Thursday, November 1, 2012

PDW Full Metal Fenders: Tested

You may be fortunate enough to live in a climate where fenders for your bike are a laughable diversion from reality - I know my years living in Nashville were a fender-free utopia compared to Portland. But here in the Pacific Northwest; where people have "rain bikes" and "sunny-day go fast" bikes, we take our fenders seriously as they are our ticket to riding more than 3 months out of the year.

Seriously - it rains almost 9 months of the year here! You can't get any reasonable saddle time from October through May or June - outside at least - if you don't have rain gear and fenders.

So - you'll learn a thing or two about fenders when you come to Portland. Think any ol' thing will do? Nope: those mud guards and easy on/off fenders are like a mere hand-towel after a long shower - not nearly adequate. Think fenders only belong on old beach-cruiser ladies bikes? Wrong again: we'll put them on anything here (and make it look cool to boot).

And, when it comes to road bikes: if you think fenders can't go on a road-racing frame...wrong again. The genius of the "split" fender install and the "reach-around" bracket (yeah, I'm aware of the double-entendre there) made it possible to fender-up almost anything with two wheels.

But they still had their limitations. Even with the most care and the best install; split fenders (Cutting a fender in two and installing in front and behind the brakes and frame/fork using special custom bracket hardware) won't last as long and can often rattle annoyingly on rough roads.

Well, leave it to a Portland company to create the better mouse tr... I mean fender.

Portland Design Works (PDW) has been in Portland since 2008; and started as a way to develop simple, quality bike accessories (which obviously stand up to Portland's harsh, but cycling-friendly scene). Here's what they say about themselves on their website:
Our products are designed by considering not only how to make what is already on the market better, but by becoming students of the details. We consider cost, efficiency, aesthetics, durability, and rebuildability. We also take fun into account, and at the end of the day that is why we are in this business.
I'd say the Full Metal Fenders live up to that statement.

So; here's the details:

The Full Metal Fenders are as advertised - full aluminum from front to back. This is a refreshing difference when compared to the industry standards from SKS (Chromoplastics) and Planet Bike (Cascadia) which at worst are entirely high impact plastic and at best - in the case of the SKS - are plastic coated stainless steel. The SKS is certainly the one to go with for a split install since the steel aids in durability - but they are not bomb proof. A client of mine has gone through one set a year; which at the asking price of $50-$60 plus installation adds up quickly.

PDW uses an all aluminum extrusion which appears to be about 2 to 2.5 mm thick. They are plenty beefy and with their slim profile will fit through many of the forks and brake bridges on today's sleek frames leaving room for 23mm tires. The bike in my photos is an S-Works Roubaix SL3 and they worked beautifully.

I found the hardware refreshingly beefy and well-executed with some creative solutions to be found as well. The single-strut approach with the telescoping sleeve at each end certainly makes install and set up go faster; eliminating the cutting involved on most SKS and Planet Bike installs.

A common problem for fender install on many road bikes is the absence of eyelets on the frame to bolt the struts too. The Portland solution here has been to use hose clamps or rack hardware to strap around the frame and then run bolts and nuts through. Well, PDW has an elegant solution for this too! (See photo) A nifty "figure-8" washer with a threaded eyelet on one end slips over the quick release skewer and provides an "after-market" fender eyelet to which you bolt your struts. This does create a minor hurdle when you need to remove your wheels; but the additional step of removing the skewers (be sure to keep track of those springs!) is a small inconvenience for some sleek elegance in the form of the Full Metal Fenders.

The other "Portland-Mod" that was commonly made was to add an extended mud-flap (or "courtesy flap") to the end of your fenders since they commonly did not extend downward far enough to a) keep from spraying water on your shoes and b) prevent spraying water in the face of the rider behind you. The PDW fenders come out of the box with extended rubber mud-flaps - a welcome addition. (Although I do like the free-marketing approach to courtesy flaps of cutting a bike shop water bottle in half and bolting it to the end of each fender.)

Now let's talk style: the anodized gunmetal grey with brushed silver and black hardware is classy and contemporary. These should look good on most bikes (and beautifully complemented the accents on the S-Works Roubaix). A laser-etched script logo on the rear and a silver logo medallion at the front complete an understated look that doesn't scream, but assures you PDW are proud of their product.

So; they look good, they install easy, they seem durable, and they keep you dry. What's not to like?

Well, they do cost more than your average fender at $120 MSRP - however these should last much longer and when you consider the case of my client who was buying a set of SKS's a year (whose bike these are now on...); by next fall he will break even on these fenders. Plus, since we haven't had to do a custom install for this bike - he can use them on another bike if he likes.

Additionally, they only advertise clearance for 23 mm tires. This will depend on frame clearances - but I think that a small-volume 25 mm tire could probably fit under the right circumstances.

Install and removal is pretty easy, but depending on your mechanical aptitude and comfort with adjusting your brakes, you may want to leave it to a pro. Up to you though. If you're confident removing and installing your front and rear brake calipers you can probably handle it. The instruction manual which comes with the fenders is very well done and is a good guide.

Visit the PDW website for some more photos and a handy installation video.

You can also find these great fenders and many other items for sale on my webstore.

1 comment:

  1. Although these fenders are a great idea, as a bike tech, I prefer plain plastic fenders that clip one place for both front or rear. The front fender attaches at the fork crown, the rear at the seat stay and each installs securely to hold it until the next dry day appears.



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