Does My Bike Take Fenders?

Does My Bike Take Fenders?

We often extol the virtues of aluminum fenders over plastic ones: They keep rider and bike drier and cleaner, they last longer, they don’t make noise on rough roads, and they are lighter. (I also think they look better.)
Metal fenders’ major disadvantage is that they require a bike designed for fenders. While you can retrofit plastic fenders with zip-ties, clamps and brackets, these devices do not work well with metal fenders. Plastic fenders are pulled into shape by the stays, which makes them easy to mount. The resulting inbuilt stresses are one of the reasons plastic fenders have a limited lifespan, but they work fine for a few years.
If you pull aluminum fenders into shape using the stays, the stresses will cause the fenders to crack within months. Basically, metal fenders really are worthwhile, but they must be mounted correctly. For that, you really need a bike designed for fenders.
What does “a bike designed for fenders” mean? Many manufacturers believe that all you need are slightly larger clearances around the tires and a set of eyelets on the dropouts. In reality, it’s not that simple. Here are the requirements that make fenders installation easy (even if you use plastic fenders!):
Clearances: Obviously, you need room for the fenders. It’s often shocking to see how generous the clearances are on classic French cyclotouring bikes, once you remove the fenders. The photos here show a 1940s Derche tandem, which has especially large clearances. Even on this bike, you won’t see “air” between fender and tire when the fenders are installed. The clearances are spot-on for what the builder wanted to achieve. (It’s also possible that the original tires were taller than the Hetres is carries now.)
You can get away with smaller clearances and still have fenders that work fine. You need at least 12 mm between tire and fender, plus about 1 mm for the fender, and another 2-3 mm for the leather washer that cushions the fender against the frame. This adds up to about 15 mm between tire and bridges/fork crown. (Better would be about 20 mm.)
On the sides of the tires, you don’t need as much room, because there are no bolt heads protruding inside the fenders. 8-10 mm is about right, and 6 mm still is tolerable. (You can install fenders with even tighter clearances, but they are likely to rub. And if a foreign object gets picked up by the tire and goes into the fender, the fender may collapse, causing you to crash.)
Equidistant bridges: Your bike needs two rear bridges: one between the seatstays and one between the chainstays (above). Many makers eliminate the chainstay bridge, which makes fender installation difficult.
The bridges should be equidistant from the rear axle. At the front, the distance between  fork crown and front axle should be the same. That way, both fenders will have the same radius and follow the line of the tires.
Vertical rear dropouts: The rear fender surrounds the tire on three sides and is open only at the bottom. So you want vertical dropouts, which allow your wheel to be removed downward. Horizontal dropouts require the wheel to go forward (or rearward with “track” dropouts) first, where it will hit the fender.
If you have horizontal dropouts, you will have to deflate the tire when removing the wheel (unless you have an unsightly gap between fender and tire). On bikes that need horizontal dropouts to adjust the chain tension (unless you use sliding dropouts), this is par for the course, but fender installation and wheel removal will be compromised.
Dropout eyelets: The photo above also shows the eyelet on the dropout, where the fender stay attaches. Clamps can be used instead, but they tend to move around, flex and cause all kinds of other trouble.
Mounting points on frame and fork: The fender is best mounted directly to the frame. To facilitate this, the bridges should have threaded holes facing the tire (above). The fork crown should also have a threaded hole facing the tire. Alternatively, an eyebolt can go onto the brake bolt or front rack bolt inside the fork crown. (The latter method was used by most French constructeurs, including Derche on the bike shown here.)
Some aluminum fenders now come with brackets, which isn’t ideal, but provides a work-around for bikes that lack dedicated fender mounting points on the seatstay bridge.
Mounting point in front of the fork crown: The front fender needs to attach to something in front of the fork crown, so it doesn’t vibrate and break prematurely. This can be a braze-on on the front rack, or a second fender stay (in which case you need eyelets on top of the front dropouts for attaching the extra stay).
If your bike doesn’t meet the requirements above, then you might want to think twice about installing metal fenders. In some cases, it can be done, but it will be a lot harder. In other cases, plastic fenders are a better alternative on a bike that isn’t designed for fenders. And some bikes just don’t work with fenders at all.
Of course, this brings up the question: Why don’t all makers design their “real-world” bikes for fenders? None of the above is rocket science, but it requires careful design and precision manufacturing. Take the placement of the seatstay bridge: Brakes usually give you about 10 mm vertical adjustment, so you have +/- 5 mm leeway when locating the bridge. Fenders are much less forgiving (+/- 1 mm). Even so, bicycle manufacturers and builders are capable of designing and building frames where the fenders drop right in during installation. It’s up to us, the customers, to demand those features. (What would you say if a maker didn’t provide a derailleur hanger, and told you to clamp a hanger to the dropout?)
Once you have determined that your bike can take metal fenders, they need to be installed correctly. To help you with this, we now include a Bicycle Quarterly article on how to install aluminum fenders with every fender set you buy from Compass Bicycles. Written by constructeur Peter Weigle and myself, it takes you through the process step by step, with detailed photos to guide you. If you need the article separately, you can order it as a back issue. (It was published in Vol. 9, No. 2.)
Aluminum fenders cannot simply be slapped onto any bike, but once installed, they do work much better and usually last much longer than plastic fenders. Even if you only ride occasionally in the rain, they are a far superior choice.

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Comments (46)

  • Ulrik Haugen

    “The fork crown should also have a threaded hole facing the tire. Alternatively, an eyebolt can go onto the brake bolt or front rack bolt inside the fork crown. (The latter method was used by […] Derche on the bike shown here.)”
    It looks to me as though it was the former. Could you explain further please?

    January 27, 2013 at 1:38 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The bolt you see sticking out of the bottom of the fork is an eyebolt (Daruma) that attaches to a rod that goes through the fork crown (like the brake bolt). You don’t see the rod from the front, because the hole isn’t drilled all the way through the crown, but instead ends a millimeter or so before breaking through. The rod is inserted from the rear, and once you tighten the fender, it is pulled downward and no longer moves. The advantage over a bolt going all the way through the fork crown is that the front of the crown looks cleaner. René Herse used this method on his bikes as well.

      January 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm
  • msrw

    I share your preference for the aesthetics of aluminum fenders, but my experience has been that they aren’t as durable as the plastic/metal hybrid SKS type fenders, that aluminum fenders rattle more easily, and make more noise when gravel is picked up off the road by the tire. If the SKS type fenders are properly installed without stress risers, they are all but indestructible. Also, I don’t know if older SKS type fenders lacked a rolled edge to direct water, but the current versions have this feature. I have fenders on all my bikes, but gravitated away from aluminum awhile ago.

    January 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I have ridden bikes with aluminum fenders that have seen 50+ years of hard use, so when mounted well, aluminum fenders are pretty much indestructible. They also are totally silent.
      The problem is that poorly mounted, aluminum fenders indeed last only a short time, and can rattle a lot. And on many bikes, you cannot mount them properly. In that case, plastic fenders are preferable. This is exactly the issue that this post is intended to address.
      Plastic fenders cannot be re-shaped easily, so it is almost impossible to install them without inbuilt stresses. When I used them on my bikes, they lastest at most 2 seasons, despite my not riding them during the dry months. If you ride slower, they tend to last longer, as the bike vibrates less on rough roads, but they never will compare to the longevity of properly installed aluminum fenders.

      January 27, 2013 at 1:49 pm
      • Erik

        I’ve seen aluminum fenders that last very long indeed. However, the SKS fenders on my bike have been there since the birth of the bike, and now (an estimated 100 000 km later) are still there without any damage (and so are the ones on many other commuter bikes in Belgium). So I’m afraid that the plastic fenders you’ve been using were (A) rubbish or (B) badly installed or (C) suffered from a problem that I’am unaware of.

        January 28, 2013 at 12:40 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The plastic fenders I used were SKS. I think the problems are two-fold: 1. Depending on your bike, the fenders may fit without having to be pulled in shape or not. If not, then you have inbuilt stresses. Metal fenders can be reshaped so that you can install them without inbuilt stresses. 2. The faster you ride, the harder you are on “accessories.” A typical European commuter probably doesn’t stress the fenders a lot…

          January 28, 2013 at 7:12 am
      • msrw

        Jan, no offense but insisting that only slow riders don’t destroy SKS fenders is incorrect.

        January 28, 2013 at 6:39 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          There are many factors that influence how long plastic fenders last, and speed appears to be one of them.
          Another issue is how long a lifespan is acceptable. I am very busy, so any part that doesn’t last at least 30,000 km (20,000 miles) has an unacceptably short lifespan for me. I make exceptions only for inevitable wear items: chains, tires, handlebar tape.
          I have tried many plastic fenders: various widths and models of SKS, Bluemels, etc., on various bikes. None of them came close to lasting 30,000 km.
          We can argue about these details, and lose track of the main point of this post: If you want to use metal fenders, first make sure your bike can take them. And if you are designing a “real-world” bike, please make it so that fenders (of any kind) are easy to install.

          January 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm
  • Nigel Andrews

    No mention of another alternative durable mudguard material, i.e. stainless steel. I have just bought some Gilles Berthoud stainless steel mudguards and they are not as heavy as you might think, hardly any more than SKS, the blade is quite thin and the stays are aluminium.

    January 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We usually talk about “metal” fenders, which includes stainless steel ones. However, when we talk about weight, we can only mention aluminum. You are right, stainless fenders don’t weigh much more than plastic ones, but both weigh significantly more than aluminum.
      In my experience on several test bikes, stainless fenders are more likely to crack and aren’t quite as durable as aluminum fenders. However, they are a great alternative, and usually less expensive than quality aluminum fenders.

      January 27, 2013 at 4:10 pm
  • Nola Wilken

    You can overcome the non equidistant seat and chainstay bridge problem by using cork inserts between the fender and frame, and this helps keep everything tight and quiet as well. You can trim cork to whatever size and shape is needed, and it seems to last forever. Aluminum fenders are so incredibly strong and lightweight, yet with much better mounting stays, they never rattle or wobble when descending if properly mounted. Plastic fenders, even the beloved Blumels can be noisy and are easily broken under stress.

    January 27, 2013 at 4:17 pm
    • Garth

      I found some nice nylon bushings at the hardware store that have worked well to properly space Honjo fenders on my bicycle. They come in 5mm increments and are quite durable. One point of frustration is my need for a daruma with a longer threaded section. I’ve a few ideas for this…

      January 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Spacers often are necessary, but they always increase the risk of bolts coming loose, since there is a longer lever on them. So make sure you check those bolts.

        January 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm
      • mander

        I extended a Honjo daruma to fit my xcheck’s unusually long fork with a Sheldon fender nut and some blue loctite. The sheldon nut is basically a metal tube with female m6 threads on both ends. The end opposite the daruma takes another m6 bolt, which holds the fender in place. The whole kludge is then spaced out with a retrogrouch rubber handlebar plug. Its held for a couple years now.

        January 31, 2013 at 11:33 am
  • Bruce (@Sacchoromyces)

    I fell into the trap of “metal fenders must be better” with my Surly Pacer. Had it been their Cross Check or Long Haul Trucker the aluminum fender option would have worked better. As it was the Pacer does not provide enough clearance for them with anything over 25mm tyres (in 700c size). Even then there was minimal clearance.
    Surly alleges they have addressed this on later model years of the Pacer, but I am back to plastic fenders (SKS actually) and have “converted my bike to 650b wheels.

    January 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Even though we sell metal fenders, I don’t recommend them unless your bike is designed for them. Like so many great things, they work well only when they are part of the original design. When you retrofit things, compromises are inevitable.

      January 27, 2013 at 5:24 pm
  • Benjamin Van Orsdol

    Does the intended tire size affect where the bridges and other mounting points are placed. Like mass produced shoes, non-custom bike makers may feel compelled to make a product that will fit many, but not perfectly.
    When a stick got caught in my Honjo front fender I went up and over my handlebars. I was left with a sore wrist, and a bent fender and stay. When the same thing happened to me with plastic SKS fenders the quick release did it’s job. I slowed down and snapped the fender back in place. Perhaps a number of factors are at play here, but I’m curious to know how often this happens with metal fenders Do you have stories from your own rides, or have you heard of properly installed metal fenders sending their riders to the pavement/ gravel?

    January 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Tire size: Absolutely, tire size affects everything on the bike. A bike really should be designed for a specific tire size. This affects not only the brake choice, bridge placement, but also front-end geometry. You have a little wiggle room – my Singer runs 32 mm tires even though it was designed for 25 to 28 mm – but not a huge amount. Designing a bike that will accept a large range of tire sizes always will be a compromise in many ways.
      Fender safety: I have asked all my French contacts, and there isn’t a single fender-related accident that anybody recalls. So it appears that properly installed fenders, with sufficient clearances, are very safe. I know at least one rider who used plastic fenders with a quick release. It collapsed when a stick got picked up by the front tire. (Broken collarbone.) On one of our rides, Hahn had his front fender crumble, but without causing an accident. This was a relatively narrow fender – generally speaking, wider fenders are much stiffer than narrow ones and less likely to crumble into the fork crown.

      January 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm
  • Christian Bratina

    Another issue to address is fender/toe overlap. I found that with a 172.5 mm crank arm and 45.5 Eu shoes, I need a 24″ front center (center of the bottom bracket to the center of the front hub) to avoid overlap with 28c tires and 35 mm wide fenders. I have to look closely at whether a 24″ front center is enough to use 32c tires with 45 mm fenders. Most American “sport” and “touring” bikes I have seen don’t have a long enough front center for 32c tires with fenders. The Lynskey Sportive has toe overlap with 25c tires alone! Would be nice to have a table or equation for the front center required for various tire/fender combinations.

    January 28, 2013 at 6:57 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      That is a good point. It’s related to the bridge spacing, but of course, where you position the cleat on your shoe plays an important role.

      January 28, 2013 at 7:08 am
  • marmotte27

    Aluminium or aluminum? I see both version used here. As a non-native speaker of English, could someone explain the difference (english/american usage? regional difference? historical reasons?….)

    January 28, 2013 at 7:54 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Americans say “aluminum” and British say “aluminium.” Since I live in the U.S., I use the American spelling. When we have British authors in Bicycle Quarterly, we keep the British spelling, since we want to preserve their voice.

      January 28, 2013 at 8:11 am
  • Nigel Andrews

    I am from the UK hence my spelling and word usage. US and UK English have diverged over 1-200 years from a common ancestor. Sometimes it is only the spelling that differs, e.g. ‘colour’ (UK) compared with ‘color’ (US); sometimes it is a different pronunciation, e.g. ‘aluminium’ (UK), pronounced “al-you-min-ee-yum”, compared with ‘aluminum’ (US), pronounced “al-oo-min-um”; and sometimes there is a completely different word with the same meaning, e.g. ‘mudguard’ (UK) compared with ‘fender’ (US). Neither is inherently right or wrong, as either can be a divergence from the original.
    As for aluminium mudguards (aluminum fenders), are they not prone to getting furred up with corrosion if used in areas where roads are salted during the winter months?

    January 28, 2013 at 10:05 am
  • Wilfried531

    A clever way to mount fenders on a classic road bike without a lot of clearance between the tire and the bottom bracket :
    You can use a “single shifter clamp” to fix the fender to the seat-tube.
    As you can see on the pictures (links below), it works well on a Race géométry ( Berthoud Inox fenders / Super Record Brakes / Grand bois 26 mm tires)

    January 28, 2013 at 10:25 am
  • Rich Freeman

    I like aluminum fenders, but I don’t understand why they insist on having so much hardware inside. The eyebolt for the fork crown is the worst, with a large nut and washer hanging down dead center, right where you want the most clearance. The smaller eyebolts for the stays do the same thing, although using two bolts for each stay opens up the center. I can imagine a bolt designed to be upside-down that has only a low profile head inside with the nut on the outside. Why not?
    One reason is that it would reduce toeclip clearance a little. Installing the lower front stay as low as possible can get the stay and bolts out of the way, though. Lowering the stay helps with a normal setup as well.
    The Weigle method of installing the cup washers on the inside looks pretty cool, but reduces tire clearance even more. Not worthwhile in my book.

    January 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The Berthoud stays use a system pioneered by Jo Routens, which bolts the flattened stays directly to the fender. That improves issues of toe overlap a bit.

      January 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm
      • Matthew J

        Toe overlap is not a significant concern for me. I much prefer the understated look of the Berthoud hardware and will mix with Honjo fenders where possible.

        January 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm
    • somervillebikes

      I’ve solved the problem of the fork crown eyebolt (“Daruma” bolt) by replacing the nut with a recessed mounting bolt (taken from a recessed brake). Not only does this reduce the intrusion underneath the fender from the daruma bolt for tighter tire clearance, it also allows you to extend the fender farther down from the crown when converting a bike from 700c to 650b wheels. See here:

      January 28, 2013 at 2:05 pm
  • Jock Dewey

    Hey, Jan / Y’all:
    I enjoy reading your posts and am not generally interested in commenting but there’s a time for all things, right?
    I suppose it’s a matter of taste / style, but those of us who rather fancy the British fondness for ‘celluloid’ mudguards know that, for example, SKS mudguards properly installed last indefinitely and are whisper~quiet. We’ve had SKS on all of our well~ridden and very well~maintained tandem/sport/touring bikes for thirty or more years of continuous use in all weather with absolutely no visible wear or degradation. I bet you can probably tie them in a knot! We’ve never fixed or replaced a single one. But then again, we do love the Brits and their sense of velo~style.
    Jock Dewey / Athens GA / With the most delightful cycling roads & weather in the world!

    January 28, 2013 at 12:12 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am glad the SKS fenders have worked so well for you. Up here in Seattle, you can find any number of broken SKS fenders.
      As I have said elsewhere, SKS fenders are a good product. I liked them a lot until I found something that was significantly better. When I switched from SKS to Honjo fenders on my touring bike many years ago, I did it for the looks of the hammered fenders. The revelation was how much better they worked…

      January 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm
  • Steve

    One factor you didn’t mention in your post is the type of brakes the bike uses. Cantilever, disc and drum brakes are a non-issue since they are well out of the way of the fender, but caliper brakes (even the so-called “long reach” brakes) can often be the limiting factor in a fender installation. Center-pulls are usually a little better, but still are often the point of least clearance. Any advice or suggestions on how to work with bikes that are designed for bolt-on brakes?

    January 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right – caliper brakes usually are a limiting factor. Most work well with fenders only if you use comparatively narrow tires.

      January 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm
  • Chris Cullum

    This is a tangential comment but I have wondered about this for a while: why do the personal bikes in BQ seem to lack a longish rear mudflap. I feel this feature is essential in keeping spray off the following rider. I know you guys ride frequently in groups and pacelines in all conditions and it is surprising you don’t all have long rear mudflaps. Is there a reason?

    January 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We actually don’t usually ride in pacelines if it’s wet. The little speed advantage isn’t worth the mess, both on ourselves and on the bikes.
      Some of us do have rear mudflaps (Mark is a firm believer). For me, the reasons not to have one are mostly aesthetic. The front mudflap fills the space between the wheels, but the rear one just dangles in space, interrupting the round contour of the rear wheel. If I were to ride a Fleche on a day that has drenching rain in the forecast, I’d install one. Not because I expect anybody to draft, but because even the occasional passing behind is unpleasant if there is a lot of spray.
      My Urban Bike has a rear mudflap, not to protect drafters, but to keep as much water off the trailer, if I am pulling it. However, its use is very limited.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm
      • Chris Cullum

        The rear mudflap is not a total aesthetic fail and it provides an innocuous space to put some reflective material for better visibility at night/low light situations. Mine is only 4.5cm wide and 25cm long. The idea of splitting up a group and riding at a distance where you wouldn’t get hit by following road spray every time it rains is a odd concept around here. Most rides outside of the peak of summer have some degree of precip. It seems a bit anti-social to not have one for aesthetic considerations.

        January 29, 2013 at 8:16 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          We usually ride side-by-side in the rain. We usually try to ride on little roads where that isn’t a problem. If I were to ride in larger groups in the rain, I’d put on a rear mudflap.

          January 29, 2013 at 8:19 pm
      • Chris Cullum

        I guess it’s a personal decision but you can ride further/faster/conserve more energy by staying in a group even when it starts raining. Having a mudflap seems a small concession to keep riding in the same pattern regardless of the conditions. You can’t always choose routes where two abreast riding is feasible as well.

        January 29, 2013 at 8:36 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I find that the discomfort of getting spray on your legs and feet (a mudflap doesn’t prevent that) is too big a price to pay for a small speed advantage. The faster you ride, the worse the spray. I ride for fun…

          January 29, 2013 at 9:50 pm
  • Heather

    One issue is bike lust, we start seeing photos of honjo fenders, read about the splendour of aluminium fenders and want them too. Psychologically we as humans are prone to memes. As for the 650B bike with aluminium fenders, not everyone can afford a specific 650b bike like a Rivendell, rawland, boulder, new rene herse, or custom build. So, what do we do? We try make do with what we have, or buy a used bike we think will work. The assumption is that if you convert to 650b, there will be room for Hetres AND FENDERS! There are bikes known to be good candidates for this, but people use what they have and discover brake issues, that they barely have clearance for 38mm 650b tires…and so the hacking begins. My husband chose a bianchi with eyelits, but no mounting point on the top of the fork or under the seat stays and realized too late the bike was indeed not designed for metal fenders at all, and it barely has room for 38mm col de la vie, will likely have to switch to 32mm. I sacrificed my honjos, and they are no longer usable for anything else. Instructions for installation of honjo fenders are limited, there are a few sites online, but my husband found them contradictory. Also, there are many sizes of honjos for 650B and 700 tires that vary in width and height. One must be very careful which one they choose. I got mine on sale and were strangely pre drilled on the wrong side which has added to their difficulty. They did not come with leather washers either, so who knows how that will go.
    I have some bikes from the 70’s designed for super wide metal fenders and they are wide robust frames. They are clunky, heavy bikes, but am confident if I put some alum fenders on, they would install and fit like a dream. I have an ’89 trek touring frame which has all the mounts and eyelits needed, plus good clearance because it was designed to take tires up to 37mm. I also have british lightweight frame that has all the mounts and eyelits for full fenders, but was designed for narrow tires, so will have to choose carefully.
    Admittedly, sks fenders I have used lasted a long time, years. It is good that you are including the fender article with fenders you sell, but I will have to seriously consider buying the issue with the article given the difficulty I am witnessing at home.

    January 28, 2013 at 1:51 pm
  • Leora Tozer

    I’ve been using Honjo and Berthoud fenders for years on bikes that aren’t particularly well designed for fenders, and I’ve never had any durability issues out of any of them. And while I haven’t ridden tens of thousands of miles using them, I have subjected them to all sorts of harsh treatment from commuting. My normal commuter bike has had the same set of Bethouds for years now, they’re not even installed particularly well, and they get banged around more than any other part of the bike except the pedals, and yet they still look like new when I clean them off. No rattles, cracks, or dents, despite what I put the through on a regular basis. The cheap plastic fenders I used before (not SKS fenders; can’t remember what brand) lasted only a few months before cracking in several places, as well as some of the mounting hardware failing. I’m continually impressed by the toughness of the Berthouds, even though I prefer the look and coverage of Honjos.

    January 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm
  • BPoze

    I know this is a bit off-topic but it’s a bit on-topic too, so I’ll mention it: A good way to take some inbuilt stress out of an SKS fender that must be bent/manipulated to fit on a particular bike is to heat it up slightly with a hair drier. Once it’s warm, arrange it into the desired position and hold it there with your hand for a minute or so while it cools. It will then “take a set” and remain as such, rattle-free and stable. This trick may work with other plastic fenders too but I’ve tried it only on SKS’s. It’s worked fine over the years and has kept me rolling happily on a couple of bikes that were not designed around fenders.

    January 28, 2013 at 9:32 pm
  • Robert

    I’m normally a fan of this blog and other products associated with it (BQ mag, the picture books, etc.) but the purism of this post is annoying. I have ridden thousands of worry-free miles with VO fenders (can’t afford Honjos) using the stock hardware and such eyelets (or not) supplied on various bikes. My touring bike has nice eyelets front and back, but I had to fashion a cork spacer (no problem at all; and no bolt issues) and, gasp, have had to use the supplied clip for the seat stay bridge. On another bike, I use rubber p-clips, as it has no eyelets. This bike takes even greater abuse than the Japanese touring bike, and no issues. I’ve also used SKS fenders on other bikes with no problems on the rough roads here in Michigan. My only concern with those fenders is the less than ideal coverage. Metal fenders cut the spray down far better. So while, yes, under perfect conditions with a custom builder you can have all the constructeur details such as are advocated here, they’re not really necessary. A little patience and ingenuity, supplemented by the accumulated wisdom of riders and mechanics who post their solutions on the web, makes metal (or plastic, if you wish) fenders more than just fine for a lot of us who either can’t afford a bespoke bike or don’t really see the need.

    January 31, 2013 at 12:19 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am glad your fender setup works well for you. As you say, a little ingenuity can go a long way.
      The blog post was written mostly so that customers can figure out whether metal fenders work before they order them. Nothing is more frustrating than getting half-way through an installation and realizing that it isn’t going to work. And perhaps for those who are looking at a new bike and wonder whether it’ll take fenders well.

      January 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm
  • David

    Thanks for the timely article. I’ve been less than satisfied with my fender coverage, and it has nearly spoiled a couple of recent rides with no real rain but very wet roads. Because my plastic front fender doesn’t continue over the top of the wheel, I end up running into the spray. I have been contemplating my next steps, and will now take a much closer look while trying to improve the setup on my 1980’s Gitan with horizontal drop-outs.

    February 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm
  • Semilog

    I rode many thousands of miles as a messenger in Portland with SKS fenders; never a problem.
    There is no harsher test since one is constantly parking, locking, and unlocking the bike, dozens of times a day. One seldom takes care not to ding or jostle the bike or its parts. Now I ride a custom 650B frame with aluminum fenders installed. They’re fine but really no better than the SKS units, and honestly I prefer the looks of the stock SKS ones. To my eye, unpainted aluminum fenders are gaudy.
    In my view you significantly overstate the functional differences, Jan. To me only the only major advantage of the aluminum fenders is that they may be recycled when they eventually wear out. The composite plastic/aluminum ones have to go into the landfill.
    I do have some concerns about the safety of aluminum fenders. I do not like having relatively protruding bolts mounted inside the fenders, and I do not like the absence of a reliable break-away mechanism on the front fender stays.

    February 2, 2013 at 11:06 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am glad the plastic fenders worked so well for you. The performance differences are easy to observe, especially on long rides. What varies is what we as riders are willing to tolerate. I used to ride in Seattle winters without any fenders at all, and for the first few years, I didn’t see any problem. That was when I was younger!
      Regarding safety, I have asked every randonneur in France whether they knew of fender-related accidents, and none could recall one. On the other hand, there are plenty of reports of accidents with plastic fenders crumbling into the fork crown. Break-away devices seem to help with plastic fenders, but even then, they don’t approach the safety record of well-installed aluminum fenders. Generally speaking, aluminum fenders are stiffer, and thus unlikely to crumble when hit by a twig that is picked up by the front wheel.

      February 2, 2013 at 11:17 am

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