One of the most painful things about getting older is watching a new crop of riders making the same mistakes that you watched one or more previous generations stumble through. Case in point, recently I was out on an evening ride. As is often the case, I was using the bike path to get out of town. Just as I was re-entering the bike path after jogging around the grade school I ran into two young bike racers of my acquaintance. It was a fall evening, and while the sun was out at that moment it had rained earlier in the day. I’d call the conditions “sticky” the trail had a lot of leaves and fir needles on it and was still wet. My young friends were riding their race bikes without fenders. One of them had his helmet strapped to his handlebars. I’m sure they thought they looked very “Euro”. They didn’t, and in fact looked cold and foolish. Both were covered in leaves and needles from the trail and soaked to the skin. To make matters worse, if that’s possible, their bikes were covered with the same debris that they were.
Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that to be an excellent cyclist, be it racer, tourist or sportif, you need to ride all year long. Bike racers in particular, need to build a big base of miles during the worst time of year. But to do so, on a bicycle without fenders is a mistake of the highest level. Why so, you might ask. If the rider can tolerate it, why put up with the hassle and extra weight of fenders? The answer is more complex than you might imagine, so let’s bite it off in chunks.
First, and perhaps foremost is that in my experience one of the secrets of becoming a strong cyclist is to avoid illness and injury. Riding in wet and dirty cycling clothes can cause both. One of the secrets of our climate is that it really doesn’t rain that hard, that often. Most of the rain that we do get comes in the form of a constant mist. Unfortunately it collects on the road or trail, and if you ride a bike without fenders this mixture of water and dirt covers you and your bike. Even if you think you can tolerate it and your expensive cycling clothes being wet and dirty (and I think you are wrong)- there are other negatives.
One of the things that I clearly remember about being a bicycle racer was the challenge of juggling family obligations with the necessities of spending a lot of time on a bicycle. To make things worse, I remember finding that the amount of time spent getting in training miles during much of the year was often almost equaled by the amount of time required to keep the bicycle running efficiently. Fenders help reduce maintenance time by directing the flow of dirty water away from the drive train and moving parts of the bicycle. Don’t forget mud flaps that almost touch the ground, front and rear. The rear is at least as important as the front if you are riding in a group.
Recently, on a Sunday ride I was riding with a friend who had fenders. He doesn’t often ride with other people, so he hadn’t realized the effect of not having a quality rear mud flap. When I got home from the ride, I not only had to wash my bike, but every piece of clothing that I had on including the “Bar Mitts” that cover my brake levers to keep my hands warm. I know some of us have achieved some unwanted notoriety for complaining about the quality of other peoples mud flaps (Byron…) but it does make a big difference. Unnecessary gear washing not only takes time and energy, but shortens the life expectancy and waterproofness of cycling clothes and gear.
The punch line is simply this, rider health and comfort, results in more and a higher quality of miles. So put fenders and mud flaps on your bike. If your bike won’t accept fenders get another bike. It rains for nine months of the year here, your winter bike will undoubtedly get more miles than your “Sunday” race bike, or at least it should.