Below are the reasons why mudguards are often absent from road bikes:
- Clean Look
Looks are a priority in the world of cycling. Hence why addicted cyclists often do their best to make their bikes and gear more attractive. It’s not uncommon for a cyclist to replace a component not because it’s malfunctioning but because it’s the wrong color.
The vast majority of cyclists consider mudguards/fenders non-aesthetically pleasing.
Believe it or not, this is the biggest reason why fenders are absent from most road bikes.
If mudguards were considered “hot”, you would be seeing them on many bikes even if they had no function.
FAQ: What makes mudguards unsightly?
This is a difficult question to answer while remaining 100% objective, but in general, the main non-aesthetic point of mudguards is that they hide the wheels and thus make the bike look “nerdier” rather than “racier”.
Also, mudguards come with mounting hardware which could also be considered unattractive.
- Following the Pro Scene
Many of the fashion trends among recreational cyclists are initiated by the professional scene.
Professional cyclists do not use full mudguards because they’re banned by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale).
The motives for prohibiting full mudguards are:
- Fenders or their mounting elements can cause a crash.
- During a crash, the fenders or the accompanying hardware may directly hurt a rider.
However, there are also technical reasons why pros stay away from fenders:
- Extra weight (a set of full mudguards can be over 1kg)
- Drag (fenders hurt the aerodynamic properties of the bike)
- More complicated and slower wheel changes (full mudguards make it more difficult to replace a wheel)
Note: Despite the downside of mudguards, many professionals still use high-end fenders during training because the usefulness of the accessory is quite high.
In an attempt to mimic professionals, amateurs and recreational riders stay away from fenders. Truth be told, this isn’t always the wisest choice because fenders could be very effective.
Nonetheless, many die-hard cyclists prefer to stay wet in the name of preserving the original silhouette of their bike.
- Lack of Clearance
The vast majority of road bikes have limited tire clearance due to the use of caliper brakes.
As a result, it’s often frustrating to install a set of full fenders on a road bike. When you add the fact that many companies add unique details to their frames further complicating the installation, the frustration reaches even higher proportions.
Hence why many pro mechanics are happy that they don’t have to deal with fenders on professional bikes. After all, the job of a mechanic is already hard enough.
That said, road bikes with disc brakes have a lot of clearance allowing not only the use of wider tires but also the installation of wider and longer fenders offering greater spray protection.
- Production Shortcuts
For a frame to be mudguard-ready, it has to offer enough clearance as well as mounting points for the fenders. These requirements may seem small, but they make a difference when scaling up.
For example, fenders require additional braze-on add-ons or threads made directly into the frame. If you’re building one or a few frames, the extra work is not substantial. However, when you’re mass-producing one step becomes a million steps.
Furthermore, the design team has to build the frame around fenders too. This requirement reduces design freedom while simultaneously adding one more responsibility.
Ultimately, it’s easier for the entire team to ignore fenders. If the targeted market is anti-fenders anyway, this approach is a win-win.
- Fenders Are An Accessory
New road bikes are sold without additional accessories such as lights, bells, mudguards…etc.
Road bikes even come without pedals because most riders prefer to choose them separately based on preference and need.
That said, commuting and touring bicycles often come with fenders pre-installed.
What Are The Benefits Of Fenders?
The main purpose of fenders is to protect the rider and the bike from the mud, dirt and water picked and thrown by the tires.
Partial fenders usually provide some coverage, but it’s never satisfactory. For example, the popular rear fenders that attach to the seat post protect the saddle and the hips of the rider but do nothing for the drivetrain and the frame.
The larger the fender is, the more coverage it has. Ultimately, full fenders are the most effective version. However, they could be a nightmare to install on a road bike with limited clearance.
Hence why companies like SKS come up with alternative mounting methods designed specifically for road bikes.
Note: Another rarely discussed benefit of fenders is that they’re helpful even in dry weather because they protect the drivetrain from dust and reduce the need to lubricate the chain as frequently.
What Are The Downsides Of Fenders?
Fenders have the following cons:
- Tricky installation if the bike isn’t designed for fenders.
- Extra weight
- Extra drag
- Depreciated aesthetics of the bicycle (subjective)
FAQ: Are fenders safe to use?
If the fenders are installed securely and do not touch the tire, they’re reasonably safe.
However, full fenders increase the chances of getting an object stuck in the wheel. If a stick gets jammed in the wheel, for example, an accident may occur. For that reason, SKS’s front fenders have a quick-release mechanism meant to reduce the chances of that outcome.
This scenario is a lot more likely to take place when going off-road. A road bike used as one is unlikely to pick sticks from the ground due to their absence on paved roads.
FAQ: Will fenders slow me down?
Fenders add weight to the bike and increase air resistance. Thus, from that perspective, they will technically slow you down. However, the discomfort of having tire spray all over your body, including your face, will hurt your pedaling output too. The more comfortable you feel on a bike, the easier it is to pedal harder.
I will never forget the day when a storm caught me on my first bike. The rear tire was throwing dirty water straight into my pants. Of course, the raindrops would have gotten me wet even with fenders on, but at least the water falling from the sky is clean.
I immediately started looking for a solution. I used a variety of clip-on fenders, but eventually, I found a way to install full fenders on my hardtail.
Summary: What You Need To Know
Mudguards are absent from road bikes for the following reasons:
- Extra weight and drag
- Prohibited use in professional races due to the increased chance of collisions
- Slow and more difficult wheel replacements
- Reduced tire clearance
- More complicated design and manufacturing process
- Lack of aesthetics
- Slow and difficult installation
Despite the problems listed above mudguards are still a valuable accessory that even professionals use in training.
Also, there are many clubs that require members to have fenders on their bikes when riding in a group so that the rest of the participants do not get dirty. Those who don’t have fenders are sent to the back of the group.
Truth be told, most recreational riders would benefit from fenders because they encourage you to ride in less than ideal conditions.