Why We Don’t Need Rain Bikes Any Longer

Why We Don’t Need Rain Bikes Any Longer

I moved from Texas to Seattle 20 years ago and continued to ride and train year-round. At first, I refused to use fenders. I did not want to spoil the beautiful lines of my racing bike. After one miserably wet winter, I gave in. Like most of my teammates, I got a rain bike.

For those from drier climates, a rain bike is a racing bike equipped with fenders. It usually is a less-valuable bike intended to take the wear and tear of riding in the rain, while your “good” bike remains pristine and ready for rides and events in better weather.

My rain bike was built with an old Celo Europa Columbus SL frame and parts sourced at various swap meets. The only brand-new parts were German SKS fenders (back then made by Esge), the best available in Seattle at the time.

As I wrote above, the “rain bike is intended to take the wear and tear of riding in the rain.” And wear and tear it took indeed, my poor rain bike. The drivetrain always felt gritty from the spray of the front wheel that went straight onto the chain. Lubricating the chain was a ritual after every long ride in the rain, because it squeaked terribly and turned a rusty orange as soon as it dried out. After each ride in the rain, my bike was covered in filth, and so was I. I overhauled my bottom bracket at least twice a year to remove the grit that had found its way into the bearings. I was glad to spare my “good” bike this ordeal. It always was a relief when the forecast had no rain, and I could take out my good bike, with its smooth drivetrain that seemed to run like clockwork.

Today, I don’t have a rain bike any longer. Neither do the people with whom I ride. We ride our “good” bikes all year round. It’s not that it rains less in Seattle than it did in previous decades. Nor have we resigned ourselves to riding ugly bikes with gritty drivetrains. It’s just that our good bikes now have aluminum fenders that don’t spoil the lines of the bike, and more importantly, keep the grit and spray off our bikes. We no longer oil our chains after a rainy ride, nor do we overhaul bottom brackets every year. How are our fenders today different from the SKS plastic fenders?

My rain bike never got photographed, so this bike will serve as a stand-in. The “spray zone” of the front wheel is shown, as well as the drip from the fender stays. Here are the characteristics of plastic fenders:

  • Front fender covers just 90°: Spray from the front wheel goes directly onto feet and drivetrain.
  • Fenders attach to stays with brackets that form dams on the inside of the fender: Water gets diverted and drips off the stays – onto your feet and chain.
  • Fenders are flexible: They resonate annoyingly on rough roads.
  • Fenders have to be pulled into shape for mounting: Inbuilt stresses cause them to break after 2-3 seasons.
  • Bike frame not designed for fenders means: Clearances are tight.  Fenders tend to rub on tires. Fenderlines aren’t perfect, so the bike’s appearance is compromised.

The spray zone of my current bikes’ front wheel is much reduced, and no longer reaches the pedals or the chain. Here are the characteristics of our aluminum fenders:

  • Front fender and mudflap reach within 5 cm (2 in) of the ground: No spray reaches feet or drivetrain.
  • Fenders have uninterrupted interior and rolled edges: All water stays inside. Most water exits at the bottom, where it drips off the mudflap straight back onto the road.
  • Stiff aluminum fenders bolts directly to the stays: Silent even on the roughest roads.
  • Metal fenders can be shaped to the desired profile: No inbuilt stresses, so fenders last for decades.
  • Bike frame designed for fenders: Perfect clearances everywhere and no rubbing ever. Fenders no longer detract from the appearance of the bike.

We never would have thought that better fenders would make such a difference. I discovered aluminum fenders almost by accident, attracted to the classic appearance of a set of hammered Honjo fenders that I put on my touring bike. It came as a surprise that my feet stayed so much drier.

Now we pity the riders we see riding in the rain with short plastic fenders. We have been there. Like most riders, we used to think that fenders were fenders, and spray and grit were an inevitable byproduct of riding in the rain. Now we know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Share this post

Comments (77)

  • Patrick Moore

    Plastic fenders can work fine if properly set up. The new Longboard fenders at Rivendell are as long as any (Berthoud, Honjo, VO) fenders I’ve used; I’ve used PB fenders off road with no noise except the soundboard effect and rattling pebbles. Rick Risemberg of Bicycle Fixation has put 10s of thousands of miles on one set of plastic fenders on LA streets; mud flaps work as well on plastic as on aluminum (and even Honjos won’t keep your feet dry in a SW gullywasher where the drainage infrastructure uses the curb as the gutter).
    Don’t get me wrong: I much prefer Honjos or Berthouds; but plastics work fine if less elegantly. It’s not the material of the fender, or the brand, but how it is installed that makes the difference.

    November 19, 2012 at 10:23 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The design and construction of the fender do make a difference. Eliminating those clamps that divert the water inside the fenders so that it drips onto your feet and chain makes a huge difference. Also, those clamps are very flexible, which is why the plastic fenders move so much more, make more noise and break sooner. Berthoud offers SKS fenders with directly-mounted struts, which might be better. (However, they use two struts instead of four, which may not be enough to stabilize a flexible plastic fender.) If they could also add a rolled edge to the fender, less water would exit at the sides.
      You are right, it is possible to make good fenders from composites – perhaps not the flexible plastic SKS uses, but carbon fiber might be a good option. After all, there are excellent bicycles made from plastics these days… It’s just nobody has done it yet at an affordable price point.

      November 19, 2012 at 10:56 am
      • Harald

        I agree: especially with the Longboards (which are a great option to those who can’t afford Honjos etc.) excessive flexibility has become a problem. The struts are not robust enough to prevent the fender from oscillating, which under certain circumstances can even result in shimmy. I haven’t had any breakage problems, though, despite year-round riding on rough Montreal streets.

        November 19, 2012 at 11:12 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I think the breakage depends on the frame on which you mount the fenders. If the clearances are just right, and you mount the plastic fenders with minimal “pulling-into-shape,” they probably last fine. On my rain bike, the rear fender cracked every other year, it seemed, but then, the bike never was intended to carry fenders. A lot also depends on the speed you ride. While faster riding doesn’t always stress the bike more, it seems to cause more vibrations that loosen bolts and break fenders.

          November 19, 2012 at 11:15 am
      • Andy

        So you’re comparing the longevity of a sub-par plastic fender on a bike not designed for fenders to a meticulously custom built bike specifically designed for metal fenders?
        I don’t understand the rolled edge issue either. Unless you have flat fenders like some wooden models, the water is going to the center of the fender and then down. I admit I haven’t starred at my fenders much while riding in the rain at speed, but I don’t recall water coming off the sides or brackets to any noticeable extent.

        November 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I am comparing the fenders that used to be state of the art, and that still are used by most cyclists, with a better alternative we have discovered since then. You could call it technological progress, except the latest fenders actually were developed almost 100 years ago.
          The rolled edge – the water in the fenders is sprayed up the center, but gravity then pulls it downward and toward the edges of the fender. Without a rolled edge, the water then sprays or drips off the outer edge of the fender. It’s not a steady spray, but even a drip will soak your feet quickly and make them very cold. Think about how wet your feet get in 20 minutes of riding in the rain vs. 20 minutes of walking in the rain. If it wasn’t for the spray, the exposure would be similar.

          November 20, 2012 at 7:14 am
      • Shawn

        Living in Portland I have adopted the saying of “your nice bike should be your rain bike” because you are on it 9 months out of the year. A service that was locally demanded is putting on threaded mounts onto a lot of the off-the-shelf bikes, we do it affordably and blend it into the surrounding aesthetics if needed.
        and we have been slowly working through some working iterations of our carbon fiber fenders as well. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruckuscomponents/6680871675/in/photostream
        They aren’t always a perfect solution to every scenario (since they can’t be bent to shape) but they are incredibly strong and lightweight.

        November 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm
      • Alex

        Cycles D Salmon used to offer very lightweight carbon mudguards (garde-boue) for roadbikes not suited to fitting them; however, after struggling through his challenging website today, he seems to have only the aluminum ones now.

        November 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The carbon fenders were made by Berthoud. The Salmon fenders are incredibly heavy, since they are made from extruded, rather than rolled aluminum.

          November 23, 2012 at 2:45 pm
    • Matthew J.

      Jan: If the Berthoud SKS product you mention is the primarily silver fender, I do not think it is available any longer. Peter White no longer carries them and I cannot find them on the Berthoud website.
      I like the way they look and they appear to set up well and with a nice fender line. I cannot testify to their durability.

      November 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm
    • lawschoolissoover

      I think Patrick is right–I’ve had very good luck with SKS/Esge P35s. Granted, I probably get less rain in Connecticut than I would in Washington, but I don’t have chain rust issues. I did find that the fenders were short, but extended them with Plane Bike Cascadia mudflaps–one at the rear of each fender, and one at the front of the front fender–and this has worked well. As well as the Berthoud and VO stainless fenders I’ve used in the past and, I think, noticeably lighter. I *am* about to try aluminum fenders, so I’ll have a good point of comparison.
      I will agree on this: for years I resisted fenders and only had clip-ons on a “rain bike.” Riding a fully-fendered bike made a believer out of me.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:12 am
      • Andrew Marchant-Shapiro

        Dunno if this Skydrive link will work, but it shows my VO Rando with SKS fenders. I’ve modified them by adding three Planet Bike mudflaps–these are stiff enough to resist water but flexible enough to handle curbs (as per your desiderata below). In fact, they’re stiff enough so that using one as a front-of-front fender extension causes no issues. Because of the way they wrap the fender (inside and outside) they are particularly nice.

        November 24, 2012 at 5:29 pm
  • Andy

    This sounds like one of those infomercials where someone struggles so hard to carry a trash bag outside without ripping it open, because they didn’t buy the 3x expensive version with stronger fibers.
    Certainly there are plastic fenders that are not very suitable for serious rides in the rain (like clip-on versions), but there are also great ones like the SKS Longboards. I wasn’t looking to budget $130+ for fenders on my first new bike when something existed for $42. Maybe someday I’d consider metal ones for the minor additional benefits, but like most things, I don’t feel the need to always pay top dollar for the best when economical versions exist that meet my needs at a fraction of the cost. After ~6000 miles of riding this year, I certainly don’t feel a need for anyone’s pity for making this decision.

    November 19, 2012 at 10:30 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am glad your fender solution works for you. Compared to even the cheapest rain bike, a set of Honjo fenders is very affordable.
      If you ever do get bothered by the drip from the fender stays, you can improve the SKS fenders by moving the clamp on the front fender to the outside of the fender. That way, you remove the dam that diverts the spray onto your feet, and more of the water stays inside. Drill out the rivets that hold the clamp in place and rivet it back on on the outside of the fender. Fellow SIR member Robin Pieper did that on his bike, and reported a significant improvement.

      November 19, 2012 at 10:51 am
    • Frank

      Here in Germany, SKS fenders are available for 30 Euro, and you get Gilles Berthoud stainless for about 42 Euro. IMO that’s not much of a difference in price, especially if you consider, how robust GB fenders are. And I agree with Jan: It’s a huge difference in performance. I admit I would probably reserve real Honjos for my special “sunny bike”. 🙂

      November 20, 2012 at 1:57 am
  • Ty

    Great post!
    I have fenders on my rando bike all year long as well. I have plastic fenders on my folding bike mainly due to what was available when I got it set up, but my rando bike has hammered aluminum fenders. Defineteley much better. I also like that they keep pebbles and other assorted road-debris off my bike during the warm months.
    Not all see it that way. During my first double century in Davis CA. this year, I got plenty of good-natured comments that I was somewhat crazy for having fenders for a long ride like that, and why would I want to carry all that extra weight?” I would just smile and say, “Because it looks pretty!” as they rolled on past.
    Quick question though: I see you have a mud-flap up front, but not in the rear. Any particular reason why? I was told that in a group the rooster tail effect can be pretty bad without the rear flap, or is that not really true?

    November 19, 2012 at 10:31 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I usually avoid riding behind other riders in the rain. Even with a mudflap, there is a lot of spray, since the rear fender cannot come down very far, otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to remove the rear wheel. As the first photo shows, we prefer to ride next to each other in the rain. (We also ride on quiet roads, since even the best fenders cannot protect you from the spray of passing cars and trucks.) Several of us do have rear mudflaps, though. My Urban Bike has one, to protect the trailer load more than other riders.

      November 19, 2012 at 11:03 am
  • Brian

    I was wondering if that photo (of the first bike) shows the standard SKS fender or the new, Longboard version?

    November 19, 2012 at 10:31 am
  • john gibson

    maybe Seattle rain is just wetter…I also use plastic fenders here in New York and have never noticed any of the problems that the honjos seem to fix .They’re not as long but work great. I do have a mud flap on the front. Next time it rains I’ll check for any dams forming and the like but i have a feeling that the performance difference isn’t nearly as big as is being stated. Saying that, the aluminum ones look good but its not an aesthetic that suits everybody.

    November 19, 2012 at 11:59 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It may be that fender performance depends a lot on the rider’s speed. At low speeds, most of the exposure comes from the rain itself. At higher speeds, that pales in comparison to the spray from the front wheel.
      For the bracket dam, see whether there is water dripping off your upper fender stays on the front. (You cannot see inside the fender, but you’ll notice the water dripping off the fender if you watch. Make sure you don’t run into something, though, while watching your front fender stays!)

      November 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm
  • William M. deRosset

    Dear Jan,
    It is interesting how one’s standards change. Prior to 2003, I rode with SKS fenders on my commuter, and (on dry days, not uncommon here on the semi-arid Colorado Front Range), I rode one of my fenderless bikes. Who would voluntarily ride with fenders in the dry? Even when I lived in Louisiana, I preferred to do sporting rides in the daily afternoon thunderstorms without the noise, encumbrance, and bother of plastic fenders. I’d dry out, and frequent bike maintenance was just a fact of life.
    Then I got a bike designed around, and equipped with, full-coverage aluminum fenders. There was no need (other than a out of a sense of misplaced weight-weenieism or if required to do so by the rules of an event) to remove them. They were quiet. They didn’t catch sticks. They didn’t crack ever year or two despite heavy use. They weighed 400g and significantly out-performed the (hitherto mostly satisfactory) SKS fenders on my commuter, especially once I added a mudflap (which makes an enormous difference for drivetrain maintenance; less so for my feet.) That machine changed the standard for what a real-world bike should do.
    However, even minimal-coverage plastic fenders are a huge improvement over riding without them in the rain. Well-designed metal fenders with a front mudflap (and a bike designed to accept them gracefully) are another step forward. My best bike is now my “rain” bike, and is the lowest-maintenance machine I own. Much of that reliability can be traced to its highly effective fenders and mudflap.
    Best Regards,
    William M. deRosset
    Fort Collins, CO
    P.S. The Planet Bike plastic fenders don’t have stay attachments that direct water laterally, though they don’t have a rolled edge, either. They are more both stiffer, lighter, and more durable than the SKS fenders in my experience.–WMdeR

    November 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm
    • Paul Ahart

      When setting up my Boulder Brevet (700c) bike a year ago, I opted for Planet Bike Cascadia fenders, and have been pleased with their effectiveness. I did attach an additional flap of hypalon rubber fabric to the rubber flap on the front fender, extending it to about 2″ from the ground. My first serious ride was a 200k brevet with the first 3 hours riding in rain and wet snow, and I finished the ride with drivetrain still clean and well-lubed! My only gripe with 90% of the plastic fenders on the market is with the short front fender. Seems like it’s only designed to keep rain and road grit out of your headset.

      November 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm
  • John A Le Marquand

    Everyone of bikes I own except the so called racing bike has fenders and I leave them on year round. While the Gulf Island gets a little less rain than Vancouver but the one I am on because of the trees the roads are wet for days after the last rain in the winter assuming we get a couple of days without rain. Most of the bikes have metal fenders and last year two of them cracked and had to be replaced because of crappy roads on our island. One was a Honjo hand hammered and the other VO hand hammered. They have been replaced with VO stainless steel ones and so far no cracks.
    I do have one bike that I build up as a rain bike, a Soma ES. I will go months without riding it but now it is used everyday. A surprisingly nice riding bike in spite of the narrow tubeless tyres.
    I have read that your fenders give you great coverage but I haven’t found that to be true for me. I have a mud flaps on the front that goes almost to the ground and my feet and chain get very dirty and I never ride without MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) Drencher Shoe Covers even if it looks like rain. Yes, I put the widest fenders possible on all my bikes. The Soma mud flat is 2.5″ from the ground. So rather than get all my bikes dirty and the need of attention I ride the Soma and on occasion one other with mud flap 2″ from the ground..

    November 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Dirt on the bike: I get dirt on the fork blades from water that the brake pads scrape off the rims. If you get dirt elsewhere on the bike, where does it come from, and how does it get there?
      Cracking fenders: It’s not the rough roads – we ride on gravel roads with our bikes all the time. Usually, what happens is that during installation, the fenders were pulled into shape using the stays. This causes inbuilt stresses, and the fenders will break prematurely. Reshape the fenders so that they are in the right place, and use the stays only to keep them from flopping around, not to pull them into shape. Then they are unstressed and should last for decades.

      November 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm
  • Matt

    It’s also possible to mount PB Cascadia mudflaps (only cost $5) on the SKS standard length fenders, which increases the length (almost as long as Longboards) and looks nicer than homemade mudflaps. My SKS fenders have lasted for about five years so far. Granted, you may ride more in one year than I do in five. Maybe I’m not riding fast enough but I also haven’t noticed any leakage or spray from the internal stay clamps. Wouldn’t making the dual stays out of aluminum rather than stainless steel make the SKSs more stable and lighter? Why doesn’t SKS or PB make aluminum stays?

    November 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      My experience is that long mudflaps simply are pushed out of the way by the water spray, and thus aren’t very useful.

      November 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm
      • Fred Blasdel

        The long mudflap only needs to take on some of the fender’s lateral curve and then it will keep a stiff upper lip against the muck, while still being able to bend forward (to put the bike in a fork-mounted roof rack)
        You just need at least two horizontally-opposed attachment points for the mudflap for it to work.

        November 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Agreed, that is why putting the flap under the rolled edges of the fender works so well, because it curves the flap. Even so, the mudflap can be only so long until it flaps in the wind. Really, what we want isn’t a flap, but a flexible fender extension that doesn’t crumble when we go over curbs.

          November 20, 2012 at 7:04 am
      • lawschoolissoover

        Long, flexible mudflaps can be pushed around by water, yes. That’s why some riders choose to weight them with washers, etc. The PB Cascadia mudflaps are considerably more rigid, with a molded-in curve. They *will* bend if they hit a solid object like a curb, but it would take a pretty high-pressure spray of water (something like you’d get out of a hose nozzle) to move them otherwise. They’re worth investigating.

        November 20, 2012 at 5:21 am
      • Patrick Moore

        Missed this: if held rigidly to the curve of the fender, IME flaps of stiff plastic or thick leather (I know, I know) keep their shape just fine, at least if the flap is wide enough. My largest flap was 8″ long or more and ~ 6″ wide at the base. It stayed pretty much put. Doubtless such wide flaps also catch more air.

        November 20, 2012 at 8:30 am
    • Fred Blasdel

      SKS and PB don’t make aluminum stays because their design has them as paired 1/8″ rods instead of a single 1/5″ hoop, and in the same cross-section steel is much stiffer + stronger than aluminum.
      Of course their dual stay design is rather dumb overall, requiring the stays to have no hoop strength, and requiring an extra set of heavy steel hardware at the perimeter of the fender adding to the vibration load — but it makes them waaay simpler to ship and install, so that’s how they do it.

      November 19, 2012 at 10:46 pm
      • Harald

        I think the other reason for the dual stay design is that the SKS fenders aren’t stiff enough to be held in place properly with only one strut. It might work with the regular length ones but not with the Longboards.

        November 20, 2012 at 7:40 am
    • Alex

      If you don’t wish to make your own mudflaps you can buy the SKS “XXL” mudflaps (attach well and are 15cm long) as an aftermarket item (at least in Germany, but i don’t see why not in the USA), in at least 3 different widths, including the narrowest 35mm size. they are the mudflaps on the ends of the SKS ‘Longboard’ mudguards.

      November 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm
  • Dave In Glenshaw

    Hi Jan,
    Any suggestions for cleanly attaching the mudflap to the front fender? Mechanically I can see doing it with pop rivets or screws, but that would be seriously ugly. I’ve got the VO hammered fenders on my bike, and I’d really hate to put more holes in them, but a mud flap added to within 5 cm of the ground would be great.

    November 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Ernest Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer taught me this: Open the rolled edges of the fender slightly, slide in a piece of rubber cut exactly to size, and crimp the edges shut. The flap will be securely attached.

      November 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm
    • Patrick Moore

      I once had to cut 6″ off a front Honjo so that the wheel would fit into bus bike racks,leaving the fender cut just below the stay. I compensated by installing an 8″-10″ long mudflap (greased leather, just for fun, but it didn’t crack with repeated folding). I clamped it outside the fender between stay and fender and further secured it with a few loops of button thread via strong needle around the stay at each upper edge. It looked tidy.

      November 20, 2012 at 8:25 am
  • Michael

    I’m a believer in quality metal fenders, but I’ve had some difficulty creating a good mudflap for my bikes. “Good” meaning it doesn’t spoil the line of the fenders or create tire rub issues. What material do you use for your mudflap, and how do you attach it?

    November 19, 2012 at 4:30 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I use rubber sheets that are available to make gaskets for plumbing fixtures. It’s available in hardware stores. I cut a template from cardboard, fine-tune it until I like the shape, then fold it in half to make sure it’s symmetrical. The comment above explains how it’s attached.

      November 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm
  • Sarah

    Love the front fender. Hate the rear fender. It is not long enough for serious group riding in wet weather. If someone showed up to one of our group rides with that rear fender, they would be forced to ride in back. It’s just common courtesy!

    November 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t like group rides in the rain… but if I were to go on a rainy group ride, I’d attach a rear mudflap.

      November 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm
      • Steve Palincsar

        Buddy Flaps seem to be a fairly popular solution to rear fender spray.

        November 20, 2012 at 4:31 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          They are popular here, too. I was thinking about those when I wrote that long flaps tend to just be moved out of the way by the spray, so they aren’t very effective except at low speeds.

          November 20, 2012 at 7:06 am
  • Eric Platt

    My bikes are split between Berthoud fenders and SKS longboards. For the oscillation on the Longboard, my solution was to cut the mudflap shorter. The stock long flap is too heavy, in my opinion, for the rest of the fender. The shorter flap does not seem to increase spray appreciably. Strangely enough, my feet usually get wetter on the bikes with Berthoud metal fenders. For riding in winter, I often prefer plastic fenders as they seem to shed the build up of road slush that is common in Minnesota. With metal fenders, the slush can build up, not only adding considerable weight to the bike, but also occasionally interfere with brakes due to excess slush piling on. (My bikes use cantilever or V brakes).
    Eric Platt
    St. Paul, MN

    November 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm
    • lawschoolissoover

      I have wondered on occasion whether this is because metal fenders can get cold, freezing the slush, or because they are less slippery than plastic, or both. FWIW, I had the same experience as you, riding just across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:24 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        I once rode on a rainy day when the temperature dropped. I noticed that my tires were rubbing, not on my plastic fenders, but on the ice that was building up inside the fenders as the water my tires picked up froze. I realized that soon, the water on the road was going to freeze as well, so I headed home as quickly as I could. Ten minutes after I got home, there was a huge pileup in front of our apartment as cars were spinning on the ice.

        November 20, 2012 at 7:09 am
        • lawschoolissoover

          Yoiks! Yeah, I suspect you’ll get the same effect with plastic as with metal fenders…it’s possible, however, that it might happen a little sooner with metal fenders (the “I dare you to touch the pump handle with your tongue” effect). I suppose that if that gives you a warning, it’s not at all a bad thing!

          November 20, 2012 at 9:26 am
  • Jimmy D

    You know, Berthoud stainless steel fenders are only 30 dollars more than plastic SKS ones. The Berthoud ones fit my Pelican well. My bike looks naked without them.

    November 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm
  • David

    My experience with the SKS longboards that several have mentioned is that they rattle quite a bit. I did everything I could to keep the movement down but the only thing that worked was to take them pretty far away from the tire (especially in the front), which looked silly. The VO aluminum fenders are $60 and work much better.

    November 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm
  • Rob Markwardt

    There’s rain and then there’s rain. In Seattle we most often get the pissy, persistant day-long misty rain, however, there are days like the past couple…constant downpour, mixed with leaf filled gutters, creating massive puddles and mud pits anywhere off the pavement. I”ll ride my nice bikes on the pissy days but on days like today I want a real rain bike. Not a kluged narrow tired road bike but a fat-tired, stout framed, over fendered, pothole eating road hog. I also ride this bike during our annual “WINTER BLAST 20**”…for midwest/northeast/mountain timezone folks that means it snowed, or when taking on the muddy trails in our local parks. My hog is an 88 RockCombo…no it doesn’t plane:)

    November 19, 2012 at 9:10 pm
    • Patrick Moore

      Rob Markwardt: Nice. It looks very much like my erstwhile Diamond Back Axis Team fixed gear beater of a few years ago, with 60 mm Big Apples but with 60 mm SKS fenders instead of Berthouds. The SKSs didn’t rattle; perhaps their width and resulting triangulation made them sturdier.
      Fred Bladsel: Jitensha Studios has very helpful, step-by-step, and largely idiot proof instructions for mounting metal fenders on its site:
      I followed them for the 559 Honjos they no longer, alas, sell and found installation pretty trouble free.

      November 20, 2012 at 8:38 am
  • Fred Blasdel

    I’m no big fan of SKS fenders, but those interior stay brackets are nowhere near as bad as you claim unless you’ve bashed the metal in away from the curve of the fender. The recent iterations from PB and others are especially decent.
    Besides I’ve had plenty of awful experiences with “water dam” behaviors with metal fenders — what the hell else is going to happen when a bit of schmutz builds up on those two huge M5 nuts that project down towards the tire?
    There is also the fact that plastic fenders be shipped pre-assembled and safely installed in ten minutes by an imbecile. On the other hand the vast majority of new VO & Honjo fender installs I see in Seattle are rattling and on the spectrum from bad to deathtrap despite hours of effort from their owners — missing cup washers, darumas outside the fork crown, nonexistent fenderlines, those damn leather washers in all the wrong places, etc. I personally fix a half-dozen installations every year, and find myself constantly giving advice on the subject.
    You could do a mitzvah for the pacific northwest by publishing the first four pages of Peter Weigle’s BQ fender how-to as a PDF sample article, to be spread far and wide. VO’s instructions are downright awful, and you’re in a great position to help everyone.

    November 19, 2012 at 10:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right, metal fenders are difficult to install on bikes not designed for them. They really are more a component for a new custom bike than a retrofit. Ideally, they will be installed on your new bike by the builder. I like your idea of putting the Bicycle Quarterly fender installation article online. We’ll work on that. In the mean time, the back issue (Vol. 9, No. 2) with the fender installation article is available.

      November 20, 2012 at 7:03 am
      • Ryan

        +1 to the fender article.

        November 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm
    • heather

      yes please!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:21 pm
  • John Duval

    I have seen two performance bikes on the road with fenders here in Southern California, and mine is one of them. I started commuting by bike daily about 2-3 months ago and am still in the process of tuning my bike setup. It did not take long to realize the bike and drivetrain get dirty much faster with this type of riding, even without rain. Too bad I thought fenders were not needed when I designed the frame, so P-clamps all around! Still looks nice. It will be interesting to see the results, and hear the comments.

    November 19, 2012 at 11:28 pm
    • Bill Gobie

      I grew up in Southern California. From a young age I knew rain is poisonous and strictly avoided cycling in it. The first rain I was ever caught in was a squall in Indiana. I remember it well for two reasons: the rifle-sharp crack of a nearby lightening ground strike, not accompanied by a flash because the rain was so dense; and my Bata Biker shoes looking like new afterward. I had thought the shoes were sun-faded, but all they needed was a good washing!

      November 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm
  • AndrewGills

    More food for thought on the fender issue. I don’t have fenders (we call them mud guards here in Australia) on my bike despite the wet humid summers we have here in the subtropics where storms roll in almost every afternoon / evening from January through March. I am still thinking about putting them on my bike to protect it but no one seems to use them and I’m hesitant to try setting a trend 😉

    November 20, 2012 at 2:28 am
  • marmotte27

    Fenders are really one of these issues that show how we are conditioned by what we see around us (and wht the bike industry throws at us). I’ve grown up before the mountain bike craze swapped over to us from the US at the end of the eighties, so I can still remember what bikes looked like then, with decent coverage metal fenders and lights even for sporty everyday bikes.
    Since then the default style bike has become a mountainbike with fenders at best added as some kind of afterthought.This sort of sealed the demise of bikes as everyday transport for most people, as obviously you can’t use those things for anything exept play (My sons latest bike of course had to be a mountain bike since when it is impossible to take him out in the rain without hilm getting his clothes completely messed up…)
    And now even sensible bikes must resemble that, with much too short fenders. It’s only dutch style bikes which have sensible fenders any more. I sincerely hope randonneur bikes will become the new must have, so even everyday bikeswill have correct fenders and lights once again.

    November 20, 2012 at 8:37 am
  • Peter

    Anyone know where to find Honjos (or equivalent) for 26″ wheels with wide tires (ie Compass 1.75″)?

    November 20, 2012 at 11:23 am
    • heather

      the 650b size should fit 26″, so go for the widest needed.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm
    • Bill Gobie

      Berthoud 26″ fenders will fit those tires. As proof, here’s a picture of my bike with a 26″ Compass tire on the front; proof too that wide tires and metal fenders can be used on a modern bike although my dealer shakes his head.
      (The rear brake does not have clearance for a Compass tire. I intend to have the brake altered this winter so a Compass will fit. I cannot imagine going back to the 650C tires the bike was designed for.)
      The mudflaps are cut from old water bottles and attached with zip ties through holes in the fenders. Jan’s method is much more elegant and I will use it if I ever replace these fenders. Speaking of which, the rear fender was severely crushed in an accident. Figuring I had nothing to lose I bent it straight and hammered out the creases. It looks a little dinged up but anyone not familiar with the accident would not believe it is the same fender. A plastic fender would probably have been destroyed.
      If you are in Seattle, Aaron’s might have some Berthoud fenders on hand.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm
  • heather

    Thanks, I am still unconvinced and reluctant to put a beloved bike out in the rain, salt, grime and grit of my roads. The sunshine coast outside of Vancouver gets plenty of rain and the roads are the worst I have encountered for salt, grime etc. A gross black sludge binds with the magnesium chloride and sticks to the bikes, immediately messing up gumwall sides. Not pretty. Magnesium chloride is particularly harsh on all metal, rubber etc, not sure how it’s considered ‘environmentally friendly’ de icer. Does anybody know what I am talking about?
    However, you regularly ride on dirt roads, so it’s not as if you are not encountering dirt. It is true that in the pacific northwest we are looking at 9-10 months of the year of regular heavy never ending rain, so it does make sense to be riding a good bike for that majority of the year. I have yet to try my long aluminium fenders. I have honjos on display in the living room and an old french set both waiting to get put on the next bike projects. The honjos are much lighter than my sks chromoplast. I am currently riding my raleigh sports which is my rain bike. I got caught in heavy rain yesterday and it was wet, lots of water on the roads and the old raleigh fenders do not have enough coverage and not long enough. I have to invest in some mudlfaps. My husband recently gave in to your idea about riding a good bike and bought a vintage bianchi with eyelits for fenders which will get long aluminium fenders. He has been using those crud road fenders that are just useless. The bike is a bit beaten up, but a great ride which has made him happy as the ‘rain’ bikes have been unpleasant to ride.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm
    • twowheelrambling

      Hi Heather:
      I ride a VO Polyvalent year round as a commuter/randonneuring bike and I just built a Boulder Allroads 650B for my wife. We both use VO Zeppelin fenders with mudflaps tucked under the rolled fender edges as Jan suggests.
      I live in Nanaimo and the fenders and flaps have prolonged the life of my drive system immensely. They also keep my feet dry. My wife really likes the combo I put on her bike too.
      The other thing that I do is apply car wax to my frame each year in about October, just before monsoons season. I have been using Phil Wood Viscous oil on my chains as it seems to resist washing off, but recently read about T-9 as a chain lube so I might try that.
      But fenders and a long front mud flap have made all this difference.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:21 am
      • heather

        Thanks, nice sounding bikes! I’m having endless technical problems with my budget 650b project(just realized fork is bent, maybe frame too, was an old gifted trek) so may have to use my precious longstaff frame instead which will require buying another size of honjos. The biggest problem here is the magnesium chloride being used as de icer which is used overzealously. It is being touted as more environmentally friendly and is very cheap so more and more jurisdictions are using it. Problem is that it corrodes everything very quickly, is making pets sick who walk on it, and when it dries it swirls around as dust and gets in lungs etc. I never have seen such corrosion in my life. I grew up in a place that used sand so my bikes never suffered, and years of biking in Vancouver did not harm my bikes either. Long term coast cyclists say that their bikes started falling apart after salt was switched with magnesium chloride-even with regular cleaning. This I can attest to as well. My husband’s new old bike got corrosion on various bolts within 3 days of riding even washing the bike after riding it. So, this is why I am afraid to put my nice bike on the road. Wax helps, still haven’t tried boeshield, am going to invest in framesaver when I can find it.

        November 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          That sounds awful. I’d keep a rain/winter bike on hand in those conditions as well. It would have to have the same fenders as my nice bike, though!

          November 23, 2012 at 7:11 pm
  • Blake

    velo orange sells alloy 26″ fenders

    November 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm
  • BLogan

    When I started commuting by bike I went through a variety of plastic fenders; I can’t even remember which makes or models. Some of them cracked, but the problem I had with all of them was that they were always too short. The front fender would only come down to about even with the axle of the front wheel, and the top edge would only protrude a few inches past the fork crown. I never bothered trying to make a mudflap for the last set because they were so crappy anyway. Instead, I decided to buy a set of Berthoud fenders since at the time they were only $25-30 more than the plastic fenders I kept buying. But even they were too short at the bottom of the front fender, so I had to add a mudflap to them anyway. But otherwise, they’re practically bullet-proof. I’ve been using them for years now and they never make any noise, there are no cracks, and they keep water off my feet (mostly because of my mudflap). However, on my “good” bike I use a set of Honjos, and they are great. No mudflap required on those to keep my feet and drivetrain dry and clean. They’re probably not quite as tough as the Berthouds, but they’re better in every other way (well, except price).

    November 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm
  • Daniel

    Just curious, how did you calculate the spray zone?
    Despite having decent fenders (Velo Orange), I definitely keep my go fast bike for better weather. I might get caught out in the rain but I won’t go out in it intentionally, at least with the nicer bike. I am mostly a fair weather rider.
    I have noticed a difference in the VO fenders vs the plastic Planet Bike fenders, which cracked without obvious stress. The VO are doing just fine and with leather washers aren’t noisy.

    November 21, 2012 at 5:23 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The spray zone depends on your speed. If you go fast, the water gets flung off the wheel at greater speed, and thus will travel in a straighter line. So the spray zone is an approximation. I based the drawing on looking at the bikes after riding in the rain. There is an interesting comparison at this link – a long fender at the top, a short fender at the bottom. The spray zone in the bottom photo is quite obvious…

      November 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm
      • Bill Gobie

        Water is thrown off the tire tangentially. Hold a straightedge so it touches the tire and the bottom of the fender or mudflap. Where it points shows the top of the spray zone. If you have ridden behind someone without a rear mudflap you know water is thrown quite high; I would contend the spray zone does not curve down toward the ground at the rear of the bike as Jan has depicted.
        In the upper picture Jan linked to, the rear fender has an extension to guide water between the chain stays.
        Water flow on the inside of a fender is a fascinatingly difficult problem. Water on the fender is propelled forward by water thrown off the wheel and also pulled downward — rearward and sideways — by gravity. Water dripping onto the tire is thrown back onto the fender. Much of the water is probably ejected from the front of the fender.
        Accelerating water to the speed of the tire costs energy — I wonder how much? If a metal fender’s rolled edges were opened slightly to create gutters, much of the water might be conveyed to the bottom of the fender rather than dripping back onto the tire and being reaccelerated.

        November 22, 2012 at 9:44 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          From my observations, most of the water exits the fender at the rear. It’s hard to see much water falling back onto the tire, since it will cling to the fender side as it runs downward. With a flat fender, like some narrow SKS models, this may be different.
          A bigger issue is the water dripping (or running) off the rear end of the fender. It enters the spray from the wheel, and so perhaps you end up getting most of the water that your fender intercepted dumped onto your feet if your fender is too short. Certainly, the amount of water coming out of the bottom of my fenders is surprising, and I am glad it all falls onto the road rather than hit my feet or the bike.
          Regarding the curve of the spray zone, I think you are right. Even on my new bike, the rear rim gets dirty, which indicates that the spray reaches at least that far. I drew the spray zone conservatively, since I didn’t want to be accused of exaggerating!

          November 22, 2012 at 10:14 am
  • Brucey

    The bike in the picture with the ‘spray zone’ also shows a common type of mudguard (fender) strain. The front section of the rear guard is well forward of the tyre near the chainstay brace; this causes a bend/stress near the brake bridge and this can cause the mudguard to fail prematurely. The root of the problem arguably lies with the horizontal dropouts; the wheel needs to come forwards when it is removed, so there has to be some clearance at the front. It perhaps makes sense to fit the wheel nearer the front of the dropout slot, to minimise this gap. Some frames even benefit from a spacer between the chainstay brace and the mudguard; this can even out the mudguard clearance nicely, although it might mean the wheel won’t come out easily unless the tyre is soft. Obviously vertical dropouts avoid this problem and can make for a neater installation, even if they do perhaps limit the versatility of the frame.
    BTW having ridden a fair distance with mudguards and/or ‘tyre savers’ fitted, I can confirm that tyre savers do work, but can (because they remove debris from the tyres) throw water and dirt all over both bike and rider. Internal mudguard brackets do eject water too; ideally external brackets using flush fasteners on the inside are best, although having said this I wouldn’t consider it mandatory for occasional wet weather use.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:34 pm
  • Keith Snyder

    “Really, what we want isn’t a flap, but a flexible fender extension that doesn’t crumble when we go over curbs.”
    Would bristles work?
    They’d clean the curb, too.

    November 22, 2012 at 6:56 am
  • Mitch

    I recommend a chain case to reduce drivetrain maintenance. It takes a while to fashion one from scratch or adapt an existing case, but I think it is worth the effort. The pictured bikes appear incomplete. Cheers.

    November 22, 2012 at 9:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      A chaincase is a great idea, but it does not work well with derailleurs. For many reasons, I prefer derailleurs over single-speeds and hub gears. Fortunately, my drivetrain maintenance is limited to replacing the chain every 1000-1200 miles. With well-designed fenders, I no longer have to oil the chain in between those replacement intervals.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:16 am
  • Bob

    Jan, I think you have written previously that a lot of bikes, even if supposedly “fender ready”, would be better off just having the plastic fenders removed. Such was my case – I ordered a “custom” frame and specified I wanted fenders with clearance for 700×28 tires. Unfortunately, this particular builder had no experience actually designing a frame for fenders, and simply added some eyelets and lengthened the chainstays slightly (as well as using a carbon fork with longer legs to accommodate 57 mm reach brakes). As a result, I pretty much soured on plastic SKS P35 fenders and figured the tradeoff of a slightly dirtier bike was easier to deal with than the problems of substandard fenders and minimal clearance (for example, I had to cut away a significant part of the fender in order to fit it between the chainstays where it was fastened with a threaded boss). Lesson learned – don’t go to a builder who might have some of the prettiest TIG welds in the industry but is focused on racing bikes and mountain bikes.

    November 26, 2012 at 5:49 am

Comments are closed.

Are you on our list?

Every week, we bring you stories of great rides, new products, and fascinating tech. Sign up and enjoy the ride!

* indicates required