By Stefan Abram
Mudguards are one of the best accessories you can add to your gravel bike. The ground might be hard and dusty when it hasn’t rained for days, but those tracks can turn to a sloppy, muddy mess in the winter - and even much of the spring and autumn.
A good set of mudguards will do a lot to protect the vulnerable parts of your bike like the headset and drivetrain. If you’re loaded up with a full complement of bikepacking bags - even if they are rated as waterproof - you’ll be better served by not testing their capabilities. It only takes one night in a wet sleeping bag or drenched tent to be assured of the importance of keeping these things dry.
Showers pass but roads stay wet for a long time after rain, so you’ll also be more comfortable if the worst of the spray is deflected from you. Heat is lost extremely quickly from wet clothes, but even if it’s warm and wet, a mid-ride café stop is a more pleasant affair if you aren’t caked from head to toe in silty water.
>>>Read: 11 tips for cycling in the rain
But it’s not just as simple as buying any old mudguards. You need to make sure that you’re getting something that will fit wide tyres, has clearance for proper mud and that can cope with the rattling from unpaved tracks.
Best Mudguards for gravel bikes
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>>> Read: If you are looking for mudguards for a road bike, check out our buyer's guide here
So diminutive it’s easy to miss, but Ass Savers’ Mudder Mini is there between the forks shielding the headset bearings. It is surprising just how much of a difference such a small ‘guard can make to the amount of spray flicking up at your face and all over your bags. For something so lightweight (it’s only 21g) and discrete, there’s really no reason not to reap its benefits.
The rear mudguard goes by the name 'Fender Bendor Big' and, as with the Mudder Mini, it attaches to the frame with a quick and easy Velcro strap. You don’t get full coverage of the rear wheel - it’s not going to prevent those behind you getting a face full of water - but you'll be protected from the worst and it won't get clogged up with mud. At 61g, it weighs about the same as a set of merino socks (ours are 60g).
SKS S Board and S Blade Mudguard Set
SKS is a German brand known for its high quality and durable mudguards. These particular ones can be bought separately, but they complement each other well as a pair. The S-Board is designed for the front eheel and can handle tyres up to 700 x 38c. The long and flexible straps mean it also plays well with deeper section aero forks.
The S-Blade’s simplicity allows it to be incredibly versatile and will fit almost any bike. Because of the design, it's not in danger of being clogged with mud. Fitting to the seatpost, its angle can be adjusted to provide the best protection from rear wheel spray. An adhesive protection kit is also supplied with the ‘guards to prevent paintwork damage. The combined weight comes to 198g.
The washout summer of 2012 - and the lack of suitable mudguards - inspired Mudhugger founders Jamie and Bruce to develop their own. Although originally designed for mountain bikes (they’ve been raced at UCI Downhill World Cups), a gravel version is now available.
These can handle tyres up to 50mm in 650b and 42mm in 700c. When the weather takes a turn for the better, the nitrile O-rings and Velcro straps make for easy removal. Given their mountain biking background, you can be sure that these mudguards will stay secure even on the roughest of tracks.
The arcing profile hugs the tyre and offers a large degree of protection, while also leaving enough clearance not to get clogged with mud. Together, the front and rear weigh in at 220g - which is potentially less than the water weight of soaked cycling kit. Helitape is supplied with the ‘guards which are designed, made and packed in the UK and use recycled plastic.
M:Part Quick Detach
A longer arc over the rear tyre serves provide a little more protection for the riders behind you - increasing your popularity when riding in a group. Although the slender stays may appear flimsy, their stainless-steel construction will ensure a long usable life.
The polycarbonate material the ‘guards are made from is virtually unbreakable and so will stand up to the knocks and bumps of heavy usage. The 46mm wide option can take 700 x 38c tyres and the rubber straps mean taking them on and off is a straightforward task. These are a little heaver, however, tipping the scales at 370g.
SKS Gravel Specific Mudguards
If you crave more coverage, these robustly engineered mudguards are the ones for you. The front mudguard resembles the classic profile of a full-length set-up and offers similar protection. The stays attach near the ends of the ‘guards, helping to increase rigidity and provide more security over the roughest of tracks.
On the rear, a large area of the wheel is covered, not only helping protect you and your kit, but also the riders behind you. There is a recess where the stays attach to the frame to better accommodate brake and gear cables. Together they weigh 408g, which is incredible for the amount of coverage they offer. Tyres up to 700 x 42c can be accommodated.
Velo Orange Snakeskin Fenders
There are few mudguards that really turn heads, but these might be one such pair, with their striking snakeskin pattern. They are robustly made and will stand up to a large amount of abuse while still holding their shape. The attention to detail finds expression in the leather washers that are used to deaden any rattling, making for a more secure fit.
These mudguards are more susceptible to clogging in thick mud and the large coverage of the front mudguard means errant branches can be scooped up and jam the wheel. The best application for these is when your ride is weighted more towards the roads and stonier trails.
Gravel mudguards: Things to think about
The last thing you want is for your lovely plump tyres to be worn down by an ill-fitting mudguard. Although there are many benefits of wide tyres, sometimes it’s better to go for a slightly smaller option that won't rub on the 'guards.
Even if your tyre isn’t rubbing on the mudguards, when the conditions are particularly muddy - and if the clearance isn’t capacious - you’ll end up with a large amount of unwelcome resistance as the accumulating clag acts as a brake on your tyre. In particularly muddy conditions, a narrower tyre can be the better option, all things considered.
If you're riding through forests where there is a lot of tree debris on the floor, a more minimalist mudguard set up is safer than the classic full-length look. Mudguards that reach near to the floor can get jammed with branches that are flicked up by the wheels - which can have pretty disastrous consequences.
Toe overlap and bag clearance
Another pitfall to be aware of is clearance on the other side of the mudguards: i.e., how nicely they play with your bags and feet. On smaller frames especially, toe overlap with the front mudguard and giant saddle bags fighting for position with the rear mudguard are real issues.
A more minimalist mudguard can help here, being smaller in size and being more flexible in their positioning. However, that does come at the expense of some protection from the spray, so there is a balance to be struck.
Bike and bag protection
Mudguards aren’t just there for the rider, they also benefit your components. Keeping water away from your bearings, especially those in the headset, will reduce your risk of mechanical issues and make your parts last longer.
Although waterproof bike-packing bags are available, given how unpleasant a wet sleeping bag or drenched tent is, testing the limits of their water repulsion isn’t in your best interests. Even a small mudguard goes a long way to keeping the worst of the water off.
A shower might pass quickly, but the roads and trails stay wet for a long time after the rain. Avoiding the resultant spray will have a massive effect on your comfort and, consequently, your ability to keep on riding.
Wet clothes suck away heat from your body, while the water also softens your skin making you more likely to suffer from chaffing. You could avoid this by wearing full waterproofs, but no matter how technical the fabric, it’ll always be more clammy to wear one than not. A good set of mudguards goes a long way to circumventing these issues.
Mudguards that attach to the frame and fork of your bike are incredibly versatile. They are easy to take on and off and fit a wide range of different bikes. The downside is that in attaching to your frame, they run a very real risk of damaging your paintwork - and in extreme circumstances, even your frame.
To prevent this, it’s worth getting yourself some helitape. This clear tape that is incredibly strong and won’t be worn through by the straps of your mudguards. It’s almost invisible when the mudguards are removed, so your frame will stay looking as pretty as ever.
Some brands will provide a form of this tape with their mudguards, but it is worth buying some extra, as you’ll then be able to swap the mudguards between bikes - and also protect your frame where your bikepacking bags attach.
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