I’ve been an occasional bike commuter for a little over three years. My commuter bike is a 2001 Giant OCR-1, a road bike with an aluminum frame and a carbon fork. Back in the big 1980s, I spent my teen years delivering newspapers, and went through a seemingly-endless string of cheap 10-speed beater bikes. I rode the bikes year-round in all kinds of weather conditions. Every one of them had fenders – the big, heavy, metal kind that start to rust after a couple days in the elements. The fenders may not have been stylish, but they did their job, keeping mud and grime off the bike and its rider. Of course, back then I didn’t appreciate them.
Flash forward to the 1990s. At some point, bike manufacturers stopped putting fenders on bikes. I bought a mountain bike in 1994 – no fenders. Ditto for my road bike, bought in 2002. Nowadays, most bikes in the U.S. are sold for recreation. Road bikes, in particular, now seem to be mostly geared towards racing and weekend club rides. And indeed, when I bought my bikes in the 90s and 00s, I first used them for recreation. I took the mountain bike out on trails, and used the road bike for weekend club rides. I only rode the bikes in good weather, so I never missed the fenders from my old bikes. Somewhere along the way, I forgot about the more utilitarian uses for bikes – commuting, errand-running, etc. I had a college degree and a desk job, and no longer needed a bike for work, or so I thought.
Flash forward another few years. With young kids, I no longer had as much time for leisure riding. I wasn’t in quite the shape I was a few years before. I wanted to find a way to do some more riding, so I decided to try riding my bike to work. Gas prices were high at the time, so I figured I could save some money on gas and improve my fitness at the same time. My ride to work is only about 8 miles, which is long enough to get a decent workout, yet short enough that it doesn’t take too long (with small children and a busy family life, time is at a premium). I tried commuting by bike a few times and discovered that I enjoyed it, so I kept it up for 3 years. At first I rode only in the summer, and then only when it was sunny and dry out. It wasn’t until 2008 that I took the plunge into all-season bike commuting, and it wasn’t until then that I missed fenders. Summers here on the east coast tend to be pretty dry, with occasional thunderstorms providing most of the precipitation. That all changes in the Fall, when we have lots of damp, misty, drizzly weather. After my first couple of wet rides, my fender-less bike (and most of its cargo) was completely covered in mud and other junk that splashed up from the road. Not only was this bad for the bike (bottom brackets don’t like road grit), I had to spend an hour or so after each ride hosing the bike down, wiping off the grime, and re-lubing everything. It was a major hassle, and I quickly reached the conclusion that cold-season commuting wasn’t going to happen regularly if I couldn’t come up with a better alternative. That’s when I remembered fenders. If I could somehow retrofit fenders onto my bike, they should solve most of my problems.
My next post will describe the process I went through to research, choose, and mount a set of fenders on my road bike. It was a tricky and occasionally frustrating exercise, but the end result was well worth the effort.