Can you use mudguards when riding off road?

SKS Germany Speedrocker mudguard
Splash straight through winter with some beefed-up protection. Image: SKS Germany
There’s no question that mudguards can make all the difference when it comes to road riding through the winter, but what about when it comes to off-road riding? Katherine Moore digs the dirt on mudguards for gravel and mountain bikes

There are some obvious benefits of running mudguards on your bike; namely finishing your ride with a toasty dry behind, and not having to sheepishly wipe the chair of the café after leaving a muddy bum print. Not to mention the state of your friend riding behind you!

Yet there are other, more subtle perks. Using full coverage mudguards can help reduce the amount of road or trail spray that’s directed at your drivetrain, consequently acting like a grinding paste eroding away your precious components. They can also keep the rest of your bike cleaner, so you might not have to get the bucket and hose out after every wet ride.

But can you run them on your off-road machine, be that a gravel bike or mountain bike? The good news is yes, yes you can; although it’s perhaps not as simple as on the road.

Can I run standard mudguards on my mountain or gravel bike?

Rear mountain biking mudguard from Mudhugger

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: you can’t run a standard set of mudguards on a gravel or mountain bike. Why, you might ask. Simply, as the tyres are much wider than on a road bike, typically upwards of 40mm, they wouldn’t fit with standard mudguards.

The good news is that there’s a good range of mudguards designed specifically for gravel and mountain bikes. These are built not only to accommodate the wider tyres, but also the mud and trail debris that are part and parcel of riding off road.

What different types of mudguards are there for gravel and mountain bikes?

There are a number of different types of mudguards which will differ in suitability according to your bike design and riding preferences.

Fixed full-length mudguards

Kinesis Fend Off Wide gravel mudguards

If you have mudguard mounts on your gravel bike, and typically stick to less muddy trails, then fixed full-length mudguards may be best for you. The guards themselves and supporting struts are cut to size and screwed directly into the bike frame and fork, which makes the mudguards secure and rattle free.

These offer the most coverage – for yourself, your drivetrain and your feet – and are often paired with flaps to extend coverage.

The downside of fixed, full-length mudguards is that they’re a little prone to jamming with mud, sticks and other trail debris, as they are fixed in a position close to the tyre – even though they’re considerably wider than road cycling mudguards. This can be frustrating at best and dangerous at worst if you ride muddier tracks, so they’re not for everyone.

There are a few different options on the market, including Kinesis’s Fend-Off WIDE mudguards (£60) which can accommodate tyres up to 45mm. Some bike manufacturers, such as Scott and Canyon, offer gravel mudguard sets specific to their bikes.

Clip-on mudguards

SKS Germany clip on gravel mudguards

If you don’t have mudguard mounts on your gravel bike, clip-on mudguards can offer many of the benefits of fixed mudguards without having to fork out for a whole new bike. These tend to feature silicone straps that attach to the fork, seatstays and seat tube.

It’s a good idea to protect your frame with a little Helitape or other frame protection before fitting these, as any slight movements teamed with trail grit can quickly wear away at your bike’s paint.

Available models include the SKS Speedrocker (£51.99) which can fit up to 42mm gravel tyres or the SKS Veloflexx 65 (£42) for up to 2.35-inch mountain bike tyres.

Short mudguards

Fustle gravel bike with Mudhugger Gravelhugger mudguards

While short mudguards don’t offer full coverage, they’re still highly rated by gravel riders and mountain bikers for preventing the worst of the wet weather muck. These typically attach to the bike using silicone or Velcro straps or cable ties, so again, some frame protection comes highly recommended.

Shorter mudguards often sit further from the tyres, so allow much more mud, stones and sticks to pass unhindered between the tyre and guard, making them more suitable for the worst off-road conditions.

There are both gravel bike and mountain bike versions available from British brand Mudhugger (Gravelhugger set £48, MTB Mudhugger set from £48), as well as the clip-on Ass Saver Win Wing (£22) rear mudguard. For a minimal mountain bike front mudguard, RideGuard makes a universal fender made from 100% recycled plastic.