Fenders: the Good, the Bad, and the Totally Awesome


We(s)t Coast Realities

Let's have a bit of a Public Service Announcement about fenders and mud flaps, shall we? 


We have to face a few truths when thinking about training for the Ride2Survive. One of them is that you're going to have to get used to spending a lot of time in the saddle. Another is that you're going to have to get comfortable with eating and drinking while riding your bike. Yet another is that you're going to need to learn to ride safely, efficiently, and confidently in a large group of riders who are all close proximity to each other. And, of course, it's pretty much guaranteed that you're going to be spending a fair chunk of that time in the rain.


Enter fenders and mud flaps. They are part of the social contract for road cyclists who train together in the winter.



Fenders are things that attach to the frame of your bike and cover your wheels to keep the water from your tires under control. They look something like this:

sks raceblade fenders

(Here's a tip for fenders: the skinny ones sold as "road bike" fenders are narrow, sleek, and are more fiddly with respect to rubbing against your tires. Get the wider ones often sold as "hybrid bike" fenders--because they are wider they rub less, plus they are stiffer and provide better spray coverage. Yes, they create a bit more wind drag, but so what?)


Many bikes have threaded eyelets on the frame and fork for bolts to attach fenders to the bike. If you have eyelets on your bike, fenders will just bolt right on (be sure to place a washer between the fender stays and the bolt head when installing). If you don't have eyelets (none of my bikes do), just use zap straps (zip ties); they work just fine.


I suggest putting a couple of wraps of electrical tape around the bike anywhere the fender, stays, or zap straps will touch just to save your bike's finish. 


Mud flaps

Mud flaps are add-ons for the trailing ends of the fenders. Here's the deal with mud flaps:


1) The little dinky ones that come with fenders from the store are universally useless for group riding. You must add more to make an effective mud flap.


2) A mud flap on the front wheel is for you. It keeps your front tire from soaking your feet within two minutes of riding in the rain--a good long front mud flap will significantly reduce the amount of water drilled at your feet by your own bike. You might be able to ride 10 or even 15 minutes before your bootied feet get soaked! It's actually not completely futile, as the level of soaking will be reduced, which is nice. Seriously, it makes a difference.


3) Muds flaps on the rear wheel are for the rider behind you. A good mud flap will reduce road spray for the following rider to zero. Riding behind someone with a bad mud flap is like being inside a washing machine set on reverse. That's just nasty, and not in a good way.


The Bad

Here are a couple of photos of bad mud flaps. They offer only marginal improvement over no fender or mud flap at all; the poor person behind these bikes will spend their time getting drenched. It doesn't matter how cute you are, if you ride in the rain with mud flaps like these you won't get an invite for coffee afterwards.


See how the rear tire is still free to fire filth at the hapless rider behind?





What you need

You need to add a mud flap to extend the wheel coverage down much farther than the stock fender provides. How much farther? A lot. A whole lot. Far enough down that someone standing a few feet behind your bike cannot see your rear tire. Why? Because if they can see your tire, that means that your tire can (and will) fire water, mud, and poop from a wet rural road directly into the face of the rider behind you. And we don't want that. Ewww.


Essentially, you can make a mud flap out of anything that's plastic-y, reasonably stiff, and doesn't weigh five pounds soaking wet. You don't want the front flap to be so flimsy that the wind pushes it back to flap around and hit your feet or otherwise bug you (all the while lifting up and out of the way to it doesn't do its job). The rear flap has to stay in place enough that it stays centred over the tire to maintain coverage and also can't swing forward to rub the rear tire (because you don't want it to get sucked up into the wheel, fold your fender up like an accordion, and completely lock up your rear wheel at speed--not that I'd know anything about that). Stuff you can use for a mud flap includes:


  • Old water bottles cut in half and strung together
  • Laundry soap containers (the plastic ones, not the cardboard ones, duh)
  • Your archnemesis coworker's recycling bin (when he or she isn't looking)
  • A plastic "FIRE ESCAPE" sign
  • If you really want to buy something, modify one of those Deflector Shield things.

Attach your nifty mud flap securely to your fender with zap straps (zip ties), or nuts and bolts, or my fastener of choice for mud flappery, 3/16" aluminium pop rivets.


And guess what? It's true: size matters. (But everybody already really knew that, right?) So don't sell yourself short: go big. You'll be far more popular that way. Put some thought to how long you can go, and how you'll secure your new massiveness to keep it from swinging around too much. The wind can make a large mud flap oscilate in the wind, exascerbated by rider motion. Lighter weight reduces the pendulum effect, but going too light can lead to flapping. Experiment. You might want to add an extra set of stays to stabilize it. Oh, the troubles of being big.


The Good

Here are some good mud flaps. See how the mud flap protects the following rider from the tire's "line of fire"? You want to put together something like these. Then you'll be popular. And caffeinated. And if you're lucky, a bit sleep-deprived.




And, of course, this mud flap is awesome.



So have some fun with your mud flappery, and let's stay dry(ish) and put in those miles together! 

UPDATE!! (On the Yellow Specialized pictured above in "The Bad")  THE FENDERS HAVE BEEN TOBINIZED!!