Many roadies turn their nose up at the prospect of fenders, often saying that they're ugly and rattly before spinning off into a rant about hardening up. That's all good and well until you're two hours into a ride and your chamois is saturated and you're wearing the contents of the road on your face thanks to the uncovered rear wheel of the rider in front of you. Even the best winter cycling shoes have been forced to yield under the interminable torrent of spray, so fenders - also known as mudguards - are a game-changer when the weather isn't playing nice.
Fenders protect you from the road gunk and water that gets flung off your wheels as they spin. They come in all different shapes and sizes, with some keeping you and your bike protected, while others favour just safeguarding your body.
The industry's growing affinity for disc brakes and wider tires is leading to frames being built with more tire clearance than ever before. In turn, this leaves extra space for full-length fenders on your road bike, alongside a good pair of winter road bike tires. However, many road bikes still don't have quite enough clearance, and even fewer have the correct mounts for traditional fenders. Thankfully, there are plenty of low profile clip-on fenders that will work on just about any bike.
If you're planning to kit out your road bike with some fenders to help you get through the perils of winter cycling, then you're in the right place. We've rounded up our list of the best road bike fenders, and divided them into those that bolt-on, and those that clip on. Not sure which type you should go for? We've also included a handy guide about what to look for.
Braze-on vs clip-on
This is probably the easiest decision you can make surrounding fenders because your bike makes it for you; either it will have eyelets for braze-on fenders or it won't.
Clip-on fenders, on the other hand, are built with brackets and straps, which attach to the fork legs, seatstays, downtube or seatpost.
There's a saying among mechanics that you can fit fenders onto any bike, all you need is patience.
With that in mind, if your bike doesn't have provision for bolt-on fenders, you can use P-clips fit onto your fork legs or frame that creates an eyelet - however, be sure to the frame in either heat-shrink or insulation tape at the point of contact. Otherwise, the contact will damage your paintwork.
Threading your mudguard through a rim brake caliper isn't always a simple task, and must be considered when investing in a set. Some fenders are designed to split at this point to offer full-length coverage on race bikes.
Length and shape
Fenders come in all shapes and sizes, and the more wheel coverage they offer, the more spray they will prevent. A full-length fender will not only protect you and the rider sitting on your wheel from tire gunk, but also your frame and bottom bracket will be pelted by less salt-infused road grit.
Look for fenders that have some contouring or a rounded shape, if they are too flat they won't offer all that much protection.
Even full-length mudguard coverage doesn't necessarily prevent that arc of spray that comes from a fast-spinning wheel, fitting a flap (an Ass Saver performs well) to the end of your fenders is a great way to offer absolute coverage, and it'll probably help you make friends on the winter club run.
Snug against the tire
For a mudguard to work correctly, it needs to sit close to the tire. Beyond keeping an eye on what the maximum tire clearance of your fender of choice is, keep in mind that if a rock or something similar gets jammed between the tire and the fender it may cause the wheel to come to an abrupt stop — a big problem if it's your front wheel.
Some fenders have safety release clips where the fender can pop out of the way and allow the tire to keep spinning if something does get wedged.
The gold standard in clip-on fenders
SKS makes a few versions of the Raceblade fenders, but we like Pro XL because you can use them no matter what brakes or axles are on your bike, and they are the easiest of the bunch to install — even over the previous version of this very fender.
Notched rubber straps attach to the frame, and the support stays are height and angle adjustable with eight 2.5mm hex bolts. They don't cover quite as much of the wheel as the Race Blade Long, but it's more than enough to keep road spray at bay, especially with the extra-long mud flaps.
Classic looking steel fenders
For those who abide by the fenders-are-ugly mantra, the fenders from Velo Orange may change your opinion. Available in smooth, hammered, faceted and snakeskin finishes, the retro-steel road bike fenders come in widths from 37mm up to 63mm in a 700c wheel size.
The full-coverage fenders come pre-drilled with a wide selection of mounting hardware to fit just about any frame. Velo orange recommends purchasing a mudguard that's at least 8mm wider than your tire and also offers mud flaps for ultimate spray protection.
Anodized spray catchers
The Pacific Northwest is famous for its wet weather, so it's no surprise that Portland Design Works makes some of the best fenders out there. Made from anodized aluminium, the PDW Full Metal fenders offer full wrap coverage and laser-etched graphics.
Available in widths from 30mm up to 45mm, the full metal fenders feature safety release tabs to ensure your wheel doesn't lock up if something gets lodged between the fender and tire. PDW also includes special hardware to fit around brake calipers, under forks and mounts for bikes that don't have eyelets.
The best plastic fenders you can buy
The SKS Bluemels Longboard fenders are made from plastic reinforced by 'superfine' aluminium strips for a sturdy rattle-free ride. The Longboard version features an extra-long flap at the end, which extends well beneath the axle to catch every bit of spray from the tire.
As with all SKS fenders, they feature the SECU safety release clips which prevent the wheel from locking should something get jammed between the fender and the tire, and all the mounting hardware is made from stainless steel to keep them going for years to come.
Stick-on lightweight fender
The Crud Roadracer fender utilises a unique velcro system to connect the fender to your bike. The DuoTech strips are essentially velcro and require one side to be stuck on your bike with adhesive (which may turn some off), but the hold is robust — you can hardly notice them on the inside edge of your fork blades and chainstays when the fender stays at home.
Installing it is tool-free and super quick, and the Road Racer MK 3 are long enough to keep you and your bike dry - not so much the rider sitting on your wheel. There is clearance for up to a 38mm tire, and there are no issues with disc or caliper brakes.
Flexible, lightweight fender
Quite possibly the easiest fender to fit, the Ass Saver slots in under your saddle locking on the rails and does surprisingly well to keep your butt dry on a wet ride. Available in two sizes, it's a lightweight option, but the Ass Saver doesn't offer anywhere near as much protection as more substantial road bike fenders.
Such is the performance of the Ass Saver, it's a common sight on the bikes of professionals in wet road races such as the 2019 World Championships.
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