The constant spray of dirty water from a mudguardless bike on a wet road is worse than being rained on. Unless you ride in full cycling kit and are happy to soak it, you'll want guards any time it isn't dry. You or your bike shop can fit some sort of mudguards to any bike.
Full-length frame-fitting mudguards offer the best spray protection. To fit them, your bike ideally needs threaded eyelets at the dropouts and enough clearance between the tyres and the frame, fork and brakes. There are workarounds, however, and special guards are available for close-clearance race bikes.
Mudguards need to be matched to the diameter of the wheel and the width of the tyre, otherwise water will splash out at the edges. Frame-fitting mudguards fit to eyelets at the dropouts, and to the fork crown or the chainstay and seatstay bridges. You can use P-clips //http://www.zyro.co.uk/brand/TORTEC/tortec/TTPC/p-clips.aspx// and cable-ties if your bike lacks the necessary holes in the frame.
If the frame eyelets for the mudguard are shared with a pannier rack, fit the rack struts closest to the frame and the mudguard stays on the outside. If your bike has disc brakes, you may need to bend one of the mudguard stays or uses spacer washers to make it clear the calliper.
Take care that the bolt attaching the guard at the drive-side dropout isn't so long that it touches the chain when it's on the smallest sprocket.
If anything gets jammed under a front mudguard, the guard can fold up behind the fork and jam, stopping the bike dead. Some mudguards have 'safety release' stays to prevent this happening: they snap free when force is applied.
Of course, the more space there is between tyre and mudguard to begin with, the less likely anything will jam there. The mudguard shouldn't almost skim the tyre or road grit won't rattle through. Disc, cantilever, and V-brakes don't significantly limit mudguard clearance, while deeper drop sidepulls (57mm) provide clearance on road bikes and sporty hybrids.
Check that the front mudguard doesn't catch on your toes when you turn the wheel side to side. Stand over the bike and put one foot on the forward pedal with the cranks at quarter to three. If your toe blocks the mudguard, you will need to take care when making tight turns at slow speeds. At higher speeds, you steer by leaning so it's not a problem then.
Here are some of the better mudguards out there.
The benchmark in frame-fit mudguards, SKS Chromoplastics are made of a tough and lightweight aluminium-plastic laminate. The front guard has Secu Clip fittings, which release the stays if anything gets jammed, as well as a mudflap. The rear has an integral reflector. Both have sturdy 3.4mm stainless steel stays, preventing any rattle or sway while riding. They're available in three 700C widths, to suit tyres from 20-45mm, and in two 26-inch widths, to suit tyres 1.6-2.35in. Colours: silver or black.
Axiom Rainrunner Deluxe Reflex
These mudguards offer nighttime visibility as well as rain protection, thanks to a 3M Reflex stripe down the centre, which shins bright white in car headlights. Like the SKS Chromoplastics, fittings are stainless steel and thus won't rust. Mudflaps add a little length front and rear. The guards come with adaptors so that they can be fitted easily to bikes with disc brakes. They're available in three versions: road (700C tyres up to 28mm), trekking (700C x 28-45mm) and MTB (26 x 1.5-2.2in).
Tortec Chromo-Tec Guards
Chromo-tec is the same kind of plastic-aluminium laminate favoured by most other frame fit guards. It's a durable material that doesn't burden the bike like steel guards. The front guard's stays will pop free from their fittings in a jam, and there's a mudflap to keep your feet dry. The rear guard has a reflector. Five sizes are available: 26 x 1.0-1.5in, 26 x 1.6-2.2in, 700C x 20-26, 700C x 27-35, and 700C x 36-44. Also available with reflective stripes, as Tortec Reflector Guards, for £5 extra.
SKS Raceblade Long
Designed specifically for racers, these guards provide proper spray protection to bikes with 18-23mm tyres, short reach brakes, and no mudguard eyelets. They attach via the bike's quick release skewers and brake bolts. Clearance underneath the brakes isn't compromised because only the metal mounting brackets run there; the guard sections themselves fit fore and aft. The rear guard is long enough to keep wheel spray off the any following riders, and both guards are quick-release.
Crud Roadracer Mk2
Another option to keep you and your road bike clean, Crud's Roadracers attach via rubber O-rings on the fork and seatstays, and with a cable-tie over the brake bolt. The lateral support for these lightweight plastic guards comes from brushes that rest lightly on the rims – although any drag is negligible. You only need 4mm between tyre and frame or brake to fit these guards, and the stays will release if anything jams. The Mk2 version added extra coverage to the rear guard.
Topeak Defender RC11
If you ride to work in cycling gear, you might be happy to keep only the worst of any road spray off you. Guards that are cantilevered from the seatpost stop your back and backside getting soggy. They're usually seen on mountain bikes but are also available in thinner widths for road bikes. This one is designed for road tyres up to 25mm. It straps to the seat tube/top tube junction, so unlike many similar guards won't cause wear or fitting problems on carbon fibre seatposts.
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