Mudguards are an essential purchase if you want to ride through winter in relative comfort.
While they do little for the clean lines of a road bike, mudguards protect your backside and face from water, mud, grime and anything else that kicks up off your tyres on a country lane.
It needn’t be raining to feel the benefit of mudguards. Cold tarmac will remain wet long after rain has fallen and guards will continue to keep you dry and, as wet clothes invariably result in a cold rider, help keep you warm when the temperature is otherwise.
Your riding buddies will thank you for it as a rear mudguard, providing it’s of adequate length, will catch most road spray before it reaches their face. Riding without mudguards on a club run or group ride through winter is frowned upon.
If your have genuine ambition to log serious winter miles – and you will feel the benefit when next summer’s sportive and racing season arrives – then mudguards will help keep you on the road, when rain would otherwise provide a ready-made excuse to stay in front of the fire.
So, are you sold on mudguards? Here are some key points to consider when buying guards for your road bike.
Clearance and eyelets
If you find yourself in a bike shop browsing for mudguards, stop, leave, return home and take a look at your bike first. The first things to consider are clearance and whether your frame has eyelets.
Whether your bike has mudguard eyelets will affect what time of guards you are able to fit. Bikes with eyelets will accept full mudguards, provided there’s adequate clearance, while those without will require clip-on guards.
Touring bikes and those designed specifically with winter riding in mind, including RoadCyclingUK’s Test Rig, the venerable Kinesis Racelight TK3, will normally have eyelets and clearance for full ‘guards. Typically only steel, aluminium or titanium frame swill have eyelets, but the carbon fibre Orbea Avant we saw at Eurobike also had the capability to take full mudguards and we wondered aloud whether that’s a growing trend.
Traditional road racing bikes won’t have eyelets and, more importantly, clearance for full mudguards – they are racing bikes, after all. However, clip-on mudguards from the likes of Crud and SKS will fit most bikes. We’ll run through both options – full mudguards and clip-on guards – in more detail below.
Length and width
Full mudguards are typically wider than clip-on guards and have a specific fit, offering better coverage as a result. The longer the mudguard, the better the coverage, and guards with mud flaps (rubberised sections at the bottom of both the front and rear mudguards) generally provide more comprehensive protection than those without.
Needless to say, look for road-specific mudguards for your road bike, rather than those designed primarily for trekking of mountain bikes.
Some full mudguards are available in a variety of widths, depending on the width of your tyres. The SKS Bluemels, for example, are available in ‘narrow’, ‘wide’ and ‘hybrid’ widths, for 20-28mm, 25-25mm and 28-38mm tyres respectively. Clip-on guards typically come in one width, though SKS also offer the Raceblade in a ‘long’ version.
The benefits of clip-on guards, as outlined above, are that they will fit most road bikes, regardless of how much (or, rather, little) clearance there is. They are also easier to remove if you want to drop the guards when the sun comes out or for an early-season race.
SKS and Crud dominate the clip-on mudguard market, and their respectively Raceblade and Roadracer MKII guards are popular recommendations in the RCUK forum.
SKS Raceblades are fixed using steel strips clamped by the quick release skewer, which in turn attach to the mudguard itself. They’re quick to clip on and take off, though you must remove the guard from its stay mount in order to remove the wheel of fix a puncture.
Crud’s Roadracer guards, meanwhile, are lighter and less obtrusive, complementing a racing bike as much as a mudguard can, and offer great coverage, but they’re a little trickier to fit and harder to remove on a whim (though the guards remain in place when removing the wheel).
Full mudguards require mechanical installation, and while some perseverance may be needed to get the right fit, should be light work for a competent home mechanic.
We were impressed by the “wide beaver-like tails” at the end of each of the Bluemels’ guards, which provided excellent protection, and they were relatively easy to fit.
The matte black plastic finish will suit most modern machines, though we have to admit for a slight preference towards the anodized aluminium of PDW’s guards, which also have a number of clever design intricacies that allows them to be fitted to machines with mudguard eyelets or without. As it happens we fitted them to the 2012/13 RCUK winter bike (which does have eyelets) and they worked a treat.
Finally, if you don’t want to labour your machine with mudguards (and congratulations for getting to the end of this buyer’s guide if that’s the case), the Ass Saver is a shaped piece of plastic which slips under the saddle and clips on to the rails.
It will never be as effective as proper mudguards (either full or clip-on) but it’ll save your derriere from the worst of the road spray, even if your riding buddies won’t feel the benefit.
Many manufacturers also have a rear mudguard which can be easily attached to the seatpost, which is a good enough solution for triple world time trial champion Tony Martin’s training bike. That said, it’s not an aesthetically pleasing solution for a road bike, nor one which will provide as comprehensive protection as a proper set of guards.