Finding the Best Fenders for Your Touring Bike

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Not every cyclist uses fenders—or mudguards as they’re called outside of the U.S. However, many cyclists try them once and become lifelong fans.

These curved accessories fit over the top of your tires with a small gap. They act as a mud and water guard. When you’re gliding down wet roads in the rain, you’ll notice the difference. Instead of water, grit, and mud spraying everywhere as you ride, fenders keep all of that contained and instead it drips neatly downward behind you.

It sounds like a small thing, but it’s a big deal when you’re cycling across continents.

Bike tourists riding on a paved path through a wooded area
© John Greenfield | Creative Commons

The best fenders for touring bikes are the ones that fit your bike and your budget. Partial coverage is better than nothing. However, full-length guards offer the best performance if you can achieve a perfect fit.

We’ll go over some things to consider, but if you prefer you can jump straight to our touring bike fender recommendations.

What to consider when buying fenders for a touring bike

Size and coverage

Longer fenders do a better job at keeping mud off of you and your bike’s drivetrain. Wider fenders accommodate a variety of tire sizes. Those wide models also provide a bigger gap between the mudguard and the tire, meaning it’s less likely that branches or gravel will get stuck in there.

A deep profile to your fender allows water to flow out of the bottom in a controlled stream instead of spraying from the sides. However, there’s a tradeoff here as a large gap means the fender will protect your bike less from grit. You’ll want to find a balance.

Does your bike need full-length fenders?

Whether or not your bike needs full-length fenders depends on the style of bicycle. Modern mountain bikes and road bikes rarely have the right attachment features. Cyclocross and touring bikes almost always do.

You’ll want to take a look at your bike and maybe pull out a ruler. Full-length mudflaps need a certain amount of clearance. Most models require over 3/4 inch of space between your fork crown, tires, seatstay bridge, and chainstay bridge.

Is there a hole drilled in the fork crown for a bolt? Also look out for eyelets or braze-ons on the frame at the dropouts and at the bottom of the fork. If your bike doesn’t have these features, mudguards that clip onto the seatpost and fork crown may still be an option.

Adjustability

Fenders work best when they’re as close as possible to the wheel. Meanwhile, you may want a larger gap for off-road adventures. Adjustable fittings and struts with variable length will help here. Many clip-on models do well in this respect. While we’re on the subject, quick-release clips let you flip open the guard and remove debris that gets stuck in the gap.

Smooth edges

Sharp corners can scratch you or cut up your clothes when you brush by. They also raise the slim chance that the fender might seriously damage the tire.

Rigid materials

Floppy plastic mudguards can rub on the tires, reducing their life and making an annoying sound. Metal fenders are much stiffer. However, don’t completely discount their plastic cousins. Certain manufacturers may use a metal core, double struts, or clever mounting. A high-quality plastic mudguard may outperform a cheap, thin metal unit.

However, remember that the installation is just as important. A poor installation job that is loose or has the wrong spacing from the tire will make even a premium brand like Velo Orange perform badly.

Price and availability

How easy will it be to find your ideal mudguard? Some brands like SKS have spares in practically every cycling supply store. Is the fender a splurge item or well within budget? You probably don’t want a dirt cheap and flimsy model. However, you may want to hold off on that sleek, imported metal fender until you’re sure you like this feature.

Closures and clips

Some installations are quite straightforward. Basically, attach a few supports and you’re ready to go. However, not every bike is compatible with standard connections. In fact, for many models of mountain bikes, clip on or clamp style mudguards are your only option. You might be able to fit on a folding style like the whimsically named Ass Saver.

If you spend a lot of time on trails, you may want fenders with breakaway clips. These can disconnect the stays if enough force is applied. Why would you want this feature? If something sizeable like a branch does get stuck between the guard and tire, the fender will give way. This can save you from crashing ankles over bars.

Do you need mudflaps?

Mudflaps are flexible rubber or plastic flaps that hang off of the bottom end of the fender. They help redirect water and mud downward to the ground, instead of onto you or the riders around you. Picture a smaller version of the mudflaps that hang behind the back wheels of trucks.

A bike lying down in leaves with a mudflap on its front fender
Mudflaps attach to the bottom of a fender, as you see on the front fender of this touring bike. (© Alternative Transportation Specialist | Creative Commons)

These aren’t technically necessary, but they do add an extra layer of protection. Mudflaps are a particularly good choice for cheaper or clip-on plastic fenders as they greatly increase these devices’ efficiency. Make sure you get the right size and that they’re attached securely.

What material makes the best fenders?

You can find great options in metal, wood, carbon fiber, and plastic. However, if you’re looking for affordable fenders that are easy to install and take down at your bike touring destination, consider plastic clip-ons.

Plastic

Plastic fenders are quick and straightforward to install. They’re lighter than their metal cousins, but not as much as you might think once you add in the hardware needed.

Durable and quiet fenders have metal core, layers of alloy and plastic, or multiple struts to stabilize an otherwise floppy material. This flexibility can also be an advantage on rough roads as they’re more likely to bend and rebound. Cheap metal mudguards simply bend.

Metal

Metal fenders look great and perform even better. They’re a bit heavier and a lot more durable than plastic. In fact, properly installed stainless steel or aluminum fenders will last the life of your bike. They’re also highly efficient at shedding water and mud.

However, these are more challenging to install correctly. Because there’s no give to the material, every measurement and every drilled hole needs to be exact. Metal fenders may also be heavier than other options.

Wood

Wooden fenders are stylish and customizable. They can be stained, sanded or painted to give your bike real flair.

These may not be quite as durable as metal, but they are eco-friendly and well-crafted. Many of these units include an integrated rack for multi-functionality. Wood itself is a bit easier to work with than metal, and may be a good choice for tricky installations.

Carbon

Carbon fiber mudguards are a newcomer on the scene. If you can find one, they offer carbon’s famous durability and flexibility.

These can last as long as metal at a fraction of the weight. However, they are vulnerable to cracking if improperly fitted. Some carbon fiber fenders are exceptionally long, offering a rider a lot of protection from driven water and grit.

Clip-on styles

Clip on guards are usually plastic composites. They rate their own category because they fill a very important gap in the market.

Clip-ons tend to mount farther from the wheel. They won’t do as much to protect your bicycle itself or your fellow riders. However, they will offer you some protection from mud and water spray. Your bike may be a mess, but you and your pack will still be relatively clean. These models have become a popular option because they are convenient, relatively easy to attach, and can be removed if needed.

Bike fender brands we recommend

Plastic

SKS Bluemels 75 U Long Bicycle Fender Set Check availability

SKS (above), Tor Tec and Curana cater to a range of sizes including wide tires. Axiom is also a widely known and available model.

Metal

Velo Orange 700c Hammered Alloy Black 45mm Fender Set (FE-0062-BLK) Check availability

Velo Orange (above) and Flinger produce more budget-friendly options. They’re also well regarded and popular for general use.

Gilles Berthoud and Tanaka stainless steel mudguards are premium items. These fenders are exceptionally well crafted and have very good fittings.

Honjo aluminum offer lightweight, durable, and quality guards.

Wood

Planet Bike Grasshopper Bike fenders - 700c x 45mm Check availability

Planet Bike (above) and Contec offer eco-friendly bamboo fenders.

Meanwhile, Woodguards and Woody’s Fenders can make you a custom unit to order.

Clip-on

SKS-Germany 11322 Raceblade Pro XL Bicycle Fender Set, Black Check availability

The SKS Raceblade Pro (above) and Crud Roadracer use systems of Velcro, O-rings and the like as attachments. These are compatible with a wide range of bikes.

Many other brands offer decent quality clip-on mudguards. A few standouts include Blackburn, Axiom and Contec.

Carbon

Carbon is a newer material on the market, so it can be a little harder to track down.

Latt and Velo offer carbon fenders in several sizes.

Why do you need fenders or mudguards?

Advantages

Do you take off-road trips? Fenders will allow you to leave your bike and go shopping or check into a hotel without mud dripping off your lower body. Fenders can also save you from getting splashed in the face when you’re riding with a headwind.

Commute by bike in winter weather? Fenders prevent your rear wheel from spraying onto whatever you’ve packed on your rear rack. They can also help keep you looking presentable when you get to your workplace.

What about races? You won’t splash other people on their bikes. You’ll also have some protection when you go through standing water like puddles.

Think you don’t need a mudguard because you live in the southwest or in a city? It can rain anywhere, even in the desert. In fact, rain in the desert can be much messier. In areas with regular rainfall, dust gets washed away. In the desert, rain hits that thick layer of dust and turns it into a real nuisance: sticky mud and clay.

Meanwhile, rain in a city won’t just splash you with grit. Think about all the spilled oil and gasoline on the road and the trash in the gutters. You won’t want that spraying you or getting stuck in your bike chain.

Overheadshot of a bike's front tire and front fender on a wet paved surface
When you ride in the city, your tires can kick up more than dirt. (© Robert Couse-Baker | Creative Commons)

Fenders also help all-weather riders who enjoy hopping on their bike in colder months. Getting soaking wet isn’t just messy and uncomfortable, it can also make you vulnerable to hypothermia. You’re more likely to develop welts when your skin is wet and rubbing against your wet pants or shorts.

Finally, mudguards keep your bike clean, so they make bike maintenance a lot easier. Far less cleanup is required after a ride in wet conditions, especially in the nooks and crannies of the drivetrain. You’d be surprised where sprayed mud and grit can end up, from brake cables to cogs and chains to your bearings. With a guard on, your bike may only need a quick wipe down. This can also extend the life of your equipment by reducing general wear and tear.

Disadvantages

Not everyone loves bike fenders. Cheap models, poor installation jobs, and just using the wrong size can turn them into a major nuisance. People have had trouble with mudguards that bend, break, scratch up their legs, rattle, or rub the tires.

How do you avoid an experience like that? Do a little homework about fenders and get a quality set.

Some people who fly to a bike touring destination are concerned that fenders are just another piece they’ll need to break down for transport. Certain fenders, like metal ones, aren’t especially quick and easy to reassemble at the destination. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to look into clip on models.

A bike next to a tent among highlands of grass and rock
If you’re flying to a far-off destination for your bike tour, you might need fenders that are easy to remove for transport. (© summonedbyfells | Creative Commons)

How do you fit fenders and mudguards onto your bike?

Fenders, especially metal ones, can be tricky to fit and securely install. It may be worthwhile to have a service take care of this for you. Once properly installed, fenders need little maintenance apart from wiping down and occasionally checking that all fittings are tight.

If you want to do this yourself, take your time and measure carefully. A proper fit is key. You’ll want about a quarter-inch gap around each side of your tires. When in doubt, or if you’re between sizes, go up. This will future-proof your bike and give you the flexibility to use other tires.

Now, from the top of the tire to the inside curve of the fender, you’ll need about a one-inch gap. You’ll want the extra space in case mud gets up there. It won’t clog up and slow you down.

Dry fit everything together and get that spacing as even as possible. If something isn’t fitting well, try a spacer instead of bending the pieces if at all possible. Bending stays weakens the unit and increases stress on it. Your mudguard may break a lot sooner.

Note that these are from the inside measurements of the fender, but your fender itself is probably marked with the outside measurement. So will it fit? Subtract half an inch (1 cm) from that. For instance, a 35mm fender will fit a 25mm tire.

Don’t forget to include enough space for your brakes. For V-brakes and road brakes, you’ll need to measure that. Standard road calipers can work with 35mm fenders. If you have a touring bike or a gravel bike, you may need 50mm fenders or more.

Now that you know your sizes, how does it connect? If your bike has eyelets on the fork and frame, simply use those. If you don’t, manufacturers have created some work-around options:

  • Quick release axle runners. These connect securely to the bike, creating a set of eyelets to use.
  • Universal P-clamps.
  • Spacers to achieve the proper distance from the chainstay bridge and low headsets.

You may want to talk to your bike parts dealer about single shifter clamps, adapter brackets, and axle runners.

Finally, there’s an option to drill fenders and use a vertical hole. Or you can always try Axiom’s seatstay bridge mount and secure it with a few zip ties. Make them tight to minimize the mudguard shifting and rattling.

We hope the information provided here will help you decide how to outfit your bike for your upcoming bike tour. We think it’s worthwhile to invest in the best possible bike fenders for touring,  because the protection they provide will make your trip more enjoyable.

If you’re worried that there’s something else you may have missed in your planning, we cover everything in our bike touring guide and encourage you to take a look.

Photo at top: © insidestory | Creative Commons

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