This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of aluminum and plastic bicycle fenders.
The Advantages of Aluminum Fenders
Alloy fenders have a classy look that appeals to cyclists after vintage aesthetics. Also, the unique appearance of aluminum fenders separates them from the sea of plastic fenders out there.
Over time fenders develop “scars” due to the little stones picked and thrown by the tire.
Aluminum fenders can be restored to their original shiny condition by polishing them.
Plastic fenders can be renewed too if the upper layer allows it, but the procedure is a bit more complicated.
- Better Position of The Struts
The support struts of many plastic fenders are connected to brackets riveted on the inside of the fenders (the side facing the tire). The part of the struts on the inside of the fenders reduces the effectiveness of the fender in the area by allowing water to accumulate and ricochet.
Conversely, the struts of many but not all alloy fenders connect to the outer part of the fender (the side away from the tire) and thus do not create the aforementioned problem.
- Better Coverage
Metal fenders tend to be significantly longer than the cheap plastic models found at most bike shops. The longer the fender is, the better coverage it offers.
The Downsides Of Metal Fenders
- Prone to Rust
If the fenders are made out of steel, they’re highly likely to rust even if the steel is stainless. Conversely, plastic fenders are not affected by humidity.
To prevent rusting, most metal fenders are made out of aluminum. Aluminum doesn’t rust thanks to a thin upper layer that forms once the material is exposed to oxygen. Even when aluminum is damaged, the protection layer regenerates.
- Rigid Shape
Metal fenders are not as flexible as plastic ones. Thus, if a metal fender is re-shaped to match the radius of a wheel or to install it on a bike that’s not fender-friendly, you risk damaging the unit.
- Lower Resistance to Impact
The inflexibility of metal fenders makes them more susceptible to falls and other forms of external stress.
For example, if a metal fender is routinely hit when the bike is parked on a busy rack, the fender could be permanently damaged.
Quality metal fenders tend to be more expensive for the following reasons:
- Higher grade materials
- Lower demand
- Exquisite Craftmanship
- Difficult To Install
Metal fenders are more difficult to install, especially if the bike doesn’t have fender mounts.
Conversely, there are many plastic mudguards designed specifically for bikes that were never meant to have fenders.
- Heavier (potentially)
The table below compares the weight of plastic and metal fenders:
|SKS Speedrocker||408g||Hebie Alumee Wingee Mudguard-Set||640g|
|PDW Poncho Fenders||488g||Portland Design Works Full Metal Fenders||568g|
|Giant Speedshield RGX38||343g||Electra Townie Path Aluminum Fender Set||642g|
|Zéfal Paragon C40||436g||Kinesis Fend-off||637g|
|Zéfal Shield R30||380g||PDW Full Metal Fenders||454g|
|CUBE Cubeguard Attain Disc||417g||Gilles Berthoud 700c Stainless Steel||785g|
Note: The fenders in the table are designed for 27.5″ and 28″ tires. The final weight of a fender depends on its width too. Since the width of each model varies, it’s incredibly difficult to find enough fenders with matching width for a maximally accurate comparison.
Conclusion: Metal fenders are about 200 grams heavier on average. Extra 200g matter only when competing. If the bicycle is designed for functionality rather than speed, the additional weight has a negligible effect.
The Advantages of Plastic Fenders
- Easier to Install
Plastic fenders are more flexible and make the installation easier when the bike isn’t fender-friendly, to begin with. Also, many models come with a great variety of mounting hardware.
Plastic fenders are more affordable for the following reasons:
- Higher demand
- Cheaper materials
- A lower degree of sophistication
- Lower production cost
Plastic fenders dominate the market. Consequently, the user has the option to choose among many models. You will more than likely find plastic fenders in whatever bike shop you walk in. Metal fenders, on the other hand, are more scarce.
The extra flexibility of plastic fenders makes it easier to install them on bicycles with less than ideal conditions for fender installation.
- Consistent Shape
The materials that plastic fenders are made of are highly resistant to permanent deformation. Thus, even if you hit the fender, it will more than likely re-assume its original shape. This property makes plastic fenders better for busy bike racks.
- No Rust
Plastic fenders do not experience corrosion caused by water.
- Custom Mounting Hardware
Plastic fenders with unique mounting hardware save the day when wanting to install fenders on a race bike without eyelets and with minimal tire clearance.
The Disadvantages of Plastic Fenders
- Low quality
The cheapest fenders are made of low-quality plastic to minimize production costs. Thus, people often associated plastic fenders with poor, non-satisfactory quality.
- Generic look
Plastic fenders aren’t a conversation starter because they look “basic” and less “exciting”. Thus, people who want their fenders to be a statement might consider alloy fenders and/or a custom paint job.
- More Movement
Plastic fenders tend to be less rigid on the bike. As a result, they shake and create noise. Also, it’s possible to knock them to one side.
That said, quality plastic fenders are less likely to display this problem.
Production Quality > Materials
A good set of fenders that satisfies the needs of most users can be produced from either material.
The greater performance that metal fenders are associated with comes from the better design and superior manufacturing rather than the magical properties of the material itself.
If a set of fenders is compatible with the bicycle in question and produced with care and attention to detail, it will serve its purpose well whether the base material is metal or plastic.