Best mudguards/fenders: a buyer's guide

Do you need full mudguards, clip ons or something in between?

There's little more unpleasant than getting a wet butt when cycling, so mudguards — or fenders for those outside the UK — are an essential accessory for any cyclist that wants to ride year round. 

Mudguards also do a damned fine job of keeping your bike clean, reducing the amount of maintenance you have to do and greatly increases the longevity of your components. A win/win in our eyes.

On longer rides, the boost to morale of being dry and comfortable on your bike is also immeasurable. A few audax events and randonneuring bodies even require your bike to be fitted with mudguards as a courtesy to other riders in a bunch.

As with seemingly everything in the cycling world, choosing the right mudguards or fenders for you and your bike isn’t always the most simple task. But worry no longer as our guide below should demystify the world of keeping dry on a bike.

Mudguard and fender types

Have you got the eye for it?
Have you got the eye for it?

The first thing you must ascertain is what kind of mudguard your bike can run.

If you’re bike has eyelets (or braze-ons as they’re also known), you should be able to run full length mudguards.

Although these are a more permanent fixture, they are undoubtedly the best solution as they give the greatest level of coverage possible, are far less prone to wobbling and tend to last longer than clip-on solutions.

If your bike doesn’t have eyelets, you may be able to use p-clips as a makeshift solution, though be cautious doing so on carbon frames.

Don't be surprised if you have to 'encourage' the stays of your mudguards to work nicely with disc brakes
Don't be surprised if you have to 'encourage' the stays of your mudguards to work nicely with disc brakes

Although the situation has improved greatly, the placement of eyelets on some bikes can leave you wanting (particularly on bikes with disc brakes), so a little bit of jiggery-pokery including bending stays may be in order.

Mudguards don't need to be an afterthought and can be integrated beautifully into a bike
Mudguards don't need to be an afterthought and can be integrated beautifully into a bike

Though some will bemoan the permanence of full length mudguards, they can look excellent if ‘integrated’ with the bike and really don’t take long to remove once set up.

The choices available for full cover mudguards are huge and we’ll cover these later.

Clip on full cover mudguards and fenders

Fret not if your bike is lacking in the eyelet department as there are other solutions out there.

And while they give decent coverage, it's not as full as full length mudguards
And while they give decent coverage, it's not as full as full length mudguards

Mudguards like the SKS Race Blade Pro and Crud Roadacer use o-rings (though MK3 of the Roadracer use a special kind of ‘super velcro’) wrapped around the frame to provide a relatively secure connection in lieu of eyelets while providing a level of coverage comparable, but not quite as thorough, as full length mudguards.

Although their light weight and sleek looks may seem appealing, be warned that this style of guards are often a bit of a faff to set up and tend to wobble about more than full cover guards.

Crud Road Racers are a great option for bikes without eyelets, but are undoubtedly a faff to fit
Crud Road Racers are a great option for bikes without eyelets, but are undoubtedly a faff to fit

However, if your bike has especially tight clearances or lacks eyelets, these are the best options available.

Mudguards aren't limited to road use and can make a world of difference off road
Mudguards aren't limited to road use and can make a world of difference off road

Clip-on mudguards and fenders

Clip-on mudguards are your last option and give the least amount of coverage of all the styles.

Though they’ll go a long way to stop the cursed brown streak of muck up your back, they’ll do little to protect your bike from the elements. 

However, for mountain bikes or those that absolutely cannot stand the idea of full cover mudguards, they’re the only option.

It utilises a cammed strap closure to keep the mudguard securely in place
It utilises a cammed strap closure to keep the mudguard securely in place

Clip-on mudguards come in two distinct styles — clamp-on style like the venerable Topeak Defender and folding ones like the the popular Ass Saver.

Folding guards which mount under the crown are becoming increasingly popular on mountain bikes
Folding guards which mount under the crown are becoming increasingly popular on mountain bikes

Usually mounting under the saddle, crown or downtube, these will protect you from the worst spray and are best suited to mountain bikes.

Which full cover mudguards and fenders should I buy?

The world of full cover mudguards is hugely saturated and there are lots of options to wade through. 

First, it’s worth considering what you want your mudguards to be made of.

Starting at the high end, a nice set of alloy, full cover mudguards are a very worthwhile investment that will last far longer than a set of regular, plastic guards.

Not only do they look handsome, but a set such as these Velo Orange mudguards only cost a bit more more than a set of regular, plastic ones.

These alloy guards from Velo Orange don't cost much more than a plastic set
These alloy guards from Velo Orange don't cost much more than a plastic set

For those after something a little less flashy, the well-loved Portland Design Works Full Metal fenders are another popular option. 

SKS bridges the gap with its chromoplastic guards, which see a thin layer of alloy sandwiched between two layers of plastic, creating a durable and sturdy set of guards at a relatively low price point.

Coming in nearly every size imaginable, the Chromoplastic guards are the usual go-to option for bike shops, with SKS providing a plethora of spare parts.

A well used set of SKS Chromoplastic mudguards embellished with a suitably ugly, custom mudflap
A well used set of SKS Chromoplastic mudguards embellished with a suitably ugly, custom mudflap

Lastly, a set of plastic guards such as the NCS range from Bontrager are a lighter option, but in our experience won’t last as long as others.

The Bontrager NCS guards are a lightweight but not quite as durable option
The Bontrager NCS guards are a lightweight but not quite as durable option

And if you’re a chronically hipster quinoa nosher, you could realm into nichedom and order a set of furiously trendy wooden guards from the likes of Woodguards or Woody’s.

Although we jest, these walnut and Formica mudguards from Woodguards are undoubtedly pretty
Although we jest, these walnut and Formica mudguards from Woodguards are undoubtedly pretty

What width of mudguard or fender should I buy?

Consider what width of mudguard is most appropriate for your tyres.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to err on the side of caution and fit the widest set of mudguards you can to your bike.

Not only does this future proof your mudguard choice, but it also increases the clearances between your mudguards and your tyre, greatly reducing the chance of something getting stuck in there.

On that note, SKS includes breakaway clips with its mudguards which are designed to disconnect the stays of the mudguard from the bike in the event that something gets stuck between the tyre and the guards, stopping you from taking a flyer over the bars.

Be aware that the profile of some mudguards won’t play nicely on bikes with tight clearances, particularly around the fork crown so it’s well worth doing some research online or popping into your local bike shop and having them fit you a set that they know will work with your model.

This article was last updated on 3 October 2017

Jack Luke

Staff Writer, UK
Jack has been riding and fettling with bikes for his whole life. Always in search of the hippest new niche in cycling, Jack is a self-confessed gravel dork and thinks nothing of bivouacking on a beach after work. Also fond of cup and cone bearings, skids and tan wall tyres.
  • Discipline: Long days in the saddle by either road or mountain bike
  • Preferred Terrain: Happiest when on a rural road by the coast or crossing a remote mountain pass. Also partial to a cheeky gravel adventure or an arduous hike-a-bike.
  • Current Bikes: Custom Genesis Croix de Fer all road adventure wagon, Niner EMD 9.
  • Dream Bike: A rigid 44 Bikes Marauder, all black please.
  • Beer of Choice: Caesar Augustus
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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