24 October, 2008

Choosing Fenders

With today's cold rain at VO world headquarters it's time to recycle some posts about fenders. This one is about choosing fenders. The next one will be about installing them. Yes, I've written about this before, but we still get more e-mails about choosing and installing fenders than any other topic.

Fender Basics

Riding with fenders can be transformational. You'll find your bike far more useful. You won't get a wet streak up your back every time you ride through a puddle. You're feet will no longer be soaking wet just because the road is damp. And you'll stay dryer in anything but heavy rain. Your clothes will be cleaner. It's not surprising that most non-racing bikes in Europe and Asia have fenders.

We stock two brands of fenders, Honjo and Velo Orange, in 15 models. All our fender models are metal, 14 are aluminum and one is 1 stainless steel. They come in sizes for 26", 650b, and 700c/27" wheels.

Most experienced cyclists prefer metal fenders because they provide better weather protection than plastic and are very durable. They also look much nicer than plastic. In fact a nice pair of fenders can make even an ordinary bike look rather elegant.

One of the reasons that plastic fenders don't work well is that they are too short. The front fender, must come down close to the ground to keep spray off. All the fenders we sell are made to our specifications, even the Honjos, to ensure that they offer adequate coverage.

Measuring for Fenders

The basic rule in fender fitting is that the fender should be at least 8mm wider than the tire; 10-12 mm is better. So a 35mm fender will fit up to a 25-26mm tire; a 43mm will cover a 32-35mm; 45 covers 38mm, etc. The reason for this clearance is that otherwise little pebbles, sticks, and other debris that are thrown up by your tire will get lodged between the fender and tire. Of course many tires are smaller than their advertised size, so it's wise to actually measure the inflated tire.

A fender's width is measured on the outside, not inside. So to determine if a fender will fit you'll check clearance at the brakes, in the fork crown, and in between the seat stays.

To check the brakes apply them, so the pads touch the rims. Now measure the width between the arms. Also check that you have at least 9-10mm vertically from the tire to the brake. Short reach caliper brakes typically can accommodate 35-37mm fenders. Long reach brakes can usually fit 43-45mm fenders. XL reach brakes like Tektro R556 can fit 50-52mm fenders.

Next check the width and height of the fork crown. Finally check that the seat stays are far enough apart and that the brake bridge is at least 10mm above the tire. You may have noticed that I've not mentioned the chain stays. Those are easy because you can always trim the bottom of the fender to clear.

Of course metal fenders are flexible and can be bent, so if the fit is close you can always squeeze the fender in a few millimeters at the offending spot.

It's important to also get fenders of the proper radius. 27" and 700c wheels are close enough to use the same fenders. 650b and 26" fenders are close and some folks do use one size on the other, but fender line is not going to be perfect.

Fender line refers to the fender following the radius of the tire. In other words, the gap between the fender and the tire should be constant along the whole length of the fender. It's one of those things that may not matter much in practice, but it effects the bikes appearance a lot.

As for fender length, that's easy: get the longest fenders possible. Long fenders keep you a lot drier. And if you live in the Northwest, get a mudflap for the front fender too. If you ride brevets or in pacelines, your fellow riders will appreciate a rear flap as well.


Unknown said...

I live in Seattle. We get some mist now and then this time of year, but fenders are rare in this town. Racers, who should know better but generally too cool for school, avoid fenders. Everyone thinks he is doing the Paris Roubaix all winter.

Fenders are awesome.

akahn said...

What would you suggest for a road bike with a 24" front wheel?

nordic_68 said...

Would you mind clarifying if all your fender options include the mounting hardware? It's not clear from the item descriptions...

Tom said...

All fenders include the appropriate mounting hardware, which include: stays, eyebolts, L brackets (or in the case of Honjo, a front Daruma) R- clips and bolts.

The hardware and stays are included in the price of the fenders, and are available separately as a service item.

dori said...

Because these fenders are so wonderfully long, you might want to order an extra mount for the front of the front fender, unless you have a rack to which the fender also mounts.

P.S. I used 5mm nylon spacers when I mounted your constructeur racks; this way if I chose fatter tires, I'd have flexibility in remounting the fenders to allow more space.


RMHampel said...

How durable are these aluminum fenders? The reason I ask is that I've heard and read some pretty scary stories (yes, I know, there are scary internet stories about nearly everything) about Honjos crumpling up leading to a very rapid and sometimes catastrophic stop.


I've also heard that Honjos (and other aluminum fenders) tend to crack at attachment points more easily than stainless fenders. After all, aluminum doesn't like to be bent back and forth much (think pop can).


Steve said...

ron asks how durable are aluminum fenders?

I've got Honjos on my Kogswell P/R which I put on Nov. 2006. The bike was my daily commuter until this June, when I retired and converted it to a touring configuration. I've got around 5,500 miles on the bike now and the fenders are fine.

Some keys to longevity include leather washers (VO has them) and care during installtion to avoid putting stress on the fenders by trying to pull them into line with the stays. That works with plastic, but doesn't work with aluminum.

And Jimmy's right, fenders are awesome.

Dad said...

I agree with dorina that absent a rack, the front is in dire need of support. Do they make/do you stock those elegantly bent front fender stays like the ones on the Hammond fixed gear?

Anonymous said...

@david_nj: i think mr hammond bent his own front stays, meaning p'raps they're not available.

chris, mudguards ARE fantastic/necessary/visually very important, are on basically ALL bikes in europe other than road racing & mountain bikes, & are so much part of the bike that it's crazy not to have them. and metal mudguards do indeed look very good.

but here, i beg to differ with you:

"Most experienced cyclists prefer metal fenders because they provide better weather protection than plastic and are very durable."

This is a very amero- or nippon-centric comment. 99% of all fenders used by experienced cyclists in europe are the plastic SKS, formerly Bluemels. Why? because after decades of metal mudguards, experienced cyclists and all others on down realized how much MORE durable the metal/plastic mix of an SKS fender is. i would argue that you can basically forget aluminum fenders for a serious commuting/touring/daily use bike: they crack, dent, bend and you can buy a new pair in a few years. SKS fenders will last you up to 20 years if you treat them with a modicum of care: i have a few that are 15 years old and still going strong.

length? too short? only an issue for people riding with you: SKS makes long ones, and spoilers for the ends (their website doesn't show the entire range, unfortunately, and many manufacturers specify custom lengths/spoilers: it's easy to change the specs on a mudguard!).

what's the biggest drawback to SKS? you can have any color as long as it's silver or black. they CAN be made in ANY color, of course (molded in, not painted!) but only a very few manufacturers have taken advantage of this flexibility, notably Velotraum from Stuttgart, offering a grey model to match one of their frame colors (and it's a perfect match).

so: why do so few larger manufacturers use SKS fenders in molded color that matches the frame, instead of painted metal mudguards that are guaranteed to chip, crack and make your vanilla, civia, or any other bike look old before its time? in the US, it may be the general aversion to mudguards, or the inability or lack of desire to order the amount SKS requires for a custom color. or maybe nobody knows this.

have a bit of courage, VO and other manufacturers!

for this reason (lack of color choice) mudguards are, for me, the missing link in the otherwise relatively complete component choice offered today.


Anonymous said...

wow that was long! apologies. i guess i feel strongly about the lack of choice in this area.

Gunnar Berg said...

I measure my fenders differently than Chris - a little ass backwards. I measure the fork/frame and brake clearance, then buy the largest fender that will fit. After the fenders are mounted, I try various tires and generally use the largest tire I can fit in.

Anonymous said...


True story of metal fenders in Sweden (Europe) it is impossibile to find metalfenders in the LBS. Maybe one or two LBS carry metalfenders. I had waiting for 7 years to buy Honjo fenders for my Rivendell/Heron bikes. It was when VO carry them and made it possibile for me buy them. They are expensive, shipping cost, vat fee (25 % on the price + shipping, import duty fee). And my following cycle friends newer heard of Honjo, or Gilles Berthoud.

If you go to LBS only fenders they are selling is SKS, ZEFAL, because it is only it is importing to sweden.

On new standard 3/7/8 speed bikes in sweden always have metal fenders.


Gunnar Berg said...

You don't have to be in Sweden to be alone with your touring bikes and fenders. Most "serious" cyclists here in the USA are clueless, too. Most are wannabes who seem to be in hard training for the TdF. Of course I was too, in another time and age.

Anonymous said...

Wait! Wait! I am confused. If I want to let others know I am 'Euro,' do I use metal fenders, or plastic? Because I definetly want to look like I just rode away from a Parisian Bistro, and that means I want metal fenders, right? But now people are saying Europeans have discovered plastic?
At least I am safe in my love of Japan, and the knowledge that all Japanese people value finely crafted wood and pottery products, and have not been seduced by shiny trinkets and electronic gadgets.

Andrew F said...

Alex, I've tried SKS fenders (we actually call them mudguards here in Australia, and since it never rains they are really a bit of a wank, albeit a classy wank). They cracked after a few months. I've got Honjos on several bikes, and though there is the odd ding, they are holding up fine many thousands of km later.

The Europeans have lost all style points these days. The bikes for sale in places like Germany and quite functional, but bloody ugly.

Anonymous said...

I have had SKS mudguards/fenders on a couple of bikes and currently have a very thick, tough Zefal set on my city bike, and a Planet Bike set on my recumbent. I have found plastic fenders to be very functional and tough. The only time I broke one was when a twig got caught in my front SKS (it was the old style without the quick release clips). The second time something jammed up in there, my SKS folded up, but I was able to straighten it out and kept it on my bike. Try that with an aluminum fender!

Gunnar Berg said...

I've run aluminum fenders for years and never had one "fold up".

Anonymous said...

I'm worried about the prospect of pre-drilled fenders. Not everyone mounts their front fender in the same place. For instance, someone who doesn't use a mudflap may position the fender farther back than someone who does. Someone who uses the bus or may use a bus rack in an emergency may set up their bike accordingly.

Would it be possible to have the underside of the fender marked somehow to reduce the amount of thinking some people have to do? If every fender had a line running down the middle of the underside it would help. One of the reasons why zeppelin or hammered fenders are easier to install.

Is 55mm the new wide size? Does that mean that future 650Bs will be 55mm wide? Do you plan in trying to get a true Zeppelin profile on the 650B fenders next time around? My only problem with the current design is that someone who uses two draw bolts on each fender will have to mount the bolts in the lower sections, bringing the nuts closer to the tires. This may be an issue given the likelihood that these fenders will be used with the hetre.


nordic_68 said...

I love my Honjo 43mm smooth fluted fenders that I got from VO last year. They are stylish and look great on top of 28mm Roly Poly tires.

There's nothing functionlly wrong with the plastic fenders, but the metal ones appealed to my passions...

Anonymous said...

My new Alex Singer arrived last summer with long, elegant aluminum mudguards. I was disappointed only in that the bike wouldn't fit on a fork-mount roof rack because the long front mudguard hit the roof before the fork was engaged. I suppose I'll pop for the upright rack, but someone should build a taller fork mount.

Unknown said...

I've used both metal (Honjo and Berthoud) and plastic/metal (SKS) fenders for years, and have excellent luck with both. Metal look better, but SKS's will survive just about anything -- one set I have is going on 15 years of service now, if not more, and has been on three different bikes. On the fender length issue, I always go with a big mudflap up front (black ones from Headlands are nice); solves it right there.

And yes, fenders are transformational. Would never have a bike without them.


Anonymous said...

I use both metal and plastic fenders--have Honjos on one of my wife's bikes, V-O on the other; V-O and Planet Bike on mine. I'd guess that the Planet Bike fenders are the toughest of the bunch. They are made of polycarbonate--and I used to have a polycarbonate motorcycle helmet that saved my life when I was nineteen. It's tough stuff, though unfortunately made of oil. Reviewed them here:


The metal fenders are much better looking, and I do like a bit of extra length over the front tire, but I've ridden thousands of miles in rain with the plastics on two bikes now (same set, in fact), and my biggest regret (except for their plain-jane aesthetic) is that they're too short in back. (Or rather, that the P-B mudflap is a joke, and that I'm an idiot for not replacing it with a better one, which would take perhaps twenty minutes.)

Plastic or metal, fenders are necessary. I live in LA, where it rains for only two months out of the year, but where water from the lawn zealots courses down the streets 24/7. I ride in normal-looking clothes and don't consider mudstreaks part of my sartorial kit.

Anonymous said...

i used SKS fenders (P35) before i switched to a VO 45mm model (to fit my winter tyres). The VO fender is superior. My SKS fender suffered from terrible vibration up front, mostly because the stays are heavy steel but the fender is light-weight plastic; the SKS fender covered well, but if i took one hand off the bar (common while signaling), the fender would bounce off the tyre repeatedly. The VO fender stays are much more secure.

also, the VO fenders work much better in terms of mounting on the eyelets---the p-clips are a better design than the bulky loop-stays of the SKS variety fenders. this makes a big difference when also running a rack---and in my case when running a rack with a bike that uses disc-brakes (the SKS loop-stays take up more circular space than the flush-mounted p-clips).

oh, *and* the VO fenders look great!

no, i think the reason people use SKS-type fenders is that they've either never used or forgotten how great VO-type fenders are.

Unknown said...

Toe strike. Think about it when mounting VO fenders.

Mind, they are gorgeous!

Problem is the front strut. Because the front fenders are so long, the strut wants to be right where the toes rotate. Problem as well is the design of the strut--because it wraps around and has the 5mm washer plus strut and nut inside the fender--the design, though beautiful, wildly increases the toe strike compared to ugly modern fenders.

I just saw this on a set mounted on a 56mm LHT, which was oversized for a rider with moderate size feet.

A shame, but something to think about if VO wants to design fenders that will work with mnodern bikes.

Anonymous said...

is there a rule to determine the right gap between tire and fender?

In other words, how can I recognize if a specific fender is ok for 28'', 26'' etc..?


VeloOrange said...

@ Anon 10/5/16 - The various fender models are listed as designed for 700C or 650B or 26", so determine what size tire you have- 700 x 35 and then on the fender page narrow the field to 700C fenders. You want a 10 mm difference between tire and fender size, so take the tire width (35 in this case) and find fenders that are 45 mm or wider. Choose the model you like and then measure your frame, as per the post, to make sure they fit inside the frame.