April 1: Taking Off Fenders

April 1: Taking Off Fenders

Spring is here at last, and so this weekend we took the fenders off our car. While we were at it, we also removed the lights. We don’t use the car much in the rain or after dark, and we like the extra performance and uncluttered appearance of a car without those accessories. We’ll put them back on in autumn.

By now, you probably have remembered today’s date, and in any case, I doubt I fooled anybody with this unlikely story. But if you replace “our car” with “our bikes” in the paragraph above, you would not have thought that this was an April Fool’s joke.

For years, I was one of those who took off fenders in the spring. Fenders were a nuisance: They resonated when the road was rough, they tended to rub on the tires, and they gave my bike toe overlap. So every spring, they came off my bike. Inevitably, it started raining the following week.

Some fenders are popular because they are easy to install and remove. It took me a while to realize that my fenders were such a nuisance exactly because they were easy to install and remove, rather than being an integral part of the bike.

On my car, the fenders are part of the package. If I drove around without fenders, nobody would think: “Cool car.” Instead, they’d wonder where I crashed, and whether I am on the way to the body shop to have my car fixed. The fenders (and lights) are an integral part of the car.

That wasn’t always the case. Cars used to have add-on fenders and lights, like the 1930s Ford Model A above. And in the 1950s, it was indeed popular to remove them to improve the performance of your old car (below).

Most bikes today are still made like old-time cars, with fenders and lights as afterthoughts. Their performance indeed is improved by removing the fenders.

Fortunately, my bikes aren’t stuck in the 1930s. They are up-to-date machines, where the fenders are part of the design. They don’t come off easily; in fact, the lighting wire runs through the front fender.

But then, why would I remove the fenders? They are part of the bike. The frame has just the right clearances, so the tires don’t rub on the fenders. The fenders are made from stiff aluminum and mounted to dedicated braze-ons, so they don’t make noise, not even on rough roads. The bike’s geometry is designed so that there is no toe overlap even with fenders. The fenders don’t affect the performance in any significant way, and they are there when I need them.

The photo above was taken in France last summer. Guess what: I rode for 10 hours that day, and 8 of those were in pouring rain. In southern France in August! And once, in Chile, I rode through a herd of cows on the highway. The cows had left fresh droppings all over the road. I still remember how much I wished for fenders that day!

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Comments (59)

  • Garth

    Oh dear god, that Citroen is giving me nightmares. Words cannot explain the wackiness of the engineering in that car. I get it that it was a pinnacle of French engineering, but the negative experience I had working on the carburetor of one has left me feeling a bit cursed…
    Jan perhaps you can fill us in on some of its special features: the engine was on top of the transmission and it had a special hydraulic system for the transmission as well as the suspension. If I am correct, it could readily drive around on three wheels?

    March 31, 2012 at 10:57 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t know that much about Citroëns (that photo does not show my family, nor my car – it’s intended as an April Fool’s joke). I know that they could drive without one rear wheel. They had front-wheel drive and air/oil suspension which kept the car level at all times. It was a fully integrated design, using the hydraulics also for the brakes, power steering and gearshifting.
      The ability to remove all fenders easily would be appreciated by my neighbor, who is paying a couple of thousand dollars to have a minor scrape fixed on her Honda van. On most modern cars, this involves major surgery and welding, rather than just bolting on parts.
      Like so many “different” designs, they easily stump mechanics who aren’t used to them. Once you understand them, I am told they aren’t so difficult to work on. Maybe it’s like overhauling a Huret Jubilee derailleur if all you know is Campagnolo…
      As an intriguing side note, the engineer who developed the Citroën worked at Michelin during the war (Michelin owned Citroën), and worked on the side on developing the Mafac brakes.

      April 1, 2012 at 5:54 am
    • Gus

      I used to own one of these.
      The engine is behind, not on top of, the transmission. The huge front disc brakes are mounted directly on the gearbox and driveshafts extend to the front hubs which have centre point steering geometry for stable handling.
      They have aluminum bonnets and fibreglass roofs. The wrench for the lug nuts doubles as an emergency crank to start the engine with if you’re caught with a dead battery.
      They are generally wonderful to work on if you approach them with an open mind. So much clever engineering going on it is a joy to behold.
      I can talk about them forever, so I’m going to stop here.

      April 1, 2012 at 1:01 pm
      • ascpgh

        I used to live in Lexington, KY an done of my favorite rides was through the horse farms, the bourbon distilleries and Midway, KY where there is a shop, Excelsior Motors, who specializes in Citroens. It was worth the miles just to see all of them waiting for their repairs, tags from all over the nation and other countries.

        April 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm
  • Willem

    Love that picture of the Citroen. It is the car that undoubtedly qualifies as the most advanced and daring car design ever. What a beauty.

    March 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm
  • RosyRambler

    Jan, you totally crack me up with your oh so sensible and practical analogies. It’s hard to argue against anything you’ve said.

    April 1, 2012 at 12:35 am
  • petar breskovic

    Agre with all your ideas and your concept of biking 100% (very rare case), and with concept of complete bike with integrated fenders, racks and (hub generator) lights – unlimited freedom! But there is an issue that is, maybe, most important for me: wet and slippery road conditions and tires to use. Can we expect something from you on this topic?
    Thank you and keep on promoting intelligent way of seeing and using bicycle !

    April 1, 2012 at 12:41 am
  • marmotte27

    I’m sorry, but for the first time in reading this blog (and I have read it almost entirely) I fail to see the “added value” of this piece, apart from the – as always – good writing. All of the above you’ve said before.
    And the car-bike comparison doesn’t always work convincingly, especially when comparing everyday vehicles with special purpose ones.

    April 1, 2012 at 4:46 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Which is the “special-purpose” vehicle – the Citroën or the randonneur bicycle?

      April 1, 2012 at 7:38 am
      • nellegreen

        The Citroën DS is a “special-purpose” vehicle. It was designed to comfortably transport a large passenger load over the rough and tumble cobbles and dirt that characterized the roads of France after the war. The low coefficient of drag allowed the DS to cruise efficiently at high speed on motorways with the standard equipment underpowered 4 cylinder motor. These are characteristics I seek in a “special purpose” randonneur bicycle.

        April 1, 2012 at 11:19 am
  • shameoba

    I agree that fenders should be integrated with the design of the bike, but for some people who have to pack their bikes to travel around the world (I don’t, but many do), it makes sense to also make the fender integration amenable to quick removal and reassembly with a minimum of hand tools and effort. The process of removing and reinstalling a wheel has evolved to a high level of ease and speed with QR skewers, brake caliper release cams, and dynamo connectors that pop off without effort (wink, wink). Shouldn’t similar design principals be applied to fenders?

    April 1, 2012 at 6:42 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I was surprised how easily my bike packs into a bike suitcase with its fenders attached. I just had to remove the fork. Granted, the bike suitcase will incur an oversize charge, but since I fly with my bike every four years, that is more than bearable.
      If you fly more often, you will have to compromise in many ways.

      April 1, 2012 at 7:36 am
    • Ivan

      Honjo has been known to make bi-partable fenders to facilitate bike packing on trains in so called ‘Rinko’ touring.
      These fenders are designed so that part of the rear fender can be removed, so that packing involves removing the rear wheel, part of the rear fender, the fork and lashing them to the frame.

      April 1, 2012 at 8:45 am
  • 16incheswestofpeoria

    Great post. The comparison and photos really bring home the argument.
    However, I’d still like a recommendation for full-coverage fenders that are quickly mounted and removed for those times that I transport my tandem upside down and at an angle under the topper of my Ford Ranger pickup. No room for installed wheels–or the fenders that would cover them. Why not use a roof rack? Weather, security and gas mileage. Thoughts?

    April 1, 2012 at 6:45 am
  • Chris Lowe

    IMO the whole “since cars have fenders then bikes should to” argument is pretty silly for two reasons:
    1) Most people own bikes for recreation, not primary transportation and simply prefer not to ride in the dark or rain. Why do you need fenders and lights if you don’t enjoy riding in the wet and dark?
    2) Cars have many other items which are both practical and integrated. Here’s a short list: a seat for passengers, a horn to warn others, a roof to shelter the owner from the elements, a body to protect the occupants from injury, a heater to keep you warm, a motor to keep you from getting exhausted. Would you consider buying a car that didn’t have these features? Shouldn’t bikes also have these? You talk about how people would react if you drove a car without fenders but don’t say anything about how they’d react if you drove a car with no body panels, roof, engine, or passenger seats. Surely that would generate a few stares?
    While you can point at racing bikes and think “oh how impractical that your bike doesn’t have lights and fenders” a bakfiets owner could point at your bike and say “how silly to spend so much money on a bike that can only carry the owner.” A car owner could then look at the bakfiets and think “how silly to spend that much money on a vehicle that leaves you exposed to the elements and bodily harm in the event of a crash”. Where do you draw the line? 😉

    April 1, 2012 at 7:45 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Everything is a compromise. Putting a roof on a bike, as is done on velomobiles, involves too many compromises to make it practical for most riders. On the other hand, a bell is an item that doesn’t have many drawbacks, so my custom bikes have one. I also believe that fenders and lights offer many advantages with no real drawbacks, even for recreational riding.
      Today’s forecast in Seattle is for 90% showers, but right now, it looks very nice outside. With my bike, I can head out, and even if I get caught in a cold rainshower, it won’t ruin my ride. In fact, that is what I plan to do…

      April 1, 2012 at 8:52 am
      • Greg

        … and I think it is important to keep in mind that your preferences are shaped in a large way by where you’ve chosen to live. I always wondered why your road bikes seemed to have mountain-bike-low gearing on them, until I visited my son that is currently living in Seattle (and commuting to work by bike!). His bike is set up with gearing of 32 – 71 gear-inches, and he still has hills that he sometimes has to walk up at a few points. It’s hilly out there!
        Also, the standard weather forecast for Seattle is as follows: high temp. in the 50s, with a chance of rain! That explains the need for fenders and effective wet-weather gear….

        April 1, 2012 at 9:30 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Greg, does this mean that in Michigan, you drive your cars without fenders year-round?
          Regarding gearing: When I raced, I used the same gears as most, with a high of 53-13. However, apart from a bunch sprint with a leadout, racing bike gearing is of little use. I can spin that gear up to over 50 mph… but I don’t ever pedal that fast any longer.
          Now I use a 48-14 as my smallest gear, yet I have never been dropped on my bikes because I ran out of gears, and I ride with some very strong riders. On the flats, I am quite happy if I can reach 30 mph, or maybe 32 mph for short stretches. On downhills, our wind tunnel data shows that tucking and coasting is much faster than pedaling hard in a huge gear.

          April 1, 2012 at 9:42 am
        • Chris Lowe

          I live in Seattle (just a few blocks from Jan) and yep, low gears and fenders are the norm. OTOH if I still lived in the Phoenix area no way would I bother with fenders since it ony rains a few days a year (and you don’t want to be on the road when it does). For that matter I’d only use a small “be seen” light since the area is so well lit that you don’t really need a light to see where you’re going, even when riding off road.

          April 1, 2012 at 11:50 am
          • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

            You make a good point. If I lived in Phoenix, I might consider building a hot rod car without fenders, too. I’d still keep a car with fenders on hand, just in case. 😉

            April 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm
    • Matthew J

      I do not follow your critique, Chris.
      A primary theme of Jan’s blog is the bicycle ought to be considered a primary mode of transit and not a weekend toy.
      Automobiles roofs and windows are not meant to protect mechanicals. They protect all the gizmos auto users feel compelled to carry because most who drive apparently would rather be doing anything else but. A few knuckleheads wear ear buds cycling. Most are happy to remain part of the world they ride in.
      Automobiles require elaborate safety devices because the irrational concept of piecing together thousands of pounds of steel, plastic, glass and rubber to move a few hundred pounds of human is, on top of a whole host of wastefull irrationalities, inherently dangerous. In areas where the bicycle along with public transit and walking are the primary means of getting around, transit fatalities are significantly lower than auto centric areas.
      Yes, the current reality is in the U.S. the auto continues to reign supreme. People such as Jan who think this can change ought to be commended for thinking of ways the bicycle can better serve those who do not rely on cars to get around. Sure helps me these past 8 years I’ve been without a car.

      April 2, 2012 at 5:47 am
    • Michael Richters

      Fenders are quite useful not only when the rain is falling, but after it has stopped. Tires fling up plenty of water (and sand/mud/et cetera) from wet roads and paths, even when you’re not going through actual puddles. Even if you find it unpleasant to ride when it’s coming down, fenders expand your opportunities for having a clean and dry ride in the sunshine.
      And since you mentioned bakfietsen — they generally do have a roof for the passengers, a lot like a convertible automobile.

      April 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm
  • Bob

    I regularly commute an 18 mile round trip, mixed surface (gravel towpath, asphalt, concrete, all in various stages of disrepair) route in Indianapolis. I would never take my fenders off. I have friends that consider themselves sport riders. They don’t leave the house if they think they are going to get their tires wet, and they would never ride at night. They don’t use fenders. To slightly rearrange some of the comments above – would you have a car that you couldn’t drive in the rain? The answer for some is yes. For me, a light rain on the ride home, or racing in front of a thunderstorm is a wonderful thing. But then I also drive a Subaru.

    April 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm
  • Conrad

    I remember Grant Peterson saying that he prefers to think of fenders as galoshes- take them off when its not raining. I think some of the difference in philosophy can be attributed to geographical factors. If I lived in Phoenix or California I might feel that way too. Around here (Seattle), any given time that I want or have available to ride there is about a 90% chance of either darkness or wetness- so the vast majority of miles go on the bike that has fenders and lights on it. Even though its heavier than the racing bike.

    April 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Grant was commenting on plastic fenders added as a retrofit. I understand where he is coming from, as I don’t want those fenders on my bike, either. However, when I last saw him, his car was equipped with integrated fenders, and he didn’t take them off when it was not raining.
      Geographical factors don’t have people buy cars without fenders, so why do we accept bikes without fenders? I have ridden in the rain in Walnut Creek (CA), in El Paso (TX), in southern France, and even when I visited the Atacame Desert, it just had rained a few weeks earlier.

      April 2, 2012 at 6:35 am
  • Don

    Jan, thanks for making Bicycle Quarterly such an informative magazine! My bike is set up with fenders but I have yet to really ride in any serious rain. Do you do and/or recommend anything special to your bike after it’s gotten wet, as far as preventive maintenance?

    April 2, 2012 at 5:20 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Put it in the garage, and let it dry! Part of the appeal of good fenders is that they keep grit off your BB and drivetrain, so there is no added wear.
      On my bikes, I wax them with a car wax after each wash (about once a year), and of course, if the chain turns rusty, I relube it, but again, the fenders make this rarely necessary.

      April 2, 2012 at 6:37 am
  • davefeucht

    Bicycles come without fenders? 🙂
    Seeing some of the comments about Seattle, much the same goes for here in Portland, OR. Basically any day of the year except maybe 3-4 weeks at the end of August/early September has a decent chance of rain, so having a transportation bike without fenders just really isn’t that practical.
    The demographic of people riding bikes is changing too – more people who ride for recreation are now also riding for transportation, and plenty of people who don’t ride for recreation are riding for transportation. I see a huge variety of bikes, from European city bikes with integrated fenders, full chain cases, dynamo lighting, hub brakes, etc to old gnarly mountain bikes with fender-like objects attached to them haphazardly, often made out of unidentified strips of uneven plastic, to what are obviously nice racing bikes with third-party fenders nicely attached.
    I think also, as you get more people who aren’t recreational riders riding for transportation, you get more people who only own one bike (instead of one bike for each purpose), and so they are more concerned with it being primarily practical for everyday needs.
    The other thing to consider, if you’re riding year-round in a place that’s rainy, is that fenders don’t carry just a personal benefit, they also keep you from spraying the people behind you with a constant stream of road dirt.

    April 2, 2012 at 8:11 am
    • Bob B

      @davef – on your last paragraph, that is only true if there is a mudflap attached that almost drags the ground. Otherwise, the rider behind gets blasted just as much (maybe more) as the water from the back tire hits the edge of the fender and shoots up. I’ve followed riders with “full coverage” fenders (not just plastic clip ons) and without a mudflap back there, you do get sprayed.

      April 2, 2012 at 9:36 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The difference is not for riders who are drafting closely – which may not be a good idea in the wet anyhow – but when somebody is riding about a bikelength ahead of you. The rear fender plus mudflap rider will not spray water 10 feet into the air. With only a fender or none at all, the “rooster tail” showers anybody riding within 50 feet behind the rider.

        April 2, 2012 at 9:50 am
      • davefeucht

        Yeah, it’s amazing how high I’ve seen people shooting water up into the air, probably 20-30 feet on occasion.
        I’m considering making or buying myself a leather mud-flap to attach to my rear fender for that reason – I’m not shooting that much water up, but I can hit someone behind me if they’re close behind.

        April 2, 2012 at 10:08 am
      • Michael Richters

        How far the spray reaches depends greatly on the speed. At the speeds my wife and I typical travel, we can ride very close even in the rain (on Dutch bikes with fenders but not mudflaps), and nobody gets sprayed.

        April 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm
  • Ben Lively

    While fenders obviously offer the greatest benefit when the riding surface is wet, they’re also handy in other conditions, like dust or fine gravel. When you ride over a surface and hear hundreds of little pings clattering against your fenders, it’s nice knowing all of that isn’t hit your downtube instead.
    With all of my metal fenders, I can’t say I’ve ever had a situation where I thought, “Man, I sure wish I didn’t have these fenders right now.” If they decrease the performance it’s not enough for me to notice, but the benefits are immediately noticeable when they are needed. But of course, installing fenders doesn’t make sense for everyone. My parents never, ever ride their bikes unless the weather conditions are warm and sunny with no real chance for rain, and they only ride on a paved trail that’s almost never dirty/gritty/dusty. While properly installed metal fenders would never hinder them, it would also be hard to justify the expense and time and effort spent on installing them. However, if their bikes had come from the factory with good fenders already mounted (properly), then it also wouldn’t make much sense to remove them.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm
  • Bubba

    I agree wholeheartedly that lights and fenders are right and proper on useful bicycles. But the car to bike comparison is absurd. I’m only allowed to remove my fenders from my bike if I’m willing to do so on my car also? In what universe does that make sense?
    All 4 of my bikes have full fenders will proper flaps. Fenders and lights make my bikes far more useful, but I reject the notion that if it is possible to remove them that my bike is inferior to yours. There are times on each of my four bikes that I am inclined to remove the fenders (as of today, two of the four are fenderless, but one is getting them back on tonight). It takes 10-15 minutes, far less time than it takes to change tires, which I also do whenever I feel like it. Are you forbidding people from changing their tires unless they are also willing to do it on their car? That’s just silly.
    If you think the fenders on your bicycle should be as integrated as the fenders on your car, then your bicycle is very poorly designed, because they are removable. They should be welded on to meet your equivalency argument. If your bicycle lighting has to be as integrated as your car lighting, then your bicycle is very poorly designed, because you bought aftermarket lighting from Schmidt and it is bolted on (just like on my bike). You didn’t have to buy headlights for your car from a separate vendor. Running your wiring internally doesn’t change that fact, it merely limits your flexibility for an aesthetic that you prefer. You don’t want the flexibility and you do want the look of integration? Fine, hats off to you. I want the flexibility and do not mind external wiring. My Edelux is no more likely to rattle loose than yours is.

    April 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The difference between integrated and add-on is not that you cannot remove a part. The Citroën’s fenders are easy to remove, but you wouldn’t call them add-ons. They were designed as part of the car. The Citroën’s headlights may be made by Cibié, but they aren’t add-ons that you bolt on somewhere, with brackets that may interfere with the brakes, or slide down the fork blade (or whatever the equivalent part of the car is).
      On my bike, the Edelux is a special model for hanging attachment, modified with a forked mount, so it probably is less likely to rattle loose than most. The wires run internally, so they are unlikely every to get snagged and break. The fenders attach without clamps or spacers. They bolt straight to the bridges, which are spaced at the correct distance and have threaded holes or studs, as appropriate.
      There were welded-on racks on bicycles in the 1930s. Just like the welded-on fenders of many modern cars, this made repairs rather difficult – bend your rack, and you need a repaint. Bolting on well-designed parts does not need to be bad, as long as everything is designed to fit together, rather than jury-rigged after the fact.

      April 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm
      • Bubba

        Well, I like having quality fenders that provide full coverage, never rub, never rattle, never come loose, and can be removed if I am so inclined. If I decide to remove them I don’t think it’s absurd. You are allowed to think it’s absurd if you like.
        Regarding lighting my opinions are evolving. I’ve decided that running my lights 100% of the time might improve my visibility. Levi Leipheimer was just rear ended, and it struck the point home for me that having full lighting (especially more than one tail light) all the time including in daylight may improve my visibility the tiny additional bit that may save my life. On brevets I leave my dynamo light in the on position 100% of the time. If that makes me 5 minutes slower per 100k so be it.

        April 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm
  • Ranieri

    Motorcycles have integrated lights and fenders, but very few people go for a ride if it is raining or there are big chances of rain because they don’t enjoy it, and they prefer not to ride at night beacause it is more dangerous.
    For bicycles I think it is the same. If you enjoy riding in the rain, fenders are a good idea. If you enjoy riding at night, lights are an even better idea. But selling bikes with integrated lights and fenders I don’t think is going to push more people to ride in the rain, just like for motorcycles, because it is not that fun.

    April 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t like riding in the rain, either. More often than not, I am leaving under overcast skies, and don’t know whether it will rain or not…

      April 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm
      • nellegreen

        I love riding in the rain. The air is clean and I don’t overheat. I live in Oregon where it can rain any day 10 months of the year. I ride every day, rain or shine. My road race bike has no fenders and is used for dry club rides. My commuter has full fenders, flaps and lighting front and rear. In winter it is dark to and from work. I save $250 per month in parking alone, and get some work out as a bonus.

        April 2, 2012 at 8:49 pm
  • Shu-Sin

    I built a bike bike with integrated fenders, lights, racks… the works, hoping I would get to see the benefits of which you preach. It’s been 11 months and it has not rained a single drop. Now my wife is on my case for having spent so much money on the bike.
    Do you have any advice. Should I move to Seattle?

    April 2, 2012 at 3:13 pm
    • Harald

      I thought that this is exactly how fenders are supposed to work: You mount them and then you’ll never ever have to rain in the rain again. Just like bringing an umbrella is an excellent rain deterrent…

      April 3, 2012 at 8:22 am
  • jdb

    The anti-fender comments here are funny. It shows how deeply prejudiced most riders are against something that, when done right, really doesn’t have drawbacks (other than for the frequent world traveler example). Inspired by practical types like Jan, Grant and others, I rode for years in Los Angeles with fenders – and yes, most of the time it was bone dry. But when a damp morning turned to a torrential downpour on the Firecracker event ride, my buddy and I were nearly the only ones among hundreds with fenders and I was very grateful to have them.
    Of course the same can be said for other aspects of practical cycling, such as handlebar bags. Most ‘roadies’ are prejudiced against any kind of luggage, even though the benefits are clear on any ride in any weather.
    As for one’s wife griping about her hubby spending too much on a bicycle – well come on you know…

    April 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm
  • Paul Glassen

    Wow, this topic turns out to be far more contentious than one would have guessed! It does have a lot to do with how you use your cycle. If you desire to commute or shop by bike, the first thing to add isn’t even fenders; it’s carrying capacity. In fact, I have been wondering how much groceries you can get in a handlebar bag alone? I can’t imagine doing without my rear rack and panniers. In fact, I often regret taking only the little ‘front’ panniers instead of the larger ‘rear’ panniers.
    In the end, if you have carrying capacity and fenders, and lighting, you will simply use your bike more often. It will become not just a fair weather exercise companion, but that and, as well, a useful daily all-weather-and-times (dark of night) friend who is always there for you. I use a rain cape and have come to feel riding in the rain isn’t much worse than walking in the rain. (Yes, I live on Vancouver Island, similar weather to Seattle, Portland, the “wet coast”.)

    April 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The intent of the post was just to point out different societal norms for fenders on cars and bicycles. On cars, fenders are the norm, and few people consider them cumbersome. On bicycles, fenders continue to be the exception, an accessory that you use only under special circumstances.
      For the record, I don’t disapprove neither of cars nor of bikes that don’t have fenders. A friend of a friend once gave me a pretty memorable ride in an original 1950s hot rod…

      April 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm
      • marmotte27

        I have to apologize a little for my comment above, I thought this was about the randonneur bike versus road bike feud again. But you’re absolutely right, the fact that nowadays the default style bicycle is a bike without fenders, regardless of the type of riding intended, is complete and utter nonsense.
        I frequent a bike commuter forum and the number of peole buying bikes without fenders and adding them afterwards is something around 80%. And even the bikes that come with fenders right away sport a fender style inspired by the actual aftermarket stuff, way to short in every direction and thus quite useless.
        In that sense obviously Jan’s fight for good fenders, and not just any fenders, is very valuable.

        April 9, 2012 at 6:11 am
  • Luke

    Wow, people who care more about fenders (mudguards as we all them) than I do. I live in England, which is in Northern Europe, not Arizona. That last bit of information might seem obvious, even patronising, but the majority of bike sellers and even riders don’t seem to have noticed. Most people here ride for transport, with exercise a side benefit. “Town bikes” (which I take to be practical transport bikes) are sold without mudguards. Why? I have a fast, light bike with mudguards – also I have fitted low gears (google Condor Fratello if you’re interested). I can report there are no downsides to the mudguards (OK, so they rattled once, but I pinched the offending part with pliers and now they don’t).
    Pleased to see the wonderful if eccentric Citroen DS being shown. Nellegreen, you say that “It [the DS] was designed to comfortably transport a large passenger load over the rough and tumble cobbles and dirt that characterized the roads of France after the war.” Urban legend in the UK is that it was the older 2CV that had a design spec of having to be able to transport a French peasant wearing a tall hat, his solidly built wife, a pig in the back seat, and a carton of eggs over a ploughed field to market, without breaking the eggs. Please don’t tell me I’m wrong, because I want to believe it (though I’ll accept cobbles for the ploughed field, and putting the hat on the wife).
    Finally, for car/bike cross over, Alex Moulton of Moulton bike fame also designed the suspension for the original Mini. In both cases, he solved the small wheel problem with rubber suspension.
    Now back to work..

    April 4, 2012 at 6:24 am
    • nellegreen

      I have no personal experience with the 2CV, there are several running around Portland. The DS was fun to drive in the city and on the open road. The wagon version could carry a team of five racers and all their bikes and gear.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am
  • Bubba

    My response to Jan’s post wasn’t intended to be hostile. I had the attitude of a good-natured debate at the pub over a pint, and I hope Jan took it in that spirit. If I brought the vibe down, I apologize. All my bikes take full fenders and all my bikes usually have them on (with flaps), and I took great care to get each of the four fender sets as dialed in as one can. I was only saying that if I decide this week to take off the fenders on one bike and if I like the look of it, I’m not doing something that it fundamentally stupid or absurd. If I took the blowtorch to my Accord to un-fender it, I would be doing something fundamentally stupid or absurd. I think the bike-car analogy deliberately overstates the case to make the point, and I’m just pointing out the overstatement. 95% of the time (or more), I leave the full fenders on, because for most riding, I think the bikes work better and look better with them on.

    April 4, 2012 at 8:00 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It was an April Fool’s day post! Satire always is in jest and overstated, with the goal of holding up a mirror, so that we recognize an exaggerated version of ourselves. I didn’t think your response was inappropriate.
      And the last thing I want is a litmus test of people feeling comfortable to comment here only if they have fenders on their bikes, or steel bikes, or lugs, or something. When we designed our Cyclos Montagnards web site, we made sure to have a carbon bike without fenders on the opening page. Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Bicycles is about riding bikes, not about enforcing a dress code!

      April 4, 2012 at 8:07 am
  • Ben Hardy

    I would like to change the subject a bit and see if anyone has some insight or related experience.
    Just last Thursday I was thirty miles into a daylong ride with a good friend and riding companion (also the builder of my custom bicycle), when my front fender, it seems, caused a crash (20-25mph) at the start of a gradual dirt road decent. There was no warning that I was to crash. The only damage to my bicycle was to the front fender. The rear part of my aluminum front fender was folded and crumpled into the crown of the fork. This leads me to believe that either a) something was caught between the tire and fender, stopping the tire abruptly at the fork crown, or b) something caused the fender stay nut to bump the tire and the nut on the inside of the fender caught the tire and the tire pulled the fender into the fork crown.
    I was running Velo Orange hammered fenders (one year old, “45mm”) and brand new 32c panaracer tourguard tires. It was the first ride with the 32mm tires. Previously, I have exclusively run 28c tires.
    On another note, my shoulder completely separated. The ER doc said six weeks in a sling and I should visit the ortho and do physical therapy. I’m considering letting it heal, playing it by ear and skipping the ortho visit. I’ve got a friend who is a physical therapist.
    Have you, Jan, ever heard or experienced such a crash? Has anybody else?

    April 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am very sorry to hear about your crash. I hope you will heal well, and get back to normal quickly.
      Regarding the type of crash, I have heard of numerous crashes like that with plastic fenders. They collapse very easily. Modern plastic fenders have a “break-away” feature on the stays that is supposed to prevent this, but there have been accidents even with it.
      Since I was concerned about this, I asked every French randonneur I know about accidents involving crumpling fenders, and I found none. I know that the big 650B fenders from Lefol used a thicker material than modern Honjo fenders, so they were less likely to crumble. However, by the 1950s, many randonneurs used 700C wheels with relatively narrow, lightweight fenders.
      Again, I hope you get better soon.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:01 am
      • Ben Hardy

        Thanks for your concern, Jan.
        What range of clearances do you typically run with your fenders?
        One thought I’ve had is that the tight clearance I was running may have contributed to the accident.

        April 5, 2012 at 9:51 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The technical trials required 10 mm all around the fenders. I am fine with 8 mm, and at the chainstays, I am willing to accept about 6 mm, but less than that makes me uncomfortable. Most of all, I don’t want to mess with adjusting fenders just because a stay might get bent slightly when I lean the bike against something.
          Of course, it’s impossible to guarantee that accidents like your don’t happen, but with correctly mounted metal fenders, the historic record indicates that the risk is very low.

          April 5, 2012 at 10:41 am
    • WMdeRosset

      Dear Ben,
      I’ve folded up a few front plastic fenders and one metal one.
      The plastic ones tended to catch something between the fender and the tire and fold up, locking up the front wheel with predictable results. I avoid plastic fenders these days for this reason (they’re also no lighter than a full metal fender, and don’t work as well).
      I catch things between my tire and metal fenders from time to time, but they tend to just fall out with a bang, or catch and drag annoyingly–the fender doesn’t collapse into the tire and cause a crash.
      The metal fender I broke, a 40mm aluminum one mounted on my Alex Singer, failed when a large-ish stick got thrown into my spokes while riding offroad. I would have gone down regardless of the presence of the fender, as the stick wasn’t going to pass the fork blades….
      Good luck in your recovery. By the way, PT is worth the money.
      Best Regards,
      William M. deRosset
      Fort Collins, CO

      April 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm
      • Ben Hardy

        Thanks Will.
        Its good to know I’m not the only one!
        I’m thinking now that tight clearances were the cause. Perhaps less the result of a freak accident and more something that could have been avoided.
        I just saw a photo we took after the crash and noticed that the fender folded (one of two folds) at the point where the stay attaches. I think something must have caught the nut inside the fender.
        I look forward to putting on a new one and riding through the summer rains when my shoulder heals up.

        April 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm
  • Paul Glassen

    On his webiste, cycling writer John S. Allen recounts an over-the-handlebar, injury crash on his Raleigh Twenty modified along Sheldon Brown’s lines. The post-crash photo clearly shows the crumbled front fender jammed up against the back of the fork crown. It also shows a tell-tale chunk of wood, a piece of a branch, tangled in the spokes – to which Allen attributes the cause of the accident. However, one wonders, would it have happened if the bike had been fenderless? The fender appears to be metal; aluminum? On my 1965 Moulton the fenders are stainless steel.
    I had a ‘stick in the front fender’ incident a few years ago on my French touring bike (plastic fenders). Fortunately, this was at very low speed without crash. It can happen. Mount those fenders carefully.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm
    • Bob T.

      Back in 2004 my friend was riding his road bike which was not equipped with fenders and a branch managed to get in between his front wheel spokes and over he went. He broke his right clavicle, a few ribs and the frame of his bike was destroyed. The bottom tube folded! I’ve been riding with fenders my whole life and I have never come across something jamming in between my wheel and fenders to cause me to be ejected over my bar. But I do admit to hear small items getting thrown around and hitting along the inside of the fenders. Other than that, my fender equipped bikes are always my preferred bikes to ride. When the “oh by the way” rains rolls by, my bike becomes everyone’s favorite bike to ride behind so they do not get so much water sprayed on them. I get the same affect at the end of the winter when the snow and ice are melting. I love my fenders!

      April 8, 2012 at 4:55 am
  • Yugo Fergus

    I’ve run plastic Mt. Zefal fenders on my town bike for a few years, and they eat up anything that wouldn’t throw me without fenders. Twice, I’ve broken my front fender with the toe of my shoe- I solved that problem by using strapless toe clips. Anyway, both times, there was no tearing of fender material, and I just periodically replace the cable tie or twist-tie or whatever I’m using. No rattling, no problems.

    April 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm

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