I have been fender shopping and going crazy. One day I want hammered Velo Orange metal fenders and the next day I want SKS Plastic Longboards. I have read many of the blogs. Some say metal keeps you drier, but others say metal dents and bends and is a mess when you are locking your bike or banging it around in a storage box for transportation etc.
So Plastic or metal that is the question?
I have and use both. The metal hammered Honjos (sim to VO's) are beautiful and secure. Set them up right and they work great, low enough in the front so you really don't need a mudflap. I have used SKS fenders and they too work well. Still a bit fussy to set up, and rarely can you get them perfectly centered, but they perform well. Just got my wife a new bike and she opted for the Long Boards, since the cream color matched the headtube accent. They look great but the way the front one was placed actually makes the rear of it too low. So I will have to trim it a bit, then I will add the factory mudflap.
SKS front ones have the safety release for the stays. Sounds good but in many miles I have never picked up anything on a tire other than a small twig or leaf, nothing close enough to jam in and cause a problem. So if the hammered VO's turn you on, buy em. Take extra time to assure good positioning and set up, with the leather washers and all. You will be happy.
Good point I didn't think of that issue.
I've never had metal fenders. I suppose there's a big price difference, and sometimes fenders get the worst of it on a lay down.
I also heard that metal fenders are noisy when road grit hits them?
It's not the material that keeps you drier, but the size and coverage. With, say, 45mm tires, 45mm fenders will work well enough, but 55mm fenders will work better. A longer front fender (and a mud flap on most) will keep your feet and drivetrain drier and cleaner. If you get metal fenders, stainless steel or chromed mild steel fenders will probably be more durable than aluminum ones - they'll hold up better to being knocked around. SKS fenders are very durable and can take a lot. You may likely end up replacing standard-issue mudflaps with your own eventually - I've had three of four eventually tear off. I am a fan of the safety release for the front wheel. If you are comparing Velo Orange fenders to SKS fenders, there is not much price difference. Honjos and Berthouds are another thing.
I've had cream SKS Longboards on my everyday bike for a while, and instead of replacing them with SS VO fenders (I want wider fenders, and the front is really beat and ugly) I'm just putting on wider SKS fenders. Unfortunately Longboards don't come any wider than 45mm.
Bear in mind that metal fenders will prohibit you from strapping your bike to a bus rack.
I've heard of a couple of premature failures of VO or other metal fenders, due to the metal stressing at the strut or brake bridge attachment point. But it's just hearsay. It really comes down to looks, as the cost differences aren't generally significant. If the flashy stainless or aluminum fenders float your boat, go for it.
I've got both on 2 separate bikes. The aluminum fenders on my commuting bike and SKS P45s on my touring bike. I have no problem locking up to racks with alum fenders. I have a hard time seeing one being more advantageous than the other, which means it's really down to aesthetics and personal preference.
Forgive the tangental note, but whatever you do, do not buy the Soma Fab plastic fenders. All fenders are picky and annoying to adjust, but the Soma Fab fenders are picky and very difficult to adjust AND the plastic pieces break very easily. I've seen a bunch of broken ones around town with replacement parts improvised with wood, strapping or other pieces of plastic.
Road grit (especially chunks of fresh asphalt) hitting/getting stuck in plastic fenders can be noisy also.
As other posters have mentioned, beyond selecting the right width and length of fender for your given tire choice, there is no real difference between plastic or metal. You're mainly paying more for some of them metal fenders due to the flashy look and frankly that much stainless steel is probably more expensive than plastic. I've been using the SKS Bluemells (aka Alley Cats) for probably well over a year and a half on my bike. They're a full coverage fender that SKS made for a short while but don't appear to anymore. They're fairly similar to the longboards. I like them and in over 6000 miles I've had no issues with them to speak of.
No chainlink love for the Planet Bike Cascadia Fenders? I have them on two bikes. Easy to install. Full coverage. No complaints.