Stuff We Like: Plastic Fenders

SKS Fender with Poppies

I love Honjo metal fenders. I’ve had them on a number of bikes over the years and the classic look they impart is extremely pleasing to my eye. I also love the look of wooden fenders. I had a set on my old “Riv-ized” Easy Racers TE and I currently have bamboo fenders on my Civia Loring. As attractive as they can be, the downside to metal and wooden fenders is that they can be fairly fragile. I had a set of wooden fenders split on me, and I’ve damaged more than one metal fender beyond repair.

Plastic fenders, while not as attractive as metal and wooden fenders, are quieter, easier to install, and much tougher. They’re a necessity for all-weather multi-modal commuters who mount their bikes in racks on buses and trains. Both types of racks can destroy metal and wooden fenders in no time if you’re not careful.

Plastic fenders, while not as attractive as metal and wooden fenders, are quieter, easier to install, and much tougher.

Among the various plastic fenders on the market, I like SKS and Planet Bike the best. I’ve used the laminated silver SKS fenders forever and they’re tough, good looking, and plenty long. The new Planet Bike Cascadia fenders are really nice as well. They use a similar laminated construction to the SKS, they come from the factory with integrated mud flaps, and the hardware is stainless steel.

One thing to consider regarding fender length and mud flaps is ease of use for loading onto vertical bike racks. Often, bike racks on trains and in public storage areas are simply hooks on a wall that require rolling the bike back onto the rear wheel, then lifting the front wheel onto the hook. Long, rigid fenders like Honjos make the procedure a little tricky because they hit the ground before the bike is fully balanced back onto the rear wheel. Of course it’s possible to simply lift the bike up onto the hook while holding the rear wheel off the ground, but this can be tough and tricky if the bike is loaded and you’re in a crowded cargo area on a train. A shorter, tougher fender with a mud flap makes the procedure much simpler.

There’s another issue my son pointed out. The bike racks on our local buses have an arm that cradles the top of the wheel to hold the bike in place. He’s found he has to place the arm on top of the fender on his Breezer to hold the bike securely. The plastic fender on the front of his bike is getting a little scuffed, but it’s essentially no worse for the wear. If I had to place one of my bikes with metal or wooden fenders on one of these racks, the fender would be destroyed in one trip.

I’m not ready to give up my beautiful metal and wooden fenders. But, on bikes that I know will receive regular punishment from loading onto trains, buses, and public bike racks, I’ll be speccing plastic fenders from here on out.

36 Responses to “Stuff We Like: Plastic Fenders”

  • RDW says:

    I have an old pair of Planet Bike ATB fenders on one of my bikes and Planet Bike Cascadias on my wifes bike. I really like the mudflaps on the Cascadias, much longer and more useful than on the older PB fenders. I could live without the PB logo embedded in the plastic but it’s really not that visible.

  • starless says:

    Hah. Earlier today, I picked up my Surly LHT frame from my local bike shop, where they’ve installed the headset and prepared the bottom bracket – and I bought a pair of SKS mudguards as well. Good to know I made a good choice!

  • jnyyz says:

    I’ve found that my stainless Gilles BERTHOUD fenders take more abuse than any plastic fender that I’ve had. Case in point: I can use them on a bus sportswork rack and rest the swingarm on the fender rather than the tire, with no harm done.

    They are noisy though, especially when running studded tires.

    http://jnyyz.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/spring-has-sprung/

  • Ben Teoh says:

    I use plastics on my commuter. They do the job, take a beating, and were cheap too. Love them!

  • OmahaBikes says:

    I’m curious about the light mounts your using for your Fenix L2D lights. Where did you locate those.

    How do you like them compared to the Paul Components Gino Light Mounts.

  • Aaron says:

    I’d be all over the Planet Bike fenders if they didn’t say “Planet Bike” in giant letters.

  • Fergie348 says:

    I have the PB Cascadia fenders on my commuter – they’ve been pretty bulletproof although the fender clamp at the chainstay mount has come loose after about a year’s riding. With the rubber flaps they really keep the water below the bottom bracket and you stay almost completely dry from road spray (except for the feet and ankles on the downstroke). They look nice too. Kinda spendy at about $45 retail but I’ve been really happy with the product.

  • Alan says:

    @jnyyz

    I’ll have to look into steel fenders. Wald makes some old school chromed-steel fenders as well.

    Alan

  • Herzog says:

    Steel fenders are the way to go.

    Steel will give you the same good looks as aluminum with way more durability than plastic.

  • JonP says:

    Wow, I must be doing something wrong, because I absolutely destroyed my last two sets of plastic fenders.

    The rear fender on my last set of SKS ones (a set of 35mm commuter fenders that cost about $25) cracked in half right at the brake bridge mount after a couple months. I zipped-tied the two arcs together and lived with them like that for a couple years.

    Before that, I had a set Zefals that ejected various stay components with only the slightest provocation.

    That’s why I asked Santa to bring me some Velo Orange stainless steel ones for my commuter. I have only been riding them for about 3 months, but I really like them. A little rattle-y, but they seem really durable to me — at least so far.

  • John Dow says:

    My problem with SKS fenders, which I’ve used for years, is that they aren’t long enough. What fenders wrap way around the front of the front wheel, and the back of the back wheel? I use a big old mud flap on the rear of the front wheel and that helps; but the rear panniers really get sprayed by the front and back of the rear wheel.

  • Alan says:

    Well, it appears I need to order up some stainless steel fenders… :-)

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @JonP

    I can’t imagine what you’re doing to those poor SKS fenders on your bike. :-) I’ve had sets last 5 years or more.

    Alan

  • Jay says:

    I’ve got the SKS Chromoplastic fenders. Sturdy and silent, and really strong. They feel basically like part of the bike frame, and not some flimsy plastic add-on.

    I don’t ride a ton, but they haven’t need adjusting since installation, despite being knocked around, bumping walls, doors and poles, and all other daily rigors of moving the bike up and down stairs and through narrow doorways in small apartments and being locked up in the city.
    I’ve always heard good things about the plastic Planet Bike ones, but I would only consider plastic/metal laminates like the SKS ones – they’re just that sturdy.

  • Rick says:

    I forget, Alan: which of the five circles of Dante’s Inferno did attaching Honjos on your bike belong to?

  • Jens says:

    IMO front fenders are rarely long enough, in either direction.
    I have been playing with the idea of making my own fiberglass fenders, has anyone tried that?

  • Alan says:

    @Jens

    That’s one of the things I like about Honjo fenders; they’re plenty long (and aren’t they purty??) After seeing this photo, I take back everything I said about plastic fenders… ;-)

  • RDW says:

    Alan, I have been thinking about trying the SKS fenders, are you using a mudflap on yours? And if so how did you attach it? I’ve given stainless steel fenders a lot of thought, they look great, but I’m afraid the noise would drive me crazy.

  • Alan says:

    @RDW

    I’m using a Brooks mudflap (see the photos of my LHT strewn throughout the blog). It’s attached with the screws that were supplied with the mudflap.

    Regarding metal fenders, they can be pretty noisy, especially if you ride off-road or on gravel.

    Alan

  • bongobike says:

    I have a set of plastic Zefals on my Koga-Miyata (see the Ecovelo gallery) that have served me well for several years. It’s a model that may have been discontinued, and that is a shame, because they are the thickest, toughest plastic fenders I have ever seen. I have folded and cracked SKS fenders, but these are impossible to fold. I got them on clearance from Bike Nashbar many years ago. The did not come with quick-release stays on the front, but I simply used the ones I had from my old set of SKS fenders. My only complaint is I wish they were a little longer, but with the little leather flap I added, they work just fine.

  • bongobike says:

    BTW, if your metal fenders are noisy, put rubber or leather grommets/washers between the fender and the parts of the frame it contacts. That should solve the problem, or at least alleviate it.

  • Don says:

    I have used plastic fenders for at least 25 years. I’ve had sets last as long as 15 years that took a beating because of year around commuting and the odd tour and I only replaced them because they looked so beat up. The present sets I have on several bikes all have at least several thousand miles on them with no structural problems among them. For functionalality, cost and ease of installation it’s hard not to like them. One way I’ve found to fancy them up a bit is to paint them with Krylon spray paint to suit your taste. It seems to be pretty durable and with a bit of care comes out looking pretty good.

  • Surly John says:

    Alan, I have been waiting for the SKS fenders to come up in the “stuff we like” catagory. I have a set on my Cross Check and they have proven very effective and sturdy in two years and 8,000 miles. I used a leather sample attached with a zip tie as a front flap and mounted the fender to the front side of the fork crown to maximize forward coverage. Some additional length in these fenders would make them better.

    I don’t admire plastic in general but I do feel that it may be the best material for bicycle fenders. If I ever do manage to damage one I won’t have to shell out big bucks to replace it.
    If I was building a bike with more emphasis on good looks I’d go with the Hojos though.
    John

  • Andrew says:

    Love my Planet Bike Cascadias. Paid <$30 for the pair at MEC two years ago, and they've been bullet-proof. I even like the simple black aesthetic…understated and attractive to my eye.

    When polycarbonate works so well, for so long, so inexpensively, I find it really hard to justify going with anything else.

  • Dan says:

    I have a set of SKS chromoplastics on my commuter, a set of planet bike freddies on my big dummy and some old cheapo planet bikes on another bike. They’ve all held up fabulously well over thousands of miles. I have seen chormoplastics split on extremely bitterly cold days, but mine have been fine through three Chicago winters, drilling for flap installations and all kinds of tinkering and swapping.

    I have mudflaps made from bits of rubber trim zip-tied to my front fenders and they’ve worked quite well while looking pretty unobtrusive. However, I’ve found that the biggest factor affecting the spray that makes it onto my feet isn’t the flap but is the geometry of the bike. All of my fenders are installed pretty close to the tire and I’ve found that the only bike that lets my feet stay almost totally try is my touring rig. It was designed for 27″ wheels and has 700’s installed so the wheel is physically quite far away from my toes. During heavy rains and puddly days, every other fendered bike I’ve commuted on ends up soaking my feet, regardless of flappage. Just a thought. Perhaps others have had a different experience.

  • clever-title says:

    Does anyone know if you can get a single replacement SKS fender? Like JonP, my rear fender cracked at the brake bridge. The front fender & the hardware is fine, so I don’t want to buy a whole new set.

  • bongobike says:

    clever,

    I don’t think SKS sells single replacements. Ask at your local bike shops. They may have some used ones lying around. Planet Bike does sell individual replacements and every part you can imagine, from struts to nuts and bolts. Another good reason to buy their fenders.

  • RI SWamp Yankee says:

    Plastic fenders can crack at the mounting hardware, and scratch and discolor easily. I have a ’78 Raleigh with stainless steel fenders. The rest of the bike was beat to heck when I got it, except the frame and the fenders. The fenders looked better than the frame.

    With that lesson learned, I put a pair of VO 60mm stainless fenders on my Electra Townie 21D . The 21D is a tough bike to fit for fenders, with the 26×2.1 tires and suspension fork they’re a tight fit to begin with, and they required some surgery to put into place: file down the top mounting bolt on the front fender so it won’t rub the tire, and drill a hole to match the mount built into the seat-stay bridge (which is at an oddball angle that doesn’t work with the included sliding fender mount).

    They look pretty sweet, and will never crack, never rust and if they dent, it’s because I’ve run into a brick wall at speed.

  • Aaron says:

    Update: I installed full-coverage hammered aluminum Honjo fenders on a Velo Orange Polyvalent this weekend. No matter how rough of a ride, there’s not a peep coming out of them. There is no audible evidence that there are metal fenders installed. How are you guys installing these that they end up making noise?

  • Alan says:

    @Aaron

    It’s not the fenders rattling per se, it’s the little pebbles, sticks, and bits of glass that get thrown up inside the fender and then bounce around that make a ruckus. The tighter the tolerances between the tire and fender, the more noise they make. It’s not a big deal, just a data point… :-)

    Alan

  • Aaron says:

    @Alan

    I see… I thought it was the mounting points rattling that drove people nuts. Just a thought- if you ran gaffer’s tape along the inside run of the fender I bet it would silence much of the “stick and pebble” noise.

  • Alan says:

    @Aaron

    I like the duct tape idea. I’ve seen somewhere that folks also spray some sort of rubber coating on the inside. The noise doesn’t actually bother me much…

    Alan

  • Jay says:

    @clever-title, re: single SKS fender replacements

    I’d call or email someone at SKS, and just ask what they can do. I have SKS fenders, and at some point when the fenders weren’t installed, I either lost or damaged some of the mounting hardware. I sent them an email, and they responded almost immediately, and just mailed me whatever parts I was missing, totally free of charge. Didn’t charge shipping, and didn’t ask any questions – they were just very polite and sent exactly what I needed.

    I may sound like a shill for SKS, but that was my experience with them, and I’m sold. I’ve also heard excellent things about Planet Bike’s customer service. Maybe good people are just drawn to the bike business?

  • AdamM says:

    SKS Chromoplastics are definitely the best fender I’ve ever used. Although I second the need for the front fender to be about 4-5 inches longer than they currently make them.

    I have used SKS fenders for about ten years without a single problem, ever. And they are so easy to fit. I recently decided to go with Berthoud fenders on my bikes, in part because I wanted one set painted to match the frame and because I’m a bit vain and the stainless fenders just look nicer. I am very happy with the Berthoud fenders, but they are definitely an investment in terms of time to get them to fit just right.

  • Eric Owsley says:

    I just received my SKS fenders. Installed them tonight and discovered that the front fender has a very noticeable twist in it. I could see it the second I pulled it out of the packaging, but I was hopeful the attaching the fender at the crown and the stays would straighten it out. Nope. It looks great behind the front fork, but the part that extends in front twists down to the right so that the right edge of the fender makes contact with the tire, while the left edge sits well above the tire. Can anyone tell me if this is fixable? Does it sound like a defect? Thanks in advance.

  • Martin Hartley says:

    On my touring bicycle (a re-built 1982 Raleigh Royal) I have a pair of stainless-steel mudguards. Being an endless tinkerer and pedantic re-cycler, they came off a 1980’s Apollo lady’s bicycle. At some stage they must have been damaged, as the rear mudguard has had the last 3″ or so hack-sawed off. This works out well for me, as I can now turn the bicycle vertical to hang up on bicycle hooks, and it is still on rubber. I’m going to get around to fitting a mud-flap one of these days…

 
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