If you want to keep riding through the seasons a set of mudguards can be an invaluable accessory to help protect you, your bike and your riding buddies from the water and crud thrown up by bike wheels on a rain-soaked road or trail.
Why Do I Need Mudguards?
Mudguards – and particularly the traditional-style ‘full’ sets that offer extensive coverage on both wheels – will help to keep you and your clothes dry and clean, making winter training rides more comfortable and enabling you to keep commuting even in bad weather.
Additionally, mudguards will also offer some protection for your bike, helping to prevent against abrasive water, grit and mud getting into moving parts and cable housings where it will cause damage.
Finally, for club or sportive cyclists riding in a group with others, mudguards will prevent dirty water being sprayed into the face of the rider directly behind – a matter of courtesy to others.
What mudguard is best for me?
For some cyclists, however, ‘guards can be a bit of a love-hate item – like being forced to wear a dumpy anorak over your sharpest Italian suit. Racers can be loathe to drape their expensive carbon steeds in bulky plastic or aluminium, claiming that mudguards ruin the lines of their bike – although anyone interested in getting to their destination as clean and dry as possible isn’t going to worry too much about aesthetics!
There are three main types of mudguards – traditional, clip-on and MTB style.
Provide maximum wheel coverage and are typically found on touring bikes, commuters, city bikes and some road racers that are designed to accommodate them. They offer the best protection of any ‘guard but cannot be fitted to some bikes and aren’t intended for quick removal.
Full-length mudguards offer excellent levels of protection to rider, bike and riding companions as their design means they catch a large amount of the spray thrown up by the wheel, while additional features such as reflectors and large rubber flaps make them true all-weather friends.
Traditional mudguards will often come as standard on hybrid, city, commuter and touring bikes, where weight and aesthetics are less of a consideration than comfort and practicality.
They are typically made of aluminium, plastic or a mixture of both, and attach to the frame via thin steel arms, the ends of which are bolted to small holes (eyelets) located beside the front and rear dropouts. Full-length mudguards will also generally be secured at the top via a bracket that sits behind the brake (in the case of caliper brakes). This kind of fitting makes these mudguards very sturdy and able to withstand abuse, but does make them a bit of a pain to take on and off – not ideal if you’re the kind of rider who likes to chop and change according to conditions.
Additionally, many modern road frames may not feature the required eyelets, or may not offer enough clearance (between tyre and frame) to allow full-length guards be fitted. Some road bikes intended as winter trainers or ‘four-season’ steeds may be designed with proper guards in mind – eyelets, long-drop calliper brakes and plenty of tyre clearance – but others may oblige the use of ‘clip-on’-type ‘guards.
As you might expect, this subspecies of the common mudguard has evolved to address the needs of riders who either can’t fit ‘proper’ mudguards to their bike or who want the option of whipping them off without having to disassemble half their machine. They are lighter and more versatile than ‘proper’ mudguards but offer less protection, are flimsier in construction and can be fiddly to fit owing to the tight clearance on many road frames.
Fitment method depends on manufacturer – mounting brackets, elastic bands and cable ties are just some of the ways that mudguard makers offer a ‘non-permanent’ fixing solution – and the level of coverage can also vary widely between brands and between models. Some clip-on designs may also suffer from clearance issues – check before buying if there is little room for manoeuvre between your tyres and your frame, as most manufacturers will be able to offer guidance on maximum tyre size and/or minimum clearance required.
However there are plenty of tried and tested designs that offer protection from the worst of winter muck for bikes where full-length mudguards are impractical, impossible or just plain unwanted.
Designed to accommodate off-road bikes (although their ease of fitting makes them popular among road riders too) where suspension design and fat tyres meant that the mudguard must be fitted high above the wheel. Types vary but are typically attached to the down tube (in the case of the front ‘guard) or to the seat tube (in the case of the rear) and while they don’t offer comparable protection to full-length mudguards, they keep the worst of the spray off.
When buying, ensure that the fitting brackets will fit your seat tube diameter (most are adjustable, or come with shims, but just in case) and that the ‘guard is made to accommodate your wheel diameter (26”, 27.5” or 29”) as not all designs may be universal.
In recent years the motocross-inspired ‘fender’ type of MTB mudguard has also grown in popularity. These are attached to the fork lowers and shield the rider from spray thrown up by the front wheel.
Stay dry and clean even in the worst of winter weather with spare parts for your bike’s mudguards including mounting bolts and fastening kits.