By Dan Pugatch
With our recent taste of wet autumn weather and the impending doom of winter’s dirty slush, equipping your bicycle with fenders is the only right-minded thing to do. But there are dozens of models to choose from out there. Bicycle fenders can be anything from the plastic clip on variety for $15 on up to slick custom metal, hand painted to match your frame and costing in the hundreds. There are subtle differences in performance and durability to be noted, but which fenders you go with is most determined by your concept of style and your budget.
Basic plastic fenders will offer some protection from wet roads for those on a budget. A popular fender around Boston is the simply designed SKS X-Tra Dry, stocked by most bike shops. Originally designed as a mountain bike mudguard, it is the widest of fenders and very lightweight. It easily attaches to your seat post and stays in place over your rear tire, preventing the “skunk” or “racing” stripe as it is known in the cycling world, on your backside. The X-Tra Dry is ideal for those who do not like the look of traditional fenders or prefer to remove it on dry days, and also fits most road bicycles and single speed/fixed gears, which tend to have a small clearance between tire and frame.
The downside to having just a rear fender however is that your drivetrain, consisting of bottom bracket and crankset, along with your feet and shins will still get all the splash from your front tire. For those with a suspension fork, stop by Broadway Bicycle School and pick up an Apex front fender, the only front fender that works with suspension forks. For traditional forks, I recommend full coverage fenders.
The most affordable of these are the plastic variety. Planet Bike, a great company that donates 25% of its profits to bicycle advocacy, makes cheap full coverage plastic fenders for around $20 to $30. But I think SKS makes the best plastic fenders around. The company’s Commuter Fenders and Chromoplastics Fenders are style and function all in one. The Commuters are cheaper at about $40 and are harder to install than the nicer Chromoplastics, which cost about $55, work better because they snap off on impact instead of breaking. For most road bicycles, SKS Race Blades may be your only option. They are not full coverage, but keep you drier than the X-tra Dry, and I used a pair of these for years. The Race Blades are clip on, but add some zip ties and they will be relatively theft proof.
For the real tops in fenders though, you may want to go with chrome or metal. Older bicycles tend to look better with these, and they can even be painted to match your frame. There are places online to purchase such fenders for around $50, but I do not recommend them unless you are mechanically inclined or know someone who is. The most famous of these, Honjo Fenders from Japan, need to be drilled and custom fitted to your bicycle. This can take up to an hour or two of frustration. Honjo’s can be purchased online from www.velo-orange.com — my personal favorite for modern vintage cycling accessories. They also sell their own brand metal fenders that are just as nice and less expensive!
Still want more style? Looking for fenders that serve not only as your protection from wet roads but also as an art piece? Then wooden fenders are for you, the most famous being Woody’s. They start at around $100. These flat wooden fenders are curved to go around your tires and give a little retro surf look to your ride. My advice is get a set that is wider than your tires, since they do not have curved sides to them. I have found if your tire is the same width or wider than your fender, you will still get sprayed from the wet roads. I have seen them for sale at Cambridge Bicycle before, but online is most likely where you will have to go to find this level of fanciness.
It is important to stay dry out there. Riding to work or a hot date and arriving wet and muddy is no fun. Get the fenders that work for your needs and aesthetics. To recap: full coverage keep you the driest, but take a bit of work to put on or remove. Removable plastic fenders may be enough for the occasional rider, or someone who prefers no fenders at all when it’s dry out. But no matter which fenders you get, they can only protect you from the water splashing up from the street. Investing in rain pants, raincoat, waterproof gloves, and rubber boots will also help you keep riding through the winter. Have fun and stay dry!