Words: Neil Webb
For those of us who plan to keep riding our bikes over the winter, we have to accept one thing as a certainty. We’ll be riding in the rain at some point in the near future. In the warmer weather, getting damp isn’t a big problem but once it cools a few degrees, being wet can really ruin a ride. Good clothing will go a long way to help but one thing will make as much — if not more — difference: mudguards.
While they may not be the most fashionable, sporty-looking or cool accessory you can attach to your bike, the improvement to the quality of your ride in bad weather can be immeasurable — never underestimate how much better you’ll feel an hour into a ride if your shoes aren’t full of water and your chamois is still dry. It isn’t until you ride with mudguards that you realise how much water comes up from the road!
As road bikes have become lighter and more sporting focused, fittings and/or clearance for ‘proper’ mudguards has fallen out of favour and many people don’t have the financial wherewithal or inclination for a dedicated winter bike. All is not lost, though. There are now plenty of options for the ‘close clearance’ bike, from simple clip on and off options that avoid the brake and normal attachment issues, right through to fenders that look like traditional guards but bypass clearance issues through clever design — and plenty in-between.
What to look for
The basic idea behind a mudguard is to stop water coming off the wheels onto the body: the longer the guard, the greater the coverage and the more protection they offer — full guards also keep a lot of salt-laden winter road spray off your bike. Very narrow guards or those that are too flat or far away from the tyre will also reduce protection.
Having a plastic cover close to your tyre means there is a chance of additional noise as flopping guards can rub on the side of the tyre or bounce up and down on top of it. No one wants to ride a noisy bike, so the quality and security of the fittings is just as important as the length and coverage.
Ease of fitting
As the guards will be going on a bike that is also ridden ‘sans fender’, the ease of fitting and removal is important, as is the speed and simplicity. We like a mudguard set to be easy to keep together off the bike. Too many parts to get lost or slide under the fridge are never a good thing.
Our 7 of the best
Bontrager Interchange Nebula £34.99
A sturdy mudguard, so the initial fitting takes some time, but the Nebulas are designed so that you shouldn’t need to adjust them every time you remove and refit them. And remove them you will, as it’s quick and tool-free thanks to the ball joints that remain on the bike. We like the robust nature of the guard’s polycarbonate construction twinned with oversize alloy stays; they have good coverage, malleable rubber flaps and come in three sizes. More pricey than some, though.
Tortec Razor Guards £27.99
The Tortecs go a long way to show the difference small details can make. They may well have the same stay fixings as the ETCs, allowing for ready adjustment in stay length, but the frame and fork fitment is a definite improvement. Short and high-mounting stays add stability and stiff rubber straps offer a solid mounting with flexibility. These guards fit a variety of frames as the straps can form around irregular-shaped frame tubing or fork legs readily. Again, a slightly short front guard drops a point from the score. Manufacturers take note — we like dry feet.
SJS Roadguards £17.99
The price, at £18 less a penny, is very attractive, the length of the guard is very good and the nylock fittings make set-up simple, preventing too much wobbling and faff when finalising the positioning. However, we did have issues on some bikes. With a large, hard plastic block incorporating a jubilee clip-style adjuster we found them limiting on almost anything other than smaller, rounded tubing and fork legs. Tapered or aero shapes are a definite no-no. If these fit your bike, they’ll work pretty well but we can’t help knocking them down a mark due to their inflexible design.
Crud Roadracer 2 £29.99
Now in their second iteration, Crud’s road guards are infuriatingly simple. Rather than try to offer an overly solid fixing around the brakes, the designers used tiny pile strips that buff up against the rim should the fender wobble in use. The rest of the plastic fittings hold the set-up pretty solid, and once set up — they are a little more fiddly than most but worth persevering — we had no rubbing issues whatsoever. Only the fiddly set-up and removal, and quantity of parts prevents them getting a perfect 10.
Topeak DeFender R1/R2 £39.99
Despite seeming similar to many clip-on road mudguards, Topeak’s DeFenders have a distinct advantage over others in this test — three-point fixings. Rather than just attaching to the forks or stays, the fixing is triangulated by attaching to the brakes. They are on the shorter side but still usable — fine for protecting the rider, but less so for anyone riding behind. The finish is good; they are solid in use and with integrated straps there’s nothing to lose when they’re not in use. Only a longer variant could improve them.
ETC M/guard £24.49
At first glance these ETCs look very similar to the SJS guards and in fact use an almost identical stay/fork fixing. This means they suffer from the same compatibility issues but at the fender end of the stays the fittings are quite different. Rather than a visually old-fashioned but very solid nut and bolt, a plastic threaded adjuster grips the stay allowing for a small amount of adjustment. We had no issues on any of our test bikes but there is less adjustment than on some other designs.
Giant Defy Fenders £26.99
Unlike any others in this test, the Giant fenders will need frame fittings or aftermarket p-clips to attach them to. However, unlike other standard guards, the area that slides past the brakes is cut away to allow for fitting on bikes with pretty much zero clearance. The extra width compared to Crud’s similar length Roadracers means it offers even more protection, and the four fixing points offer a perfect, solid fit. If you plan to keep guards on for the whole of the winter, there is no reason to buy anything else.
Unusually for one of Cycling Active’s round-ups, we have a four-way tie for the win. Thankfully, there is generally a relatively simple way of deciding which is for you and it’s based on how long you’re likely to leave them on.
Choose the Topeaks if you want something that’s as easy to change as the weather. For those of you who are more likely to actually leave them on for a bit longer, the Cruds offer better coverage. If you’re likely to remove them for the occasional sunny weekend then the Treks are best, and for the winter-long fender wearer, the Giant is the only logical choice.