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.
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.