Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Fender Update

If you've ever ridden with me on wet roads, you are acutely aware of my feelings about fenders (or "mudguards," as my editor calls them). My rants about lack-of-fender spray are pretty unambiguous. Apparently, there are one or two non-political topics about which I can get quite animated. For example, one could easily substitute "flashing tailights" with "lack of fenders" from a previous rant and get the point.

If you are one of those folks who refuses to even try fenders because you think they look dorky, let me show you how dorky you look with a muddy stripe up your backside. (Sorry John!)

Photo by Natalia Boltukhova


And if you go on a group ride on wet roads without fenders and spray crap in the face of your friends, you really aren't much of a friend, now are you? If you say you don't need fenders because you never ride in the rain, I will point out that roads are likely wet long after the rain (or snow) has stopped falling from the sky. Around here, in the winter and early spring, roads are often a wet sloppy mess on bright sunny days thanks to the melting of snowbanks that line the roads. In more rural areas, there may be other stuff on the roads that you'd really prefer not to have sprayed on you or your water bottle either!

But if you still refuse to even consider fenders, be on your way now. Or as Scottish comedian Billy Connolly might say, just go away, exclamation mark!



Still here? Ah, so you must be interested in reading more about fenders.

If you follow John or me on Instagram, there is no question that most of our bikes have fenders. Now despite what may be suggested in the photo above, John is most definitely a big fan of fenders, and this is likely the only time he has ever found himself in this situation - and of course it got documented and I have a copy, so he will never be allowed to live it down.

Recently I got a fat bike and was reminded of how much I appreciate fenders. Now the intent of my new fat bike is to ride on lovely snowy trails, where spray should not be an issue. However sometimes I need to ride on slushy roads to get to the trails. And those 4.8 inch studded tires have come in quite handy for getting around town before roads have been properly cleared of snow. On these occasions, I have sadly experienced the dreaded salty, ice-water enema, as Richard Fries of MassBike has so colorfully described the sensation. 

So I added a wee little saddle fender. OK. It's not much, but every little bit helps. I have now ordered some Mud Shovels from PDW that should provide even better cover for these slushy fat rides to the trail or to the shops.

Now then, with proper full coverage fenders, one can actually ride on wet sloppy roads in regular clothing (or civvies, as my editor calls them) and show up for an appointment or lunch or whatever and be quite presentable, comfortable and dry. I also maintain that good full coverage fenders are one of the best ways to keep warm on chilly wet rides.

Off to the shops or an appointment!

Over the years, we've used a variety of fenders on an assortment of bikes. There are several options available even if your bike has limited clearance, and numerous others that work even better when the bike is designed for them.

I'll start out listing some options that provide the best coverage/protection for bikes designed with ample clearance and finish off the post with suggestions for models that should work on even the skinniest tire racing bike.

Over the years, in my search for the holy grail of bikes (n+1), one of the frequent recurring themes has been clearance for bigger tires and fenders. It seems I'm constantly seeking out fatter and fatter tires. I wonder, will my new 4.8 inch tires prove big enough? Or will there be n+1?

Disk brakes, while having the added benefit of stopping the bike, have really opened things up with regard to fatter tires and fenders. One of the tricky issues with so-called road brakes, is getting everything to actually fit through the brake caliper.

Medium and long reach brakes help, but there are still limits with regards to tire size with caliper brakes. Disk brakes allow not just for different tire sizes, but also different wheel sizes, really making it possible to design a super-versatile do-everything machine. But enough about brakes (for now). This post is about fenders!

Really keen observers on Instagram may have noticed that I now have a bike sporting a set of lightweight metal fenders, despite having long disparaged them as fragile. So let me start with these.

In previous posts about fenders, I have talked about how Fear Rothar has been breaking the bank for years purchasing a variety of these stylish and somewhat pricey accessories. I must admit to long admiring their looks, with the simple elegant stays and lovely anodized finish. But there is a box full of discarded broken ones (from the likes of Honjo, Gilles Berthoud and Velo Orange) down in the basement, kept to be used to rebuild other broken ones. On more than one occasion, we have finished a ride with half a fender strapped to the rack or hanging out of a pocket, followed later by a snowy or rainy day spent sawing up a broken fender to use to patch and reinforce another cracked or broken fender! [Editor's note: Do not ride trails with metal mudguards. They do not like sticks and branches!] [me: OK, point taken!]

And now I must confess to recently having to do the same thing with a Chromoplastic SKS fender that fractured during a ride, so I really can't claim that non-metal fenders are immune to breaking! This fender was on my fixie and truly had not been abused, never ridden over a curb or down some twig infested trail. Maybe I was sloppy when mounting it, but instead, I'll blame it on tempting fate, after giving John so much grief about his expensive Honjo-habit.

But you ask... How did I end up with a set of Honjos on my Evergreen?

When designing the new bike last spring, I spec'd it to take fenders. However,  I did not install fenders right away, as I was riding it lots on trails and wanted to avoid issues with twigs and branches.  I also had another almost identical bike that had fenders, which I used for wet road rides. But then I took that bike to Ireland for the summer (where the fenders definitely came in handy), and it loved Ireland so much that it  has now taken up semi-permanent residence there (actually it makes my yearly visits a bit less hassle and my sis-in-law can ride it when I'm not there). 

So, in late autumn, when we planned a tour in Vermont, despite a forecast for very cold, wet conditions,  it became obvious that I needed to quickly get fenders on the Evergreen. I looked around the basement and found this nice set of just-the-right-size Honjo fenders that had seemingly been abandoned. John had replaced his 42mm tires with 50s! He likes to call them his Irresponsibles, since he can just bomb down or fly over anything with them. Luckily for me, his new fatter tires far exceed the capacity of his old fenders, so he graciously let me take them on long-term loan.
I will say that, for the most part, there is normally a lot less swearing when mounting a brand new set of plastic fenders than a brand new set of metal fenders. However, I will admit that it was actually relatively easy to take these previously set up fenders and mount them on my bike. 

Newly mounted fenders being baptised in Vermont

Fenders come in a variety of diameters for 700C, 26" and 650B/27.5" wheels, as well as different widths. I have a wider set of 700C SKS fenders on the Honey with 650BX42 tires. It works fine, but I will say that it is nice to have fenders match the tire size. It's not just for aesthetics. They do work better when the curves match. 

The Honjo's are designed to be bolted directly to the frame to eliminate rattles, but there is hardware available for alternative mounting, should you not have fender mounts under the seat stay bridge for instance. This is one of the reasons they are harder to set up, because you have to drill your own holes and be very precise with mounting. We had to make a few small adjustments moving them from John's frame to mine, but it was surprisingly easy - for once.

Aside from close tolerances, one of the other things that makes a fender effective in minimizing spray is length. These come quite low to the ground, but this can be an issue when transporting the bike on a rack with the front wheel removed, or riding through the woods, where the low hanging fender might pick up twigs or sticks.

John came up with a nice solution, modifying the lower part of the front fender, using a Rinko nut, to allow quick shortening of the fender. He was very proud if this idea. But brilliant minds think alike and I believe Jan has an article coming out soon, showing something similar.

The full fender, with a bolt through the Rinko nut holding everything in place

The lower section removed for travel or trail riding, showing the Rinko nut and spliced fender section

The inside of the lower fender section, showing the "nut" portion of the Rinko nut.

So this is how I have ended up with the very smart looking fenders that you may have seen frequently on Instagram recently. 

  • Now onto my other metal fenders, which I talked about lots in this post, and I can now report on my experience after a three years with them.

These are the  Full Metal Fenders from Portland Design Works. 

PDW's full metal fenders come in two different sizes, the original Road model designed to fit up to 700X23mm tires and the City model, which takes up to a 700X35mm tire. I now have a hybrid set of fenders on my Axiom - a bike with 700C wheels and traditional road caliper brakes. This bike has a  Seven 5E Medium Reach Fork, designed to take a 700X28mm tire with a fender.  No amount of manipulation has persuaded it to take a larger tire with a fender - I tried. The fork blades are just too close together. 

I initially filed out the sides of the wider front fender to fit through the narrow fork blades but, sadly, that modified fender began to crack after a couple of years of use. Since I couldn't really use a fat tire on the front with the fender, I simply replaced the soon-to-fail front fender with the narrower fender, leaving the nice wide one on the back.  The 28mm tire is larger than the 23mm specification on the fender, but it does actually work reasonably well. 

I am using a medium reach brake from Tektro - the 539, which maximizes clearance for a fender. I initially had a Shimano medium reach brake, but the arms rested on the fender, and the brake itself would not open up fully in quick release mode when removing the wheel. The curvature of the Tektro brake works well with fenders. 

A rare dry section of road and no muddy wet stripe up my backside!

Portland Design Works City fenders in action

More typical road conditions!

On the longevity front...

Since I pass on hopping on and off curbs - catching/bending the fender, and avoid getting twigs and branches sucked up into them when riding through the woods, they have held up reasonably well. As I said, I did crack the front PDW City Fender, after I filed away the sides where it passed through the fork blades. The City model has some cutouts there, designed for cable ties if you don't have a mount at the fork crown. The Road model is narrower at the point where it goes through the fork. So hopefully the new skinnier model will last a few more years. I'm trying to take care with the Honjo's, but as you see, I sometimes stand the bike up in snowbanks, and I should probably take more care not to bend the fender when plonking the bike into the snow !

  • And yet another metal fender...

I found a set of sturdy wide 650B fenders from Planet Bike last spring that we are using on our tandem. This bike gets ridden through all sorts of rough conditions and a sturdy fender is a must. The tandem fork has loads of clearance (and disk brakes), so the fat fenders fit through the fork just fine and they were also quite easy to mount in the rear. This particular frame is actually designed as a 29er, but we are using 650BX50mm tires, so we did have to use spacers at the bridges to get the fender closer to the tire. We also used a longer mount at the fork crown to get the front fender lower and closer to the tire. This model of fender is well sized to work with the 50mm tires and they have stood up well to abuse so far. While they have been effective at keeping us and the bike clean and dry for the most part, Fear Rothar would be happier if the front fender was longer.

Planet Bike 650B fenders at rest

  • Plastic or Chromoplastic fenders...

SKS/Esge have long been my fender of choice. They make a variety of models from the full coverage longboard to various quick release mounting models for bike not designed for fenders.

My belt-drive fixie Seven with SKS longboards and room for 32mm tires!
One advantage to the non-metal fenders is they are better at tolerating get knocked about from opening brake QRs, removing wheels, loading bikes into or onto cars, bikes falling over, and packing/travelling.

  • But my bike won't take fenders...

For bikes without adequate clearance or braze-ons for mounting fenders, there are a variety of quick-mount fenders. SKS, Planet Bike, PDW, etc all have offerings. I've used many of these over the years. 

Years ago, I tried to mount SKS raceblade longs, but they are restricted to a max 23 mm tire width, and really, who rides on such skinny rubber? Not me.

Other than the tire width issue, they seem well designed and provide good coverage. Many of my friends (who ride with these super skinny tires) have found them to be just the ticket for their bikes with tight clearances. And honestly I'm grateful that they have anything!

Crud Roadracers with mudflap made from high-tech packing tape!

Readers of my previous blog entries on fenders may also remember that I've used the super lightweight Roadracer Fenders from Crud on a travel bike. They come apart and pack nicely. They are designed to float on the wheel and come with little pads for doing so. Because they float, some observers have commented that they wobble a bit. They provide reasonable coverage and work well on limited clearance bikes and bikes without fender mount braze-ons. They are super easy to mount and I found them less fiddly than the race-blades. I have retired mine now, but I do still recommend them for bikes with limited clearance or if you want a quick solution for travel.

Lastly I will mention mudflaps (or crap-flaps as they are called in rural areas). These are flexible extensions that enhance the effectiveness of your fenders. Some fenders come with them. You can make your own, or purchase them from folks like Buddy Flaps

So there you have it. Way more than you ever wanted to read about fenders. Remember FRIENDS DON'T SPRAY FRIENDS. Let's stay dry out there!



  1. Please write the rant about flashing taillights! There's a couple randonneurs (luckily not in the Triangle area) that I won't ride with because they think their nuclear-laser-beam blinking-and-blinding-every-three-seconds taillights are the most wonderful thing in the world.

    Please also write a rant about pairing a constant-on headlight with a flashing headlight. There's a new randonneur that I'll likely have to "lay down the law" to if we are together on a 300 or 400 or 600 brevet later this year. It was distracting enough the last half-hour of a recent 200+ perm, seeing parts of my handlebar being lighted-up from behind every three seconds because the flashing headlight was on the second bike behind me as we rushed to the finish (finishing 1-minute after sunset, so you can guess the flashes weren't all that bright, but were still distracting -- I don't need to be distracted from keeping an eye out for traffic, potholes, dogs, pedestrians, etc.).

    1. See my post on social riding...


  2. Some detail on your fat bike would be great. Thanks for writing these posts. Jim Dinneen

    1. I suppose I could do a post about the fat bikes, despite still being quite the novice in this area! We did a little bit of research, but then kind of impulsively showed up at our local shop right before Christmas and bought what they had left in our sizes. Amazingly they were both marked down significantly.

      I will mention that they have proved to be far more expensive (and addictive) than we originally anticipated. First was the cost of two bikes, then 4 studded tires for the 2 bikes, 2 sets of pogies, then a hitch mount and fat bike rack for the car - to get them to from not so nearby trails, then 4 studded winter tires for the car to get the car to those trails when conditions are great for fat-biking, but still not so great for driving. And we won't even discuss the ER and surgery costs. Good news on that front is I'm healing up nicely and am back to riding and even managed a few days of xc skiing recently.

  3. Love your article on fenders. I just had Velo Orange hammered black fenders put on my new Gunnar Fastlane. Another reason to have fenders this summer will be the Gypsy Moth crap. It will only be for about 3 weeks but it may be messy in eastern Massachusetts.

    1. Indeed, there is all manner of *stuff* that gets flung by tires that you might prefer not to have flung on you, your bike or your companions!

  4. Fun read!

    You are absolutely right that friends don't let friends ride without fenders. Period. We could start a new movement known as FUAFR, namely, Friends United Against Fenderless Riding

    Maybe its just me, but fenders on bikes look cool in a function-meets-aesthetics kind of way. I've come to the point where bikes without fenders look weird, incomplete, like cats without hair, or shoes without laces.