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The pros and cons of mudguards

Frank Strack
21 Feb 2019

Mudguards ruin the look of your bike and the purity of your ride, but they do keep you dry. Frank Strack ponders the issue

Dear Frank

What is the Velominati’s rule on mudguards? They would seem to go against several rules concerning the look of the bike and the hardness of the ride, but I’d argue they should be obligatory for anyone riding in a group in wet weather.

Callum, Surrey

Dear Callum,

No other beacon rings as strong that winter is truly upon us as the seasonal shift of concern from the convenience of saddlebags towards that of mudguards.

Are mudguards ugly? Of course they are. Are they practical? Less ‘of course’, but still mostly yes. And that’s where the real trouble comes in: are they more practical than they are ugly? And, should that be the case, are they a contravention to the hardness of the ride, as you say? Let’s start with the negative points.

They are ugly. Yes, Portland Design Works makes arguably the most elegant fender (that’s what they call them here in the States), but even they remain a largely ungainly beast.

Wires and brackets, however cleanly mounted, remain wires and brackets, and no one ever invited a wire or a bracket into bed with them, so we can all agree that they are ugly.

They are also fiends of wind resistance, causing an inordinate and very considerable watt-soaking drag on your forward momentum. Not to mention that even the featheriest of fenders will offset your extra-light skewers and all-titanium cassette by several orders of magnitude.

That works out to literally tenths or even hundredths of fractions of hard-earned watts out the window.

And we haven’t even touched on the noise yet. The rattles and the squeals of tyres touching the debris lodged firmly in the deepest caverns of the unholy mudguard will send even the purest of mind into madness.

Every professional bike mechanic will tell you that fenders, when installed correctly, will be silent. This is a story they will tell you to (a) sell you the fenders in the first place and (b) explain why your bike’s unique set-up caused an extra seven hours of modifications to the fenders in order to get them installed without rubbing the tyres.

However, the fit will likely be sufficiently tight that as soon as you ride through your first puddle or encounter your first wet leaf, you will find yourself in need of further adjustments in order to get them to accommodate the wet weather conditions they were ostensibly designed for.

On the other side of the argument, we have the following points. They keep some of your bearings from getting gummed up as quickly as they might do otherwise.

This is true, of course, so long as you don’t clean your bike with water after your wet rides – which is something you should always do irrespective of whether you have mudguards or not.

If, however, you do maintain your bike, then the mudguard will hardly be the deciding factor in how well your bike survives over time, because the simple fact is that riding in wet weather will wear heavily on your bike and you have to look after it to counter that wear.

There is also the argument that they keep you, the rider, a bit drier too, as they protect you not from the rain, but from the splash of your tyres and the detritus you ride through.

This is certainly the case, although the laws of conservation of both matter and energy dictate that all that wet stuff they protect you from is going either into the bike or into the mudguards where they will slow you down jam up your tyres.

Ultimately, the argument finds itself logically at a stalemate, which leaves me no choice but to invoke the Hardness Clause. Riding with mudguards is a circumvention of Rule #9 (If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.)

Furthermore, they violate the Principle of Silence: the notion your bicycle should always be silent (see Rule #65).

Therefore I have no alternative but to rule against mudguards, and for maintaining the bike and submitting to the deluge of the ride in all its glory. And for those of you on the group ride chewing on my rooster tail of road sludge?

You’re welcome to take your pull at the front where that will no longer be a problem.

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