I have just returned from Girona Spain, where although better than here in Toronto the weather wasn’t as good as I had hoped. The first week I managed to get a few rides in. The weather was cool but definitely pretty good for riding.
The second week it rained steadily every day. I wasn’t keen enough to go out but son Michael, a pro with Team Columbia, had a training schedule to follow so he was out everyday for four to five hours, often in the mountains. Normally in such circumstances he would fit clip on fenders to his training bike, which is essentially the same as his race bike. The clip-on fenders help to keep some of the water off but don’t really do a good job.
This year he had a bike that he could fit full fenders to. He acquired a team bike that had been built by Giant for George Hincapie to ride in Paris-Roubaix should the course be really muddy. Last year the course was dry so the bike was unused. It is built with much more wheel clearance than the standard race bike and has cantilever brakes, in fact it is much like a cyclo-cross bike. There is good clearance to fit full mudguards and 28mm tires.
This set-up made all the difference. It kept Michael much drier and warmer than his training companion David Miller. David was so impressed he intends to get a similar bike for his winter training.
All this got me thinking. Why don’t all bikes have fender clearances? Until the late seventies all bikes did. Just take a look at the photos of the pros' race bikes of that time, all have clearance for fenders and have fender eyelets incorporated into the drop-outs. In the winter they just fitted fenders. Towards the end of the seventies clearances got much tighter and the eyelets disappeared. It became just about impossible to fit fenders to any road bike other than those specifically intended for touring. This doesn’t make any sense. The reason given for the closer clearances was that the shorter chainstays and fork blades made the bikes more responsive. Baloney. Even if this were the case it need apply only to pure race bikes not to the other 95% of road bikes sold. For the last thirty odd years it has been almost impossible to by a road bike, unless it is a tourer or is custom built, onto which one can fit fenders. That just doesn’t make any sense. And what is the problem with having eyelets incorporated into the drop-outs? Even if they are not being used they are certainly not doing any harm. They are handy for fitting fenders and racks and make the bike more versatile.
Because clearances got smaller brake stirrups were made shorter and the manufacture of deeper brakes was discontinued. So even if you could find a frame with larger clearances it was impossible to find brakes to fit. In the last three or four years deeper brakes have been introduced again, mainly I think, because of the demand from the custom builders. Let us hope that road bikes go back to a more sensible design. We don’t all live in sunny California and some of us do like to ride in other than perfect weather.