Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mudguards (fenders)


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.


Krys Hines said...

I second that...

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice.

You'd also think that with the fixed gear / single speed (re)surgance, manufacturers would realize that a simple drive train, room for comfortable tires and clearance for fenders creates the perfect, maintainable city bikes, let alone long distance tourers or racing bikes.

I just somebody would build a line of affordable and comfortable bikes for every day use. Maybe people just aren't interested.

philcycles said...

Even in sunny California in a drought there are places where the streets are wet and fenders mean you arrive at work unmarked.
Phil Brown

OAP said...

Agreed. I wish I could slap some fenders on my road bike to have one less excuse not to ride it... But then if you can have many bikes it's fun to have one dedicated to nice days :)

Anonymous said...

At least here in the States, bike weight has become a hypercritical topic with the bike buying public. I'm not sure if it's the consumer dictating they want to ride a bike like Lance's or the bike companies pushing the race-type bikes. Many of my non-racing, riding friends have carbon race bikes, and although they love the look of my fendered steel bike, can't get over the idea of the possibility for a slight weight penalty. Albeit, I'm right along beside them on long, arduous rides. I know your son, Michael, would never race at an elite level with fenders, but your blog shows that the guys who log lots of miles in all types of weather want to ride a comfortable, logical machine whenever they can get their hands on one.

fred said...

The whole weight issue is one that defies logic. A lot of good that weight saving does if you are pounding your joints (a stiff tight frame compared to a springy one) or you are soaked up your pants and your nose from the spray off the wheel.

I honestly hadn't realized that so many of the new road bikes were so impractical! I still have trouble accepting the hoop crown forks instead of the wonderful crown arches of yesteryear.

Frankly, for foul weather, even with the inherent transmission losses, an internal hub also makes a lot of sense.

Now if one of those machines came without the ability to mount fenders, I'd be really shocked.

My main bit-ch has been the older road frames that can take fenders, but lack the eyelets. There are those problematic dished solid washer like adapters for the Campy style rear dropouts, but it is a lame sub for a genuine, low tech brazed-on eyelet!

I've enjoyed riding classics for so long now that I've forgotten how much more practical they are!

I'm not going to be able to help myself but to check every new machine I see now.


Anonymous said...

I have a Soma Double Cross (, and it's a very versatile bike indeed. Right now it sports 700x35 rubber, a rear rack with panniers and trunk, and fenders front and rear; it will also accept a front rack. Pull all those light-touring extras off, downsize the tires and you have a cyclo-cross bike suitable for competition. It's no featherweight, running about 23 pounds stripped for racing, but it's one of my favorites for the type of riding I do, a blend of pavement, pulverized granite paths and single-track. And it's inexpensive.

Anonymous said...

I am starting to regret reading Mike's Blog! Now I need a cyclecross that I can put fenders on!
Of course Mikes right, fenders are very pratical, especially for us regular cyclist,who build up milage by commuting,instead of training with DAVID MILLER !!!!!
Thanks for the great pictures, I love the center pull brakes.

krooj said...

For Toronto winters I have tried two setups with varying degrees of success. The first was a fixed gear bike, which provided very good feedback on road conditions and was easy as pie to maintain. Unfortunately, my fixed gear bike (a Cannondale Capo) has no clearance for real fenders, necessitating race blades. This winter, I'm riding a Kona Major Jake with 622-30C tyres and full SKS mudguards. It's much, much cleaner, but there's slightly less feedback from the road, so I have to be careful about how I ride over unfamiliar terrain. Additionally, its much more laborious to clean a geared drive train than a fixed/SS one.

Basically, Mr. Barry, you're right: most road bikes sold today aren't designed with an eye for practicality. There are some good exceptions to these design flaws by some bigger manufacturers, though. Marinoni apparently sells a fair number of Sportivo bikes and Kona makes a few road bikes that can accommodate fenders.

Anonymous said...

It's sort of appalling that in order to get a road-race bike with clearance for 25 mm tires and fenders that I had to have it custom built. On the other hand, it was worth every penny it cost! The fenders make it so I can ride 8 to 9 months a year here in Madison, Wisconsin, which is not noted for its great weather.

Matt Surch said...

Since bicycle fashion seems to follow the function deemed appropriate for the pro peleton (on the road front anyway), I hope some of the industry's media outlets pick up on this design parameter from yesteryear taken up by Columbia guys. Surely, there are many a pro who rides such a set-up, but these bikes are unlikely considered sexy enough to warrant a word in the press. If it isn't lighter and stiffer most seem uninterested. My riding buddy Rodd Heino (check his pics out on flickr) is a crusader for practical performance road bikes, going as far as running his Honjo hammered aluminum fenders on his custom True North on our local A loops on the Gatineau Parkway. I've got a fixed bike and a Cross Check with fenders, but wish my main road bike, a Roubaix, took them without fuss. As a bike shop moonlighter and dedicated all season rider, I look forward to the day when the big brands clue in that every road bike but the dedicated racer ought to fit fenders.

Anonymous said...

In fact, we have a renaissanced Colnago Superissimo from the early 80's with a similar setup. The original owner added the fender braze-on option, so we couldn't resist taking full advantage:

Anonymous said...

I wonder that the popular racer fetish among cyclists, and it's exploitation and encouragement, by big league brands isn't the true culprit here. There's profit in selling what one doesn't need, and still more in selling again what one does.

Among general, casual cyclists, it seems a general confusion between racing and road bikes prevails; there's a misconception that a premium road bike must be a racing bike, that is, a machine that limits tire sizes and the installation of accessories, integrates Carbon fibre (read plastic) construction, and sports a stance more appropriate for highly trained athletes than those typically astride them. What bunk!

Mr. Barry, it's amazing to me that my 15 year old Alcyon, bought from your shop, with 57mm reach calipers, eyelets and horizontal drops, boasts the versatility and can accommodate as a matter of course what contemporary models marketed under a host of often contrived banners -- hybrid, cyclocross, touring, single speed, etc. -- aim to deliver.

By emulating the fashion industry and entrenching esthetics as the overriding imperative, it's perhaps an indication that the bicycle industry has come of age,: nothing guarantees future demand more than manufacturing obsolescence.

Anonymous said...

@Luke Siragusa:

Wow! Never ever have I read a more concise description of what's wrong with the bicycle industry.

Peter said...

Mike is right on as usual. Fenders and bikes designed to be comfortable and perform well are what is really needed. The small amount of weight added for braze ons to mount racks and fenders, the weight of fenders and the weight of brakes that will accommodate bigger tires really don't impact on performance but add to the comfort factor immensely.

The vast majority of us will never race at pro levels so why not be a little more practical? It is time for the manufactures to start to build bikes we need that work for us instead of building full on race bikes that ultimately discourage people from riding more.

fixedwheelrider said...

Flipping through most of the ads in the mainstream cycling magazines, the bikes being pushed are still mainly the wannabe, carbon, racing-only bikes with their limited versatility. But there's also some choice today for the type of bike that Mike describes, and at different price points.

The high-end custom had always been there of course. A few notable examples - a Mariposa from Mike until he retired, could obviously be ordered with plenty of room for fenders. The Hampsten Brothers' Strada Bianca and their Tournesol line also comes to mind. True North's Canadian Club - and so on.

Production bikes in the mid- to almost high-range from Marinoni, Kona (as krooj mentioned above), Redline, and Masi, among commonly available brands, are now relatively easy to order.

At the bottom-end, there are the Surly's as mentioned, as well as Soma and the house-brand frames from Urbane Cyclist in Toronto. Not the prettiest or especially light, but they're well-spec'd and affordable road frames for riders with a limited budget or who ride in the city and don't want to attract thieves.

So the fendered bikes are out there. It's a matter of potential buyers being able to get past the marketing hype for the latest limited use, racing-only bikes.

Anonymous said...

I live in Portland, OR and fenders are essential. Well, maybe not essential but they extremely practical. I also ride a Rivendell(s) so clearance isn't an issue. There are some great bikes out there with clearance for fenders made by Soma, Surly and Salsa. I expect to see more. It just makes sense.

--Leaf Slayer

jim g said...

Do a 650b conversion on your fancy racebike. Problem solved!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike:

Right on the money! This has also been the topic of my favourite rant for a long time. The issue of short-reach brake calipers and insufficent tyre clearance is mentioned on my webpage on sport touring/randonneur bikes @

I own a 650b bike w/ Honjo fenders which is arguably the ultimate wet-weather bike, but not the lightest.

Searching for comfort and performance, last year I had Marinoni build me a titanium Sportivo with extra clearance for bigger tyres and mudguards. It could be considered a prototype for a sensible long-distance production frame. I had it etched "Randonnee."

I fitted it with Shimano 57mm calipers, though the rest of the gruppo is Campag who deserted the long-reach brake some time ago.

The other problem we have is with forks -- read: carbon -- that also are hard to find for long-reach brakes. In fact, last year I managed to scoop the last pair Marinoni had in stock for the "Randonnee." Again, this has become a custom option, instead of an affordable and eminently sensible stock feature.

Glad to see you still sharing your expertise.