Arguably, fenders are one of the essential accessories for the touring bicycle. Even in Death Valley, one of the driest places in the world, it does rain. And I say arguably, because, as you can see on this Adventure Cycling forum, people argue. When riding offroad in wet conditions, mud packing between the tires and fenders can bring the bike to a standstill pretty quickly. Aside from that, when it does rain or there is water on the road, without fenders you will be soaked in short order with spray from the front wheel on your feet and spray from the rear wheel on the back of the legs. Besides being uncomfortable, on a cool day it could add to the possibility of becoming hypothermic.
There are several versions of plastic, clip on fenders available which provide partial coverage of the wheels. These are slightly better than no fenders and can work on bikes without the proper clearance for fenders and/or without eyelets.
The Bike Hermit’s personal preferences in fenders run to metal versions made from aluminum, stainless steel or even brass, from makers such as Honjo, Gilles Berthoud. Some people have expressed concerns about these fenders being noisy and rattling, but in my experience these are very solid and rattle free as long as the hardware is kept tight. And they look better than plastic fenders…..and style points count. Generally these fenders are longer too, providing more coverage, especially on the trailing side of the front wheel. They take a little (actually sometimes significantly) more time and mechanical ability to install.
It is necessary to drill holes in the Tanaka and Honjo fenders in order to attach the stays and other hardware, so there is quite a bit of dry fitting, and marking, measuring and re-fitting involved with getting these fenders right.
Gilles Berthoud fenders are a little less time intensive to install since they come pre-drilled for the attachment hardware. Although these stainless steel fenders are slightly heavier than aluminum ones, they really maintain their finish and continue to look good for years.
Once installed, these fenders can give the bike a classic appearance, and they are virtually maintenance free.
Whatever type of fender you decide to use, you want to make sure they will fit on your bike. There are three areas to be considered:
1) The clearances, or the distance between, the top of the fork blades (inside), and the clearances between the chain stays and the seat stays, at the locations where the fenders will pass through. You can either measure these for your bike or hold the fenders in position to see if they will fit. Either way, do it with the wheels on with tires mounted because you want to make sure the fenders will clear the tires too.
2) The width of the tire you are using. The width of the fenders should be at least 10 mm wider than the widest tire you think you will use.
3) The clearance between the brake calipers. With cantilever or v-brakes, or with disc brakes this obviously won’t be an issue. But with sidepull or centerpull brakes you want to make sure the brakes are wide enough for the fenders to pass through, and brake caliper arms will contract when the brakes are applied, leaving even less room. Sometimes the bottom of the front brake calipers will interfere with getting the fender high enough to clear the tire. In this case you might need to get a brake caliper with a wider mouth or longer reach or both.
If you don’t want to mess with installing your own fenders, find a local bike shop who can do it. And pay them for their time.