It's December and the Pacific North West is as damp as that wet patch between your back and your backpack. In the northeast fresh snowfall will soon give way to fresh snowmelt, filling the road with unavoidable creeks.
We need to prepare our bikes for the onset of these rugged conditions. But which of the many fender technologies should we turn to?
Let's break it down...
Fancy Shmancy Fenders
- Price: $35 minimum. Many options $100 and up
- Pros: Sturdiest, sexiest, most coverage
- Cons: most expensive, most difficult to install
- Installation Time: 1-3 hours depending on fender style and your level of experience
- Installation Skill: I usually hand this one off to a local bike shop...
- Compatibility Issues: Cantilever brakes may need adjustments. May need additional hardware for disc brakes. Tight tolerances for tires. Most versions require eyelets near the rear axel and fork dropouts (though there are work-arounds). Can create or exaggerate toe conflicts on bikes with a shorter wheelbase (ex. road bikes).
These bad boys are most certainly the high profile fender superstars out there. With good reason too. They're the most reliable solution available.
They can also be hard as fuck to install. Most North American Transportation Bikers (myself included) get this style of fenders installed at a local bike shop. You can do it yourself, but expect to do some bending and shaping at minimum. You may also find yourself needing additional hardware like disc brake standoffs or bolt on eyelets.
If you're willing to drop the cash on a setup like this, go for it.
- Price (set): $20-$45 (front and rear sold separately)
- Pros: Super compatible, super easy to install
- Cons: Sub-optimal coverage, rear fender is easily knocked out of alignment, looks dorky, easily stolen
- Installation Time: 10 minutes or less
- Installation Skill: pretty much anybody can do it
- Compatibility Issues: Down-tube shifters could interfere with front fender. If you ride with your seat as low as it can go you may have to raise it an inch to accommodate the rear fender. May block your tail light.
Strap on fenders are a very popular aftermarket mod. This is most likely because they have very few compatibility issues and pretty much anybody can do the installation with no prior experience.
In my experience, this fender solution is better than nothing, but coverage is lacking. The rear fender is designed to prevent water from spraying on your back, but allows any water that bounces off your seat tube to soak your pants and shoes. The front fender is fixed to your frame so sharp turns can result in some leg-wetting.
If you want something that you can take off when it's not going to rain then this type of fender is a great option.
- Price: $15-$25
- Pros: Inexpensive, minimalist look, light weight, inexpensive for a set
- Cons: Lots of compatibility issues, some coverage sacrifices
- Installation Time: 15 minutes with disc or cantilever brakes. 30-60 minutes with direct pull brakes (most common). 1 hour or more if you need to make modifications.
- Installation Skill: Simple bolt on installation with disc or cantilever brakes. Feeling comfortable taking the brake calipers off your bike will be necessary when installing on a bike with direct pull brakes.
- Compatibility Issues: Included bolt may not work for your frame or fork. Narrow spacing between rear wheel and seat tube may interfere with rear fender. Non-standard seat tube diameter can be too narrow. Can create or exaggerate toe conflicts on bikes with a shorter wheelbase (ex. road bikes). Others I'm not aware of...
These are the fenders I roll with. I love their minimalist look, light weight and low cost.
However, a plethora of compatibility issues give this style of fender a shaky rating on Amazon. You might want to give them a try and say "screw it" if they aren't going to go on easy peasy. From my own experience, I had to do some modification to install them on Buns. For the iTroll, they went on in less than 10 minutes.
If you're willing to take a gamble, drop $20 on a set and see if they work. Worst case scenario you can return or modify them.
- Price: $5-$20 (rear only)
- Pros: Inexpensive, light weight, portable, easy to install
- Cons: Minimal coverage, easily knocked out of alignment, only rear fender (usually)
- Installation Time: Under a minute
- Installation Skill: None necessary
- Compatibility Issues: Most of these designs are optimized for road and urban fixie style bikes. For versions that install in the frame (rather than under the seat), fatter tires will reduce compatibility. Frame mounted varieties will not work with wishbone seat stays. Seat-mounted versions may not work on seats with springs.
This style of fender is very light weight and compact. This allows you to keep in them your backpack at all times.
They're also fast and easy to install. If the downpour catches you off guard you can easily pull over and fender up in a minute or less.
Buy this if you don't want fenders on your bike, but still need some rain defense. Just in case.
Fenders will make your bike more fun to ride in the rain. Just be prepared to try a couple different types of fender until you find a solution that meets your needs and fits your bike.