Buyer’s guide: Mudguards for keeping you dry this winter
We help you find the right mudguard for your bike + 8 of the best
If you’re determined to cycle through the winter whatever the weather, than a easy way to making it a little less unpleasant 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.
Mudguards fall roughly into three types; traditional full-length metal mudguards commonly fitted to touring bikes, clip-on plastic guards that will attach to most road bikes, and mountain bike style mudguards that attach to the downtube and seatpost. This choice means there is a mudguard 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 mudguard for your bike.
Think mudguards aren't cool and that they'll spoil the lines of your bike? Think again, even the professional cyclists will be fitting mudguards to their racing bikes through the winter. Here's a photo of young pro Lars van der Haar's winter bike, complete with rear mudguard. Interestingly he's only fitted a rear mudguard, presumably dispensing with the need for a front mudguard.
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, and when that also chills it can really effect your ability to push hard on the pedals. As well as sapping your motivation. So by keeping as much of the water off your body as you can, you're obviously going to be able to ride for longer, and faster, when the roads are drowning.
For commuting mudguards are a no-brainer really. If you want to cycle to work through the winter, than 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 the office or factory.
Yes, you might think they look daft on your carbon racer, 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. I often hear people say that mudguards ruin the clean lines of their road bikes, which I'll agree with, they certainly do. But if it's the difference between being dry or absolutely soaked and covered in road muck from head to toe, then I'll happily ruin the clean lines of my bike for the winter months. I'm more interested in keeping dry so I can keep cycling and training through the winter. And if you're riding in a group, those following your wheel will appreciate your mudguard.
- 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, and 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. And having a long rear mudguard will keep spray from hitting the person following behind you, when you're riding in a group.
The other advantage of these mudguards is they offer the most protection to the bicycle as well. 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 too. 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.
These mudguards are very sturdy. They mount to frame using lightweight steel stays bolted to specific eyelets at the dropouts, as well as fixing at the brake calipers and, on the rear mudguard, bolting into the frame behind the bottom bracket. They can take a bit of time to setup, but one in place they're very sturdy and will survive a lot of abuse.
The frame needs to have extra clearance.This can lead to a lengthening of the wheelbase by stretching out the chainstays. Long reach calipers - as the caliper as to be mounted higher in the frame to give space for the mudguards - also have to be used in preference to regular short reach brakes.
The fact they 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 even 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 onto this and many regular road bikes come with concealed mudguard mounts. So without mudguards it looks like any regular road racing bike, and look close enough and you'll find mounts that turns it into a mudguard-equipped winter bike.
Concealed mudguard mount on a Trek Madone 2.1
The recently reviewed Trek Madone 2.1 has mudguard eyelets just behind the dropouts on the fork and frame, out of view until you need to utilise them. The new Canyon Inflite also has unique mudguard mounts and they've designed their own mudguards, made by SKS, to be compatible with these mounts. So there's increasing choice if you look for it.
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-Clip on the front means they pop out of the housing in case anything gets caught up between the mudguard and tyre. You get a generous mud flap on the front and a reflector on the rear. They’re available in several sizes to fit tyres from 20 to 45mm
Another option are the Axiom Rainrunner Deluxe Reflex mudguards. They have a seriously solid feel, both guards have a rubber mud flap on the bottom and once fitted they look great and perform well.
- Pros: Fits 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, the good news is there is a lot of mudguards designed for such bikes.
These mudguards don’t require the frame to have eyelets or long-reach brake calipers, or extra clearance. Instead, they attach to the frame using a simple fastenings like rubber bands, velcro or zip ties. This gives far better versatility than full-length mudguards as you aren’t hindered by bike choice, and means you can keep riding your favourite road bike through the winter if you want to.
The main downside of them is they 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 the large majority of water off and can make a huge difference on wet roads. And when spring rolls around, they can easily be removed and stored in the garage until winter, restoring the clean lines of your road bike.
They're also much lighter than full-length guards, and some people might just want to fit a rear mudguard for those legendary winter club runs up north where if you turn up without mudguards you're forced to spend the whole ride at the back. No one wants a face full of water and mud from following someone closely without mudguards. Fitting these type of 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 your reviews first, and checking with the manufacturer to see which bikes they're compatible with.
For a long time the SKS Raceblade was the favoured choice in this category. The Raceblade Long mount at the brake callipers on L-shaped connectors that slip up behind the brake. At the dropout they attach to another connector that's held in place by the quick release so there's no need for any mudguard mounts at all, you can fit these 'guards to a full-on race bike and because they don't sit underneath the brake callipers (save for the very thin mounting bar) clearance generally isn't an issue.
The other popular options is the Crud Roadracer. As long as you've got 4mm between the top of your tyre and the inside of your brake calliper, the Roadracers will slide in. The Mk2 version is the longest of any clip-on mudguard, almost as long as full-length mudguards, and have a front mech protector too.
You don't need mudguard eyes: Roadracers attach to the frame with reusable cable ties and some natty little brackets held on with rubber bands. That makes the Roadracer’s incredibly light, just 200g for the pair. The weight is saved because Roadracers do not the four stiff metal stays used on conventional mudguards to keep the guards from touching the wheel or tyre. Instead, the Roadracers have just two flexible plastic stays and are designed to 'float' above the tyre, with some little strips of soft brushing on the inside of the stay-clip to rub very gently on the rims and keep the guards central.
Fitting these can be a fiddle, especially getting the mudguards to float centrally over the wheels, but with a little patience it's possible to get a good setup. Also getting the mudguards to fit some frames can be an issue: I've taken a pair of scissors to mine in the past and simply adapted them to fit my bike.
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 are those favoured by mountain bikers. Mountain bikes, because of their variety of design with factors like suspension and huge tyres, means a mudguard has to be fitted very high above the wheel. The solution are mudguards that clip onto the seatpost so the height above the wheel can be adjusted accordingly, and at the front, attached to the downtube.
These type of mudguards are useful for commuting bikes, especially where clearance might be an easier because of frame design or wide tyres. Their simplicity of fitting makes them attractive, they can be whipped off in a minute too. And while they don't provide 100% protection compared to full-length options, they do keep a surprisingly high degree 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 face full of Belgian toothpaste. They are very easy to fit though, with none of the fiddly compatibility issues that can plague closer fitting clip-on mudguards. These type of mudguards really only protect the rider from mud and spray, the bike will still get covered in road crap thrown up by the rear wheel.
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 don’t track the front wheel through turns. Such a mudguard is ideal for commuting and town bikes though, as they will easily fit a variety of wheel sizes, and will fit in minutes.
This SKS S-Blade will fit seatpost diameters between 25.4 and 35mm. It's optimal with 18-26mm rubber, 28mm upwards shows signs of compromise with tell tale spatter congregating along the peripheries. Getting everything aboard is effortlessly simple but you'll still need a 4mm Allen key for tweaking the angle.
For the front the Crud Catcher is perhaps the best known of this breed of downtube mounted 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.
If you want an even simpler mudguard, then the Ass Saver might interest you. It’s as minimal as you can get, a narrow strip of plastic that hooks onto the rails of the saddle, and provides 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 small difference.
Another mudguard, and one ideal for commuting bikes, is the Full Windsor Quickfix rear mudguard. 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 seat stays 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 seat stays and the seat tube, either with cable ties or poppers, depending on which model you have