Monday, July 29, 2013

Hail To The Cheap: Planet Bike Full Fenders

As I mentioned in my gravel gab, the Raleigh is no longer cavorting in fenderless indecency. It's now sporting a set of these babies:

Planet Bike's "full" model gets so little respect, it's own manufacturer doesn't even give it a model name. There's your Cascadias, your Hardcores, your Speedeez, your Grasshoppers... and then there's "full" -- a bland description pretending to be a model name. Being formerly of the naming-stuff profession, I propose Rodney, as in Dangerfield.

So why, pray tell, did I go with this oft-forgotten corner of the Planet Bike catalog instead of any number of other more ad-copy-laden choices? Easy: I wanted black fenders (must be my Mennonite heritage), and -- like yours truly -- the Rodney is simple and cheap. Same polycarbonate material that proved itself more than tough enough on my last set of Hardcores, minus their utterly useless vestigial mudflap and shiny stainless hardware. The result looks a little something like this:

One long wire wraps over the fender, held in place there by a small bracket, and meets those adjustable doohickeys at the dropouts. On your Hardcores and Cascadias, you get one straight stainless rod per side (two in the rear) meeting a bracket at the fender where all the adjustment happens. This leaves the poking end of the operation (and the one where excess rod has to be cut off) pointed back at your feets (encouraging toe overlap and necessitating little rubber nubbins that always fall off), whereas on the Rodneys, any ugly and/or sharp bits from the cutoff operation are hidden inside the adjusters. The adjusters themselves are a little kludgy, but the function? Slick. 

Bicycle Quarterly cultists may also note that wrapped over stays (like the old French dudes preferred) eliminate the bracket inside the fender which (theoretically) gives the water a path to the outside edge and (eventually) your feet. While that may be true, it would be a stretch to call the Rodneys "constructeur-inspired." The flat threaded plate holding the bracket in place does provide more clearance under the fender than a normal nut would, though:

Being utterly incapable of leaving well enough alone, however, I did make a couple minor modifications from stock. First, I loathe-loathe-loathe the plastic rear brake bridge clip that Planet Bike provides with most (all?) of their fenders. Luckily, I had a metal one from an old set of fenders kicking around the parts box. I added thick rubber washers (about a nickel a piece from the local hardware store) between my frame and all fender mounting points -- never felt the need in the past, but it didn't seem like it would hurt. Also, the steel clip for the chainstay bridge prevented me from using my frame's threaded mount there, so I drilled out rivets holding the clip in place and taped over the resulting holes (oh, and added a spacer to appease my OCD fender line tendencies):

The whole operation took maybe 30 minutes, and the resulting installation is solid, rattle-free, and keeps away as much schmutz as a fender of this length is going to -- which is to say, more than enough for my needs. I have already battered them on rough pavement and subjected them to the indignity of gravel washboard, yet they have made nary a peep. In short, I like 'em.

Which leads me to a mildly ranty postscript I'm calling "good enough is good enough." If you read enough about bicycle fenders (though I hope you don't, because, well, real life is happening out there), you will learn just how AWFUL and USELESS the vast majority of JUNK MASQUERADING AS FENDERS is today. You'll hear how plastic fenders rattle like a lovelorn cicada until they crack, how fenders have to be installed just so to avoid scary "inbuilt stresses" (a process which can take hours and will require a machine shop and several magic incantations), how any fender without a mudflap practically dragging the ground is no better than no fender at all, and how futile it is to install fenders on a bicycle not specifically designed with perfect, to-the-millimeter clearances between its lovingly brazed mounting points. To all this, I say hogwash (and this is Iowa, so we know our hogwash). Are there some fenders that are better than others? Sure. But just because a fender (like the lowly Rodney) doesn't measure up to the Platonic ideal of capital-F "Fender" as brought down from the mountain on stone tablets by Herse and Singer (translated by Jan Heine) doesn't mean that it can't fulfill -- and fulfill admirably -- the role of a fender. It just needs a competent installation and a little respect. 

Obligatory Fine Print: I bought my fenders with my own hard-earned dollars and was not compensated one thin dime by the folks at Planet Bike for this review. Also, as a member of the Amazon Associates program, if you follow my link to Amazon and buy something, I get a little kickback. Thus endeth the glimpse of my seedy underbelly.


Anonymous said...

Count me as one who has had pretty good service from some basic PB fenders. I've got 'em on my recumbent commuter. They are specific to 'bents, and use some funky clips that can be positioned anywhere along the fender's perimeter. That part is slick, but the clips also try to clamp down on the stays like a drill chuck clamps on a bit. The clamping force is fairly light, and it took time (and JB Weld) to properly secure things. The rear fender did crack after 5 years or so, and the remnants were adapted for a fender stub for the go-fast 'bent.

I've had better luck with the SKS/Esge fenders (which are also plastic).

Many years ago, I had some aluminum Blumels on my Raleigh Gran Sport. Good fenders, although a bit noisy.

Perhaps the folks in the Great Northwet spend enough time in wet conditions that they develop a refined appreciation for the more subtle aspects of fender performance. Here in the relatively arid midwest, a more basic fender can be quite satisfactory. All I know is that whether I'm caught in a snowstorm or thunderstorm, I'm glad that I've got a decent set of fenders!

Steve in Peoria

Scott Loveless said...

Hay! Can we get a full profile shot of your bike with the fenders mounted?