Friday, June 20, 2014

Fenders, Mudguards, I Love 'Em

A few days ago I went out for an early morning ride under gray skies. At about the mid-point of my ride I got caught in a shower that turned into a heavy downpour that continued the rest of the morning. The road became a river, and I was completely drenched to the bones. Fenders probably would not have helped much in that particular case, considering the heavy volume of water pouring down on me, but it got me thinking about fenders (or mudguards, to my British friends) anyhow.

When I was a young weight weenie and truly mediocre racer, I thought fenders were for old dorks. My weight weenie friends and I would smirk anytime we saw a befendered road bike. Now I'm an old dork, and I love fenders. I have several bikes equipped with them -- some expensive, some cheap, some aluminum, some plastic. I don't just like them for their utility, I think they can improve the look of some bikes. Good fenders make a good bike look great.

I rode this Rivendell Long-Low for a number of years without fenders. It looks good as-is, but. . .
. . . it doesn't really look complete without fenders. Those are the hammered-finish fenders from Velo-Orange. I've installed them on a few bikes (not just my own bikes, but I've installed them for other people, too) and I think they're pretty easy to install and a good value.
I've been caught in light showers where having fenders made a huge comfort difference. Consider that it's not just about the rain falling from above, but without fenders, one gets just as wet (maybe more so) from water coming up from below. The wet stripe up one's backside doesn't just look ridiculous -- it feels miserable. But another thing to consider is the fact that roads stay wet long after the rain ends, and that is when having fenders makes the biggest difference.

Plastic fenders have a lot going for them, and for some applications, there's no reason to spend more money or go more "deluxe." Prices seem to range from $40 to $60. I have an early 80s Stumpjumper, one of the early models with the nicely lugged frame. I've had it powder coated and updated some of the components, installed mustache bars, and I use it on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath when riding with my kids. It make a good trailer-towing rig. I installed SKS plastic fenders on it, and they look good. They are essential on this bike, since I don't want want dirt and the occasional mud from the path flying up into the faces of my kids!

1983 or '84 Stumpjumper, with SKS plastic fenders. A great trailer-towing rig.
Aluminum fenders from Velo-Orange don't cost much more than good plastic ones, but they really step up the "class" factor. Most of the necessary holes are already drilled in them to ease installation, and they typically come with more hardware than necessary to keep you covered for different installation needs. Prices range from $55 - $65 depending on the size and style.
I refurbished this old Trek 420L for my wife. Fenders took the bike to a new level. These are Velo-Orange hammered finish fenders again. I think the fender lines came out really good on this bike, following the curve of the tires evenly from front to back. I should point out that I converted this bike from 27-in. wheels to 700c -- thereby picking up a few millimeters more tire clearance, and gaining lots more tire options.
The most "deluxe" fenders come from Honjo of Japan. They are beautifully finished, and all the hardware is first-rate, but they're expensive. At Boulder Bicycle, which is a supplier I recommend, they range from $120 - $175, depending on size and style. Boulder Bicycle also has most of the hardware available separately for those who need replacement bits. They are more of a challenge to install, as they typically require more measuring and drilling than the Velo-Orange versions. 
Fixed-gear bikes like this one make for a serious installation challenge, but I feel like I got the fender lines looking good. These are the Honjo "LePaon" model with a 7-sided profile -- a classic "vintage-looking" style.
Like I said -- fenders aren't just functional, they make a lot of bikes look great. I figure everyone should have at least one bike with fenders, and if you can only have one bike, it should be a bike that can accommodate them.


  1. Glad to hear the VO fenders are nice, I am considering them for a future build. They definitely add a certain touch of class to a bike, nevermind their actual usefulness.

    Your wife's bike is quite nice looking, as is the yellow Mercian. (OK, all of your bikes are nice looking...) Can you tell me what handlebars you are using on them? Thanks.


    1. Hi Wolf -- OK - Bars -- the Rivendell has Nitto "Dream" bars, or at least that's what Riv called them when they had 'em. Not sure what model number they are -- possibly 176? The Stumpjumper obviously has Nitto Mustache bars. The Trek mixte has Velo Orange Left Bank bars. The Mercian path racer has Soma Portola bars, which are very similar to the old Dirt Drops, with a wide flare. They have two widths of the Portola, and these are the slightly narrower ones, though they are still very wide, at least at the ends.