20

Imagine someone who buys a bike for some touring in their free time. Then they may be tempted to use it for an occasional commute when the weather is nice or to go to meet some friends. But soon they realise that showing up at the office with mud streaks on their back is not a great idea and they become less keen to use the bike in everyday life.

That case is not so remote because the overwhelming majority of the bikes for sale do not have fenders. Actually it is becoming increasingly difficult to find models with fenders except those specially designed for commuters.

Why is such an important part undervalued so much?

Note: this question is an observation, not my personal case. If it was just for me I could just buy the model I like and mount them afterwards.

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  • 8
    I’ve been riding bicycles for years in all kinds of weather without fenders. When it’s wet or raining you just accept that you’ll get wet and dirty. I ride in bicycle clothes. If I have an appointment somewhere I just bring normal clothes and change. I have fresh clothes in the office. I guess fenders are really only useful after it has been raining when the road is still wet and dirty.
    – Michael
    Dec 22, 2021 at 13:09
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    @Michael You live in a very nice country. Tyres in your country do not consume leaving a greasy powder on the tarmac. Car exhausts in your country do not leave an oily pollution that partly settles on the road when it rains. Unfortunately I live in a big and busy city and I have a different experience.
    – FluidCode
    Dec 22, 2021 at 13:13
  • 4
    Because fenders are a PITA. Dec 22, 2021 at 13:34
  • 19
    I disagree with the premise of the question. The value of fenders has everything to do with the local climate and culture. In the Pacific Northwest of the United States, it’s my observation that the vast majority of commuter bikes you see downtown have full coverage fenders and the vast majority of “serious roadies” have a winter road bike with full coverage fenders. Same with the die-hard adventure/gravel riders.
    – Paul H
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:10
  • 11
    I disagree with the premise. There is nothing that supports mud guards are underrated. Even a statement "most bikes are sold without fenders" is debatable.
    – gschenk
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:17

7 Answers 7

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In e.g. the Netherlands the majority of the bikes are equipped with fenders and lighting. These bikes are used for everyday transportation. Only Road bikes and all-terrain-bikes are seen without.

If Cycling as a transport means is incorporated in the culture, than the bikes offered for sale will be more practically oriented.

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  • 3
    Exactly. Same in Germany. Most bikes sold here have fenders and lights. It even seems that German bike brands focus specifically on practicality, and you can buy high-end sports (road, gravel, randonneur) bikes that have full fenders, hub dynamos, racks, gearbox drivetrains (Pinion, Rohloff), belt drives, e.g. from the brands VSF or Falkenjagd. I have full-length carbon fenders with proper mounts on my gravel bike, they make winter riding cleaner than summer riding without them!
    – Erlkoenig
    Dec 22, 2021 at 22:33
  • The Netherlands, Belgium and the surrounding regions are a special case. There is a strong cycling culture there, People without a lot of experience who buy as a ready to use bike the most common model they see in the shop without many practical considerations are rare. Furthermore people there are not very likely to be influenced by the thousands of blogs and articles on the internet that keep saying "fenders are not cool".
    – FluidCode
    Dec 24, 2021 at 13:22
  • 1
    fenders and lighting ..... and a bagagedrager! (luggage rack? not sure of the right translation.) Dec 24, 2021 at 16:02
  • 1
    @FluidCode Well actually, in Central European cycling culture, most people know very little about bikes. They go to a shop, say "I need a bike for getting to work", and get a city bike, Dutch bike, or trekking bike, which usually feature fenders, lights, racks. We have jokes about many people not being able to pump up their tires. People don't even think about fenders, they're just there. I think this is great, because you don't have to be a cycling nerd to ride a bike, as those bikes are practical and just work. Many of them have hub gears, because people just need them to work.
    – Erlkoenig
    Dec 24, 2021 at 17:43
23

High-end "road bikes" are essentially racing bicycles, and in many countries it's fashionable for riders to dress like riders in the UCI World Tour. The fashion extends to the bicycles as well: many riders eschew any practical accessory not seen on the Tour de France, such as bags, mirrors, reflectors, lights, and fenders, no matter how useful they may be. It's not just the roadies who don't care for such things; where I live, mountain bikers don't use fenders much either. Here in the US, inexpensive bicycles are generally modeled after much more expensive road and mountain bikes, and follow the same fashion trends.

To generalize more, in many places bicycling for fitness and as a leisure "lifestyle" activity is far more popular than bicycling for practical transportation. Here in the US, I think it's fair to say that most people look down on bicycling for transportation as something that poor people, fitness fanatics, and people who lost their drivers' licenses for DUIs (Driving Under the Influence [of alcohol]) do. I'm pleased to say that the rapidly-growing popularity of e-bikes is beginning to change that perception.

I return to my point. The more popular bicycling for fitness or leisure is over bicycling for practical transportation in a particular area, the less utilitarian features will be seen on bicycles, especially high-end ones.

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    @AndrewHenle Soaked does not equal to covered in dirty stuff. OP indicated that where they leave roads have oil spills and more.
    – ZenJ
    Dec 23, 2021 at 0:32
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    Interesting point about the road biking fashion. I always thought that no-fender setups were inspired by MTB, where catching mud between a fender and a wheel may be undesirable, especially with V-brakes.
    – ZenJ
    Dec 23, 2021 at 0:36
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    @ZenJ Soaked does not equal to covered in dirty stuff. OP indicated that where they leave roads have oil spills and more. Fenders can't keep enough water off you to stop you from getting soaked in 30 minutes to an hour anyway. If you're riding for hours and go offroad or through oil spills you're going to get covered with that too. I've done multiple-hour rides in rain, both with and without fenders. After a long enough time riding, there's no real difference in how you wind up. It's nice to have your feet dry for an hour and not be covered with grim for 90 min, but that's all you get Dec 23, 2021 at 0:51
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    @AndrewHenle has missed the biggest benefit of mudguards which is that they minimise the spray of water and dirt onto your bicycle drivetrain. Mudguards (obviously) won't keep the rain off you or your bike but they will massively reduce drivetrain contamination, wear, cleaning time and general destruction that happens to your bike if you do a lot of bad weather riding.
    – HJCee
    Dec 23, 2021 at 14:22
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    To all those discussing whether fenders are useful or not in the rain. That is not the example I was thinking about. Consider the case when it rains during the night, there is a nice sun in the morning, but roads are still full of water. Unfortunately not everywhere in the world roads a perfect, always clean and well drained. Consider also the case when roadworks or some building activities alongside the road let some muddy water flow on the pavement. Consider also the case of the wheels picking up dry, but oily soot.
    – FluidCode
    Dec 24, 2021 at 14:01
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For recreational riding, they are often seen as unnecessary weight that can be saved without paying more for lighter parts. A typical recreational rider would simply avoid riding in a rain. And if not, the destination is usually at place where arriving dirty is not a problem. This is that I was thinking when buying a bicycle without fenders, even without looking if there are any easy options to fit them later.

Now I am fitting the third set already, one longer and wider than another because commuting to work is something very different. Arriving dirty is totally not cool even if you change later. It is not a fun to put an efficient fender on a fork that does not have any single hole anywhere for this purpose, so for my next bicycle the fenders are between the first things I am looking for.

8

A different way to see things is that fenders are usually considered aftermarket equipment. They are not critical for the bicycle to operate safely, after all. The same could be said of lights, of saddle or handlebar bags, of bells (unless required by law), or a number of other things.

More high-performance bicycles come with fender mounts these days. It’s true that bicycles focused on racing often don’t have fender mounts, and that road bikes a few years generally didn’t have them unless they were explicitly marketed to the UK or other places with similar climates. However, many current endurance road and gravel bikes have them.

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    Your parenthetical remark about the law also applies to lights.
    – gerrit
    Dec 23, 2021 at 8:14
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    @gerrit: in the Netherlands the rear fender used to be required by law for road legal bikes, because of its mandatory 30 cm long white marking that would increase visibility.
    – slingeraap
    Dec 23, 2021 at 8:46
6

There are a number of reasons:

  • Many, especially high-priced bicycles are used as good-weather-and-good-road-cycles, only. They don't need fenders.

  • Fenders are a cost factor to the manufacturer.

  • Fenders are not cool, many people don't even want them.

  • Fenders are notorious for breaking. They are large slim pieces that are subject to all the shocks coming from the road. Even if you use stainless steel fenders, they will eventually go to pieces. I guess it takes much, much less time for a cheap plastic fender to disintegrate. And a fender that's developing a crack is noisy. All the more reason for nice-weather-riders to not want them.

Nevertheless, fenders are invaluable if you are riding irrespective of weather and road/path conditions.

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    "Fenders are not cool," Yes, when I see marketing sites that list the coolest bikes I notice that they choose those without fenders. I notice the same when I read blogs or articles. But this is a trend decided by marketing not by the public.
    – FluidCode
    Dec 22, 2021 at 14:45
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    "Fenders are notorious for breaking." They may break as all the other parts. But they are not notorious for breaking. It does not happen so often.
    – FluidCode
    Dec 22, 2021 at 14:46
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    I didn't ride with fenders on commutes as I liked to take muddy single trails. Of road wrecks fenders very fast. For pootling around in the city this year I mounted fenders early autumn. Road conditions let them live long. Bike racks and locks still break them though.
    – gschenk
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:21
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    Doesn't fitting bike into auto defeat the purpose of having a bike in the first place?
    – ojs
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:34
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    @ojs Sometimes it's nice to throw a bike in the auto when, say, going to visit my folks, so I can get some exercise while I'm there. Or taking a bike along when visiting friends in another city so I can ride with them.
    – DavidW
    Dec 22, 2021 at 22:06
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They have been included in many times and places and for many bike genres.

I think the answer to your question plays out culturally and economically a little differently around the world. I will speak to the US: The United States is big and has diverse climates and riding conditions. The cycling culture here overall is very focused on fair weather, recreational/fitness/leisure riding, and several of the biggest cycling markets (coastal California and Florida) are quite dry. Additionally, the US has long wrestled with cultural attitudes that relegate bikes as toys, which results in a dynamic where the cycling industry is forced to accomodate a buying public that can be tentative about paying what it costs for a quality utilitarian bike. Like fenders, this is the reason why dynamo lighting and hub gears have had a hard time in the US; despite being a good value, they add to the up-front cost.

The mainstream dealer-level bike brands in the US have mostly all tried a number of attempts at selling fully appointed utilitarian bikes in the mold of what's normal traditionally throughout Europe and elsewhere. It is hard to get American consumers as a whole to see the value in this approach, although many certainly do. For whatever reason, those sorts of bikes rarely become strong sellers and rarely stay in the lineup for a long time. There is a thing called a "concept bike," a model with unusual or proprietary features or design. The 2001 Giant Prodigy is one burnt into my mind from my personal early days in cycling. In the industry they have a reputation for being a barely necessary evil that's easy to lose money on, because by nature of what they're trying to do, they're usually low-margin and are liable to be low-demand, with very few historical exceptions. While those of us who know the value of fenders and (and generator lighting and internal hubs etc) know it's silly to equate fully appointed Dutch- or British-style utilitarian bikes with concept bikes, it's very common for them to more or less sell that way when manufacturers try it here. That doesn't tell you why those attitudes exist from the consumer to the dealer, but it does tell you a lot about the attitude from the dealer to the manufacturer.

I work in a very large shop in the Pacific Northwest US where probably 50% of the new bike sales are commuter/city bikes. We sell and install a lot of fenders and customers are fairly accepting of the value of them. Many spend the extra money on fenders without a second thought on their new bike, but many also don't because they can barely accept the base price, and they take it as-is. Here in a rainy climate, my impression over many years of doing this is that group by and large doesn't seriously question the value of fenders and it's all about the psychology and/or necessity of limiting the initial investment.

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As already seen in comments, some people prefer their bicycles without fenders and aftermarket fenders are cheap and easy to install. For manufacturers and resellers it is cheaper to build bicycles without fenders and let the customers who want them add them afterwards than adding them only to be removed. Some of the savings can even go to sale price, which is an advantage for the models without fenders.

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    That is not what I see happening. Most of the people do not add the fendes after they bought their bike and this will limit the usability beyond leisure time of what they bought.
    – FluidCode
    Dec 22, 2021 at 13:37
  • @FluidCode replace "some people" with "most of the people" then. People often have preferences that are not in their best interests.
    – ojs
    Dec 22, 2021 at 13:50
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    They are only easy to install if there are mounting holes foreseen for them.
    – nightrider
    Dec 22, 2021 at 13:59
  • @nightrider you really need to look up what a "p-clip" is. But the mounting holes aren't that uncommon frames that are not dedicated for racing.
    – ojs
    Dec 22, 2021 at 14:02
  • You cannot fix a front fender just with stays, you need to attach it to the top of the fork where it may be a hole foreseen for this but mine does not have.
    – nightrider
    Dec 22, 2021 at 14:07

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