[This article was last updated on December 11, 2017]
Mudguards are the key to keeping dry in typical British conditions. Unless it's raining hard, spray from your wheels is what gets you wet.
A vital courtesy in group rides, a long rear mudguard with flap keeps spray out of the face of the rider behind you.
For road bikes without mudguard eyes, there are lots of options from full-length guards designed to squeeze in to the limited space to clip-ons that at least keep your bum drier.
Full-coverage bolt-on guards are the way to go for any bike that can take them and that will be used all year round.
If you’re determined to cycle through the winter whatever the weather, an easy way to make it more pleasant is by fitting your bicycle with mudguards. They will prevent a lot of the spray created by the wheels from turning you into a soggy mess.
If you've never used mudguards — and a lot of riders haven't — you'll be surprised at how much water they keep off. When you ride in the rain, you mostly get wet from water thrown up by the wheels, especially in lovely British drizzle.
Mudguards fall roughly into three types
• Traditional full-length mudguards commonly fitted to touring bikes
• Clip-on plastic guards that will attach to most road bikes
• Mountain bike style mudguards that attach to the down tube and seatpost
This choice means there is are mudguards to fit just about every type of bike, from a carbon race bike to a flat bar commuter. This guide will show you the best type of mudguards for your bike.
Think mudguards aren't cool and that they'll spoil the lines of your bike? Think again. Even professional cyclists will be fitting mudguards to their racing bikes through the winter.
Mudguards also offer a performance advantage. Yes, really. Ride without mudguards and your feet will get soaked, and then get very cold, and your legs will be saturated by rear wheel spray. The resulting chill can really affect your ability to push hard on the pedals as well as sapping your motivation. By keeping as much of the water off your body as you can, you're going to be able to ride for longer, and faster, when the roads are drowning.
For commuting, mudguards are a no-brainer. If you want to cycle to work through the winter, mudguards go a long way to ensuring you stay reasonably dry. If you have to carry a rucksack a rear mudguard will stop it getting covered in dirt, and then leaving a trail of dirt through your workplace.
You might think mudguards look daft on your carbon race bike, but that’s not as daft as you’ll look with a brown line up the back of your jacket and sodden shoes from the front wheel spray. We often hear people say that mudguards ruin the clean lines of their road bike, but if it's the difference between being dry or absolutely soaked and covered in road muck from head to toe, then we'll happily use them for the winter months. We're more interested in keeping dry so we can keep cycling through the winter.
If you're riding in a group, those following your wheel will appreciate your mudguards. Many clubs and riding groups demand mudguards over the winter.
- Pros: Best coverage, protects bike as well as rider, protects the rider behind you
- Cons: Can be fiddle to fit, won't fit all bikes, limited clearance, can be rattly
These are the mudguards commonly referred to as traditional mudguards, because they’ve been around for many, many years. They are most often a permanent fixture on touring bikes. Due to their length and sides, they cover a large percentage of both wheels and provide the best protection from spray generated by the wheels.
Some full-length mudguards are longer than others. Some have a large rubber flap on the end of the front mudguard. The longer front mudguards really help to stop your feet from getting soaked through. There's a surprising amount of spray kicked up by the front wheel and your feet are right in the firing line. The longer the front mudguard, the more chance of your feet staying dry. Having a long rear mudguard will keep spray from hitting the person following behind you when you're riding in a group too.
The other advantage of these mudguards is that they offer the most protection to the bicycle. They keep all the water and mud away from the brake calipers, which really don't like being dowsed in gritty water, and it's the same for the front mech. They also keep water away from a saddle bag and rear light that you might have attached to the saddle/seatpost, so that's another plus for mudguards.
Full-length mudguards are very sturdy. They mount to your frame at the brake calipers, eyelets at the dropouts, and to the chainstay bridge behind the bottom bracket. They can take a bit of time to set up, but once in place they will survive a lot of abuse.
In order to fit full-length mudguards you need a frame with enough clearance under the brakes and behind the seat tube. That means the chainstays are a bit longer, lengthening the wheelbase. The extra space under the brakes means you usually need long-reach brake calipers, too especially if you want to use mudguards with 25mm or larger tyres.
The fact that full-length mudguards can only be fitted to frames with the necessary mounts and clearance does limit them, but there are plenty of bikes designed to accept them. Most common are those that fall into the touring/Audax category of bicycle design, with a variety of frame materials including the most common: steel, titanium and alloy. It’s also possible these days to buy a carbon fibre frame with the necessary eyelets and clearance for these mudguards.
Not everyone wants, or has space/money for a second bike built specifically to take mudguards. Luckily, bicycle designers have cottoned on to this and many regular road bikes come with concealed mudguard mounts. Without mudguards a bike like this looks like any regular road racing bike, but look close enough and you'll find mounts that turn it into a mudguard-equipped winter bike.
Concealed mudguard mount on a Trek Madone 2.1
The Trek Madone 2.1, for example, has mudguard eyelets just behind the dropouts on the fork and frame, out of view until you need to use them. The Canyon Inflite also has unique mudguard mounts and Canyon have designed their own mudguards, made by SKS, to be compatible with these mounts, so there's increasing choice if you look around.
Recommended full-length mudguards
The SKS Chromoplastic mudguards are one of the best known, and very highly regarded, full-length options. They’re made by sandwiching aluminium strips inside a plastic housing. The resulting profile is quite deep which makes it stiff and sturdy. Stainless steel stays fix them in place and the Secu-Clips on the front means they pop out of the mount if somehting gets caught between the mudguard and tyre, rather than locking teh wheel and putting you on your face. You get a generous mudflap on the front mudguard and a reflector on the rear. They’re available in several sizes to fit tyres from 20 to 45mm.
You get the most coverage of any mudguard from the SKS Longboards, thanks to the extended front and rear flaps. The front almost reaches the floor, which is great for keeping spray off your feet, while your riding companions will appreciate the generous rear coverage.
M:Part Primoplastics mudguards are a hassle-free solution to keeping your backside dry and your bike clean. With easy fittings and high levels of stability they make a great choice against others on the market.
At first glance the Primoplastics look pretty similar to what could arguably be called the market leaders, SKS Chromoplastics, but we found the M:Part guards just a little better, in just about every way.
Tortec Reflectors are serious contenders in the full-length mudguard hall of fame, if there were such a place.
Reflective pin striping is primarily for rider safety but also adds a decorative touch. Thanks to their density, they should survive many seasons and considerable abuse. A comprehensive and equally sturdy fitting kit including zip-tie chain-stay bridges means they’re as close to a genuinely universal fit as you’re likely to get.
Unlike cheaper models, they have a much rounder profile complementing, rather than detracting from a bike’s clean lines.
- Pros: Fit road bikes without mudguard eyelets, lightweight
- Cons: Less protection than full-length mudguards, compatibility and clearance issues with some bikes
If your road bike doesn't have mudguard mounts, there are still a lot of mudguards designed for such bikes.
Clip-on mudguards don’t require the frame to have eyelets or long-reach brake calipers, or extra clearance. Instead, they attach to the frame using simple fastenings like rubber bands, Velcro or zip ties. This gives far more versatility than full-length mudguards as you aren’t hindered by bike choice, and it means you can keep riding your favourite road bike through the winter if you want to.
The main downside of clip-on mudguards is that they usually don’t wrap as much of the wheel, nor have the sides or front rubber flap, that full-length mudguards offer. This means they don’t keep as much of the rain and spray off your body or bike. However, they do keep most of the water off and can make a huge difference on wet roads. When spring rolls around they can easily be removed and stored in the garage until winter, restoring the clean lines of your road bike.
Clip-on mudguards are also much lighter than full-length mudguards, and some people might just want to fit a rear mudguard for those winter club runs where you're forced to spend the whole ride at the back if you turn up without mudguards. No one wants a face full of water and mud from following someone without mudguards.
Fitting clip on mudguards can be fraught with compatibility issues, which usually focus around the limited clearance on regular road bikes. It's worth having a read of our reviews first, and checking with the manufacturer to see which bikes they're compatible with.
Recommended clip-on mudguards
The 2016 SKS Raceblade Pro sets a new benchmark for temporary mudguards. Infinite adjustability and solid mounting make for an excellent package. There are now two models of Raceblade: the Pro and Pro XL. The Pro (355g) is shorter and has skinnier tyre clearance than the Pro XL (365g), which once fitted comes pretty close to replicating the coverage of a fixed mudguard.
Over a month or so of short, long, dry and soaking wet rides on old steel and new carbon bikes, both the Pro and Pro XL worked flawlessly. They hang on tenaciously, don't move of their own accord, and are easily adjusted back into place if knocked.
SKS introduced version one of this full-length quick-fit mudguard in 2011, but they soon vanished because of reliability problems with the clips. They're back and much improved. The guards clip into mounts at the brakes and hubs that can be permanently left on your bike. Once they're on, they act like regular, full-length guards.
The Raceblade Long Mk IIs reward a healthy willingness to fettle, especially on modern disc-braked bikes. The ability to bend and cut the stays to required lengths and adjust their position on the mudguard (or even remove one stay completely) means, with a good eye, they will go onto pretty much any bike.
Once they are on and adjusted, they work very well indeed. The strong multiple stays hold the guards firmly without any rubbing, and should they get severely knocked, a bit of bending/use of a 2mm Allen key gets things back in shape.
The other popular option is the Crud Roadracer. As long as you've got 4mm between the top of your tyre and the inside of your brake caliper, the Roadracers will slide in. The Mk3 version is the longest of any clip-on mudguard, almost as long as full-length mudguards, and has a front mech protector too.
You don't need mudguard eyelets. Roadracers attach to the frame with what looks like industrial strength velcro. That makes the Roadracer’s incredibly light at just 262g for the pair.
The weight is saved because Roadracers do not use the four metal stays used on conventional mudguards to keep the guards from touching the wheel or tyre. Instead, the Roadracers have plastic stays that support them from the centre.
Fitting these is remarkably easy; it's possible to get a good setup in just 15 minutes. The all-plastic construction means Roadracers are more fragile than chromoplastic guards, an issue for some riders.
Mountain bike style mudguards
- Pros: Will fit almost any bike, loads of clearance regardless of frame design
- Cons: Limited protection, won't protect rider behind you, feet will still get wet, bike gets no protection
The other type of mudguard is that favoured by mountain bikers. Mountain bikes, because of the huge variety of design thanks to factors like suspension and huge tyres, need a mudguard fitted very high above the wheel. The solution is a rear mudguard that clips onto the seatpost so the height above the wheel can be adjusted, and a a front mudguard that's attached to the down tube.
These mudguards are useful for commuting bikes, especially where clearance might be an issue because of frame design or wide tyres. The simplicity of fitting makes them attractive, and they can be whipped off in a minute too. While these mudguards don't provide 100% protection compared to full-length options, they do keep a surprisingly large amount of spray off.
The seatpost-style mudguard is one favoured by quite a few professional riders, but they’re more for keeping your own back dry than worrying about the rider behind you getting a faceful of Belgian toothpaste.
Similarly, a mudguard attached to the downtube also offers the same simplicity of fitment. Protection from front wheel spray is limited to riding in a straight line through; the mudguard obviously doesn’t track the front wheel through turns.
Recommended mountain bike-style mudguards
If you're looking for great protection from road spray from your rear wheel and don't have mudguard mounts (or much technical know-how), the Zefal Swan Road is a great option – for both permanent and temporary use.
It fits via a sturdy yet simple bracket to the seatpost, so there's no faffing around with fiddly support struts, and it eliminates the issue of clearance altogether. The bracket fits by a screw-on mechanism, which when fully unscrewed releases and unclips from the seatpost for removal. It really is super simple.
The SKS S-Blade will fit seatpost diameters between 25.4 and 35mm. It works best with 18-26mm tyres. 28mm upwards shows signs of compromise with tell-tale spatter congregating along the peripheries. Getting everything aboard is effortlessly simple; you'll just need a 4mm Allen key for tweaking the angle.
The Crud Catcher is perhaps the best-known down-tube-mounted front wheel mudguard. Okay, it's not as effective as a full guard but sometimes you don't want (or can't fit) one of those, and it's an excellent solution for many bikes.
You might think that Crud Guards and the like were the last word in minimalist protection from rain and spray, but you'd be wrong. In the last couple of years we've seen the advent of a new type of guard, what we're calling the micro guard. These offer protection from the worst of the elements when you need it and when you don't you just whip them off and stow them, usually under the saddle.
These are ideal for those people who either live somewhere it doesn't rain a lot but who don't want to get caught out when it does, or for those who don't ride that often in the rain, but likewise don't want to get caught out when it does. The two leading makes are the Ass Saver and the Full Windsor Quick Fix/Fast Fix. Both are simple, easy to fit affairs that are also suprisingly durable.
Further proof that nothing stands still in the world of mudguards is the developement of what might be termed the Super Micro Guard. The one and only example we know of so far is the Genetic Micro Fender which uses a carbon arm to hold in place a surprisingly effective minimalist guard in the sweet spot for deflecting the most crud from your back wheel. It even has directional channels to help it shed water more quickly. Unlike the Ass Saver and the Full Windsor it's not cheap though.
The Ass Saver is about as minimal as mudguards get: a strip of plastic (different widths are available) that hooks onto the rails of the saddle providing just enough protection from rear wheel spray. It’s not so good on heavily saturated roads, but for the occasional puddle it does make a difference.
The Full Windsor Quickfix rear mudguard is ideal for commuting. There are two models, which only differ in how you attach them to the bike: the Fold'n'Fix is fixed with cable ties, while the QuickFix is attached with poppers.
Each is a tapered piece of plastic that's wide over the wheel, narrower at the 'neck' of the seatstays and then wider again where the mudguard meets the seat tube. To put it on, you fold the plastic by pinching and feed it through the gap above the brake bridge. It then attaches to the seatstays and the seat tube either with cable ties or poppers, depending on the model you have.
What if you want full length mudguards but your bike doesn't have eyelets?
Don't worry: no front and rear mudguard eyelets does not mean you have to forego full length mudguards. There are a number of attachments available to help you attach mudguards to your bike, eyelets or not.
The best known is the P-Clip, basically a small clamp/bracket that fits to the bike's frame and fork legs to allow you to then fit the mudguards. P-Clips are readily available and come in a variety of widths and materials and at a variety of prices, topping out around the £3.50 mark for some Tortec P-Clips.
There are a couple of other answers to the question below. These systems will allow you to fit full-length mudguards to more or less any road bike, but bear in mind that you'll still need enough clearance between your brake caliper and the tyre to squeeze the mudguard in.
Recently the advent of wider tyres has meant that standard caliper brakes have been widened and deepened in the arch slightly to accommodate up to a 28mm carcass. That's good news if you want mudguards, because it means you'll probably be able to squeeze in a guard and 23mm or 25mm tyres, depending on your particular bike.
Going to the other end of the scale are the PDW Full Metal Guards. These are full length guards that come with their own fitting kit that bypasses the need for mudguard eyelets by using tabs that attach to your bike's quick release skewers. At £60 they're not cheap, but they are very effective, and the set we've got have proved very durable too.
You can also buy the fitting kit separately for £13.50 which does open up the possibility at least of using those QR tabs to fit a different set of mudguards. However before you do that you might like to check out our final suggestion.
These are light but sturdy metal tabs that fit over your bike's quick releases enabling you to fit mudguards. They work but might require a bit of filing down to fit some dropouts, but if it's a choice between that and wet feet from all that front wheel spray we know which we'd chose.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.