipping.
The product is made of lined nylon canvas, single stitched like an envelope in the shape of a bicycle drivetrain. There are cutouts for the drive side crankarm and rear derailleur, and a hook-and-loop closure across the top secures it over the chain. All the stitching is clean, and all the edges are finished with fabric binding.
It’s easiest to install with the drive side crankarm pointing up, with the chain on the big chainring and in the small cog. The Chain Condom slips onto the drivetrain from below, with the closure across the top. Installation instructions are provided on the Web site, but after one use, it becomes easy and intuitive.
The Chain Condom is easy to use and very effective. Before having the chance to try one out I relied on towels and rags to prevent contaminating the back of my girlfriend’s car with grease (her car does not have a roof rack). But as many of you can relate, towels and rags don’t always stay in place, which means you get to experience the wrath of your significant other.
After using the Chain Condom for a couple months I’ve reduced the installation time to about 10 or 15 seconds. As a way of ensuring that I always use it and that it never gets lost, I keep it folded in one of the car’s backseat pockets. Best of all, I’ve yet to add another streak of grease on the backseat.
If you transport your bike in a car, or pack it frequently for travel, the Chain Condom might be a ready-made solution to keep your vehicle, travel case or apartment clean.