Aluminum Fender Installation Tips

Installing rigid aluminum fenders is a process that differs more than you would think from the installation of plastic mudguards, whether they be of modern variety or vintage.  In fact, setting up fenders and racks can take more time than ALL of the other steps involved in making a bicycle mechanically sound and rideable, or building up a frame from scratch.

There are only a few resources on the web that will help with this process, and one of them is from the Jitensha shop in San Francisco. The guidance at Jitensha is helpful to anyone setting up aluminum fenders.  While Jitensha’s advice deals specifically with Honjo fenders, it translates across most other aluminum fender installations.

In addition to the other tools you might need (drill, punch, hacksaw or dremel, and file), a deburring tool shown above is also helpful.  You’ll also need stays and a set of fender hardware, plus you’ll need to consume a few bottles of Belgian Ale or Champagne (see below).  Yes, this is a very difficult task.

  

If you are working on a bike with newer dropouts, they may not be designed to allow for the fender stays to clear the wheel axle nut. The eyelets on the dropouts shown above are from my new Rivendell Appaloosa frame.  While these eyelets look robust, and it is nice to have two on the front and the rear, their position is in stark contrast to dropout eyelets on vintage bicycles, as you can see from the example below.

Properly positioned dropout eyelets allow the fender stays to clear the frame, thus making set up of the fenders much easier.  Such eyelets allow the rider to change tire widths without having to replace the stays.  In the case of my new Rivendell, it was necessary to cut the stays to the exact length necessary to accommodate the tire size I’ve chosen for this bike.  That means that if I want to change tire width, I’ll have to install a new set of stays.  That is just one example of the difference between modern plastic fenders and their aluminum counterparts.  Plastic fenders have the stay adjustment at the fender, and not at the dropout.

Recessed brake nut instead of 10 mm lock nut – adds additional length to the daruma bolt

Plenty of room for a large cork spacer.

My Rivendell is the rare bike with HUGE clearances front and rear. I will be using 38 mm tires for my build on this bike frame (which can accept up to 55 mm tires). That means that my fender line is going to need some large spacers (of the Champagne and Belgian Ale cork variety – life is hard!).  Even on a bike with regular clearances the front fender daruma bolt is often too short to provide the length needed for the width of the spacer at the fork crown.  The solution is to use a recessed brake nut to extend the length of the daruma bolt.  The photos above show how this works.

For the front fender installation, it is easiest to turn the bike upside down.  You can see from the photo above that the cork spacer consumes almost the full length of the daruma bolt.  That’s where the recessed brake nut comes in handy.

The champagne cork spacer is shown above, as installed.  The extra width helps to set up a proper front fender line for my chosen 38mm tire size.

I also used a Velo Orange leather flap on the front fender, as shown above.  The flap sits low to the ground and will help to keep debris off my frame and bottom bracket.

Rear fender line in excellent shape, thanks to the cork spacers.

Champagne, anyone?

Porteur rack has fender attachment – a nice feature.

Belgium Ale cork spacer

With the front fender now properly spaced, the rear fender set up proved easier.  Again, because of the positioning of the eyelets on the dropouts, it was necessary to cut the stays to the exact length needed for my 38 mm tires.  Champagne or Belgium Ale corks respond well to a metal file, so they can be shaped to follow the curve of the fender.  My porteur style rack allows for a fender attachment, as shown above.  I’ll wait to set that up until I’ve test-ridden the bike and adjusted all of the accessories and components.  Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy a glass of Champagne!

1970’s Meral 650B Randonneur

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This bike came to me as a frame, fork, fenders, shifters, headset and rack.  It is a 1970s Meral 650b Randonneur. The Meral shop, located in France, built custom bikes up through the mid 80’s.  Their custom racks and fenders are as beautiful as their frames.  This frame features double rack mounts front and rear so that Meral’s custom camping racks could be added.  Note:  these photos were taken before final assembly and QC – the brake holders are mounted backwards.  The closed section of the holder should be facing the front of the bike, so that the pads don’t slide out!  (Everybody knows that, right?)

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The fenders are stainless steel – and looked beautiful after just a bit of polishing.   I needed a number of parts to get the bike completed, and ended up deciding to build the wheelset using a set of NOS Italian Gnutti hubs, since the spacing at the rear was 120 mm.  It can be difficult to find a nice wheelset with this spacing these days, and I didn’t want to cold set the frame to wider spacing, as I usually strive to keep a wonderful bike like this as original as possible.

2032 2026The hubs are very pretty and look a lot like older Campy hubs.

wheelbuildgnutti hubs

I used Weinmann 650b rims, and removed the labels for a clean look.  Even though this bike features through-the-frame dynamo wiring, I decided not to use a generator hub, both to save weight and to keep the bike simple and closer to original.  I am not a huge fan of generator lighting, and find that for the riding I do I can use simple, lightweight, and inexpensive battery-powered lights.

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The original cork spacers are still in perfect condition.  However, my fender line needs some more work.  Installing and fine tuning racks and fenders can easily take as long as building up the bike itself.  This frame is designed with tight clearances, so I could only use 32 mm tires.  I chose these Grand Bois Cypres tires from Compass Bicycles, and they are fabulous.  The ride is really just about the smoothest I have experienced.  The only down side may be their puncture resistance, which I haven’t put to the test.

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I used Simplex Super LJ derailleurs, which are not only beautifully made, but work perfectly with this drive train.  A Stronglight crankset and IRD 6 speed freewheel finish off the drive train.  The IRD is just a placeholder – I no longer trust these freewheels due to their high failure rate, which I have experienced personally on two separate freewheels in use for under a thousand miles.

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I used NOS Zeus pedals, which are some of the nicest I have seen, and Mafac levers to match the Mafac Racer centerpulls.  The bars are Nitto World Randonneur and the stem is a French sized SR.

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The frame was built with Columbus Aelle tubing, for a stronger frameset, or perhaps for a heavier rider.  Even so, the bike weighs 26.6 lbs, including the rack fenders, Brooks saddle and pedals – that is amazing.  The paint is still very vibrant and in beautiful condition.  More photos of this bike can be found on my FB page.