By Stan Purdum
QUESTION: Should I put fenders on my road bike? I own a hybrid bike has them and I have found them useful when I ride through puddles or get stuck riding somewhere in the rain, etc. — Larry J.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Maybe. The reason road bikes don’t come with fenders is to save weight, thus making the bikes capable of faster speeds and easier to pump uphill. No fender also eliminates the possibility of some object becoming jammed between the wheel and the fender and bringing the bike to an abrupt halt. But in wet conditions, fenders are beneficial to you, the rider, the people you may be riding with and the bike itself.
If you get caught in a downpour or are just riding on wet roads, full fenders with mudflaps will keep you from getting a cold stripe of mud and water up your back, will prevent the spinning of a slimy “rooster tail” off your back wheel that can “baptize” your riding companions, will deter water from filling your shoes, and will minimize the buildup of sand, grit, mud, and gasoline and tire residue on your chain, chain rings, derailleurs, cables, the underside of your headset and other moving parts.
I was riding on a trail in Florida one sunny day on a bike without fenders. The trail surface was asphalt, but in Florida, there’s a lot of loose sand on top of the ground, and some of it drifts onto the pavement. Toward the end of the ride, a rainstorm hit suddenly, and I had to keep riding for about 10 minutes to get to my car. The next day, before cleaning the bike, I took it for a spin around the block and discovered that I could hardly shift gears. There was sand everywhere on the lower portion of the bike, but the immediate problem was that the shift-cable guides on the underside of the bottom bracket were packed with it, where the spray from my front wheel had thrown it. The bike required a full bath plus some work on the guides with a pick to remove the impacted grit.
Some riders who live in places where it rains frequently — like Seattle or the UK — set up one of their bikes with fenders so they can still train on wet days without damaging their better bike. But fenders don’t add much weight, so unless you are racing or going for top performance, you could put fenders on your primary bike. If you are going to do that, however, go for full-length fenders with mudflaps on the ends rather than the short ones with no flaps. Those shorties help a bit with keeping the skunk stripe off your back and some spray off your face, but they don’t stop your bike from showering your fellow riders and the don’t protect the bike’s moving parts.
If you don’t want fenders on your bike all the time, there are temporary ones that can be installed using clips or Velcro and then quickly removed when not wanted. Many of these are shorties but there are some full-length.
Permanent full-length fenders are available in both plastic and aluminum. While the plastic is lighter, fenders made from it may require more steel stays than the aluminum ones do to keep them place, rendering the weight difference in the two materials inconsequential.
Before purchasing any fenders, be sure to read the specs, as some only cover smaller-width tires.
If you have an older road bike, you may find there’s not enough clearance to fit fenders through the fork and chain stays, but most current bikes should be able to accommodate them.
Two full-length fenders worth your consideration are the SKS P45 Chromoplastic Longboard Fender Set from REI (a one-size-fits-most set, so some adaptation may be necessary during installation) and any of those from ReneHERSE (these are sized to match your tire width and diameter, so I have not listed a specific set). The ReneHERSE are pricier than those from REI.
Here are two good places for more information:
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.