Gear: Bicycle Fenders
Soon after I discovered that I could sleep later and save money by biking to my office job in downtown Boston instead of riding the infamous T, I started to realize the limitations of my nearly abandoned old mountain bike. It only took a day or two of riding in wet weather to realize that there was no way I was going to get to work in presentable condition without some fenders. I stopped in at a local bike shop, bought some fenders, mounted them on my bike and came to deeply appreciate the profound utility of two curved pieces of plastic and some metal stays. Fenders are without a doubt the single-most important piece of equipment you can own that does not come standard on most contemporary bicycles. Fenders make life easy on a bike, and yet, most bicycles are fender-less.
Think about it this way: rain is, generally speaking, clean water falling from the sky. It's no fun to get wet, but a bit of rain won't bother you that much. Rain that's fallen on the ground is a different story. Once it hits the ground it gets mixed up with all sorts of nasty grit, dust, and grime. Your swiftly rolling bicycle tires become an excellent means of conveying this muddy mixture back up. At you, at your bike, and at anyone riding behind you.
It's the stuff coming back up that you really need to worry about. To avoid this you either need to be dressed from head to toe in rain gear, willing to get dirty, or not ride your bike. That is unless you have a good set of fenders. I'm not sure that fenders were ever in fashion, but there is a reason they were standard equipment on most of the old English three-speeds that countless British factory workers used for daily transportation in the post-war years before cars became widely affordable. These folks needed to get to work dry and clean for a day's work.
Your bike itself will also be better off with fenders. All the rain and grit the fenders catch will be nasty stuff that does not end up all over your frame and various components. It is precisely this sort of gunk that you want to keep off your bike. Grit, road salt, and solvents are the enemy of your bike's health.
Fenders come in a variety of styles and materials from basic plastic models to slick metal ones to deluxe wooden varieties. The size of your wheels will be the main consideration along with the various mounting possibilities. Most manufactures make models for the widely used 700c and 26" wheel sizes. Additionally there are different widths depending your particular tire size. There are many options out there to choose from. You can purchase a reasonable set for under $50. Another thing to keep in mind is the overall coverage of the fenders. The longer the better. A short fender will allow spray from your front wheel to come up and douse the whole area around the bottom bracket and your feet. Its no good if your body is dry but your feet are wet, so get long fenders. Along the same lines, fenders are quite helpful when you are riding either in front of or behind a friend in the rain. The rear tire of the bike in front will provide a constant spray all over the following rider unless the fenders have adequate reach over the tire.
In both the cases just mentioned, to really minimize the spray problems, you'll want mudflaps affixed to your fenders if they don't already come with them. Mudflaps are flexible extensions of plastic, rubber, or leather that attach to the end of the fenders that deflect the low stuff. Often you will see mudflaps that extend nearly to the ground to catch as much spray as possible. Mudflaps are particularly helpful in keeping spray off those riding near you -- your friends and fellow bike commuters will appreciate it.
When thinking about appropriate fenders you'll have to consider your mounting options. Not all bikes can easily accommodate fenders, particularly ones specifically designed as race bikes, and that can be a bummer. The challenges tend to arise around having enough clearance over the tire and below the brake/fork area for the tire to pass through, and attachment eyelets for the metal stays. You may find that space between the bottom of your fork and the tire is just too small to allow fenders. There are some creative ways around this, but it can be a bit of a challenge. Something to keep in mind when thinking about your next bike!
Lots of older frames and most touring bikes come with rack/fender attachment eyelets to make mounting fenders easy. If your bike does not have these you'll need to purchase little clamps that go around your fork and seat stays.
Lastly, bikes with suspension can complicate things a little bit more, but there are options here as well. If you have any problems figuring this stuff out, find a bike shop that is interested in helping you solve these details. There are some creative ways to make fenders work on a bike, even if it was never designed for the purpose. b
Dave Cain lives and works and bikes in Waitsfield, Vermont. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org