Many roadies turn their nose up at the prospect of mudguards, 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 five minutes into an all-day epic and your chamois is already saturated.
Fenders and mudguards 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 tyres is leading to frames being built with more tyre clearance than ever before. In turn, this leaves extra space for full-length mudguards on your road bike. However, many high-end carbon road bikes still don't have quite enough clearance, and even fewer have the correct mounts for traditional mudguards. Thankfully, there are plenty of low profile clip-on fenders that will work on just about any bike.
Cycling clubs and group-rides the world over will have differing unwritten policies when it comes to mudguard usage. The more mudguard-friendly clubs will flat-out ban riders from joining if they don't have full coverage, with the argument that if a rider invests time and money into fitting his-or-her bike with full-length mudguards for the benefit of the rider behind, it's unfair to then have to sit in the permanent-shower of someone else's uncovered wheel.
What to look for in mudguards?
1. Braze-on or clip-on
This is probably the easiest decision you can make surrounding fenders because your bike makes it for you; it will have eyelets for braze-on mudguards 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 mudguards onto any bike, all you need is patience.
With that in mind, if your bike doesn't have provision for bolt-on mudguards, 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.
2. Length and shape
Mudguards 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 tyre 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 mudguards is a great way to offer absolute coverage, and it'll probably help you make friends on the winter club run.
3. Snug against the tyre
For a mudguard to work correctly, it needs to sit close to the tyre. Beyond keeping an eye on what the maximum tyre clearance of your fender of choice is, keep in mind that if a rock or something similar gets jammed between the tyre 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 tyre to keep spinning if something does get wedged.
Best road bike mudguards this winter
Velo Orange Steel
Classic looking steel fenders
Material: Steel | Max tyre size: 29mm (37mm version) | Price: £65 / $76 / AU$150
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 mudguards 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 tyre and also offers mudflaps for ultimate spray protection.
Portland Design Works Full Metal
Anodised spray catchers
Material: Aluminium | Max tyre size: 25mm (30mm version) | Price: £95 / $120 / AU$TBC
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 anodised 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 mudguards feature safety release tabs to ensure your wheel doesn't lock up if something gets lodged between the fender and tyre. PDW also includes special hardware to fit around brake calipers, under forks and mounts for bikes that don't have eyelets.
Kinesis Fend Off
Budget-friendly metal mudguards
Material: Aluminium | Max tyre size: 30mm | Price: £55 / $TBC / AU$TBC
Made from anodised aluminium with laser graphics, the Kinesis Fend Off provides full-wrap coverage and won't empty your wallet in the process. Compatible with tyres up to 30mm wide, the packaging can be converted into durable poly mudflaps for extra protection.
The rear mudguard features double stays for added stability while cutouts help it to clear narrow brake callipers. Though the Fend Off Fenders aren't all that easy to fit, once they are on, the mudguards are rattle-free, good looking and work as advertised.
SKS Bluemels Longboard
The best plastic fenders you can by
Material: Plastic | Max tyre size: 37mm | Price: £41 / $45 / AU$75
The SKS Bluemels Longboard mudguards 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 tyre.
As with all SKS guards, they feature the SECU safety release clips which prevent the wheel from locking should someone get jammed between the fender and the tyre, and all the mounting hardware is made from stainless steel to keep them going for years to come.
Crud RoadRacer MK 3
Stick-on lightweight fender
Material: Plastic | Max tyre size: 38m | Price: £35 / $54 / AU$80
The Crud Roadracer mudguard 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 tyre, and there are no issues with disc or caliper brakes
Ass Saver Regular and Mudder Mini
Flexible, lightweight fender set
Material: Polypropylene | Price: Regular £10 / $12 / AU$13 Mudder Mini £12 / $15 / AU$21
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 mudguards.
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.
It's not just your derriere that Ass Savers are looking to keep dry, the brand also offers a mini polypropylene front fender that borrows the design pioneered by the Mucky Nutz Fender Bender flexible front MTB mudguard. It fits in just under the fork crown and is secured to the fork legs by velcro, catching some of the road spray which would otherwise end up on your face.
Flinger Race Pro
Easy install full-coverage clip-on mudguard
Material: Polycarbonate | Max tyre size: 25mm
There are a lot of clip-on fenders that require a ton of faffing, especially when you have to start unbolting brake calipers. The genius in the Flinger guards is that the bracket which sneaks under the brake caliper doesn't require you to remove the pivot bolt fully — simply loosen it and slide in the hardware. From there secure the reach stays to your frame with the notched rubber straps, and you're golden — though we'd recommend cutting off some of the excess, so it doesn't get caught in your wheels.
The Flingers are made from polycarbonate; they are long enough to protect you and your bike from flying rain-soaked road debris, but the rider on your wheel is out of luck. The other trouble with these guards is the maximum tyre clearance is a 25mm tyre.
SKS Raceblade Pro XL
The gold standard in clip-on fenders
Material: Plastic | Max tyre size: 32mm | Price: £48 / $60 / AU$65
SKS makes a few versions of the Raceblade mudguards, 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.
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