The secret ‘cheat’ for muddy stage races

At this year’s sani2c, a very cheap bit of kit could have made everyone a lot more recognisable in their event photos.

It’s deeply embarrassing when one is required to unclip, and push one’s single-speed. Especially in Stellenbosch, where you are more likely to be passed by a pro mountain biker than almost anywhere else in South Africa.


For someone who’s life revolves more around cars than bikes (though I am biased towards the latter of late), it’s even worse when you’re questioned why you are pushing, in a Boland accent, by a man who drives better than any of us do. Giniel de Villiers, South African motorsport ambassador without compare and absolute cycling fanatic.


Gentleman that he is, Giniel slowed down his pace and waited for me to remount, and as we traversed a link trail, sedately, the conversation turned to weather. Or rather, the extreme nature of it. I knew Giniel had been in KZN for an off-road motorsport event around the same time many people were discovering just how much mud clearance wasn’t enough, on their chainstays or pedals, during the sani2c.


Giniel spoke of bitter cold and terrain turned near impossible by water. This is a man who’s reference for what is rideable (or driveable) is beyond anything you or I could imagine. Before we parted ways, he made an observation of where we were riding. Stellenbosch. The border of Boland and Cape Town and currently a place starkly drought stricken. It highlighted the massive diversity of weather affected terrain South African mountain bikers can experience, and how often the variety of conditions can defeat the assumed awareness of our preparations for a race or Sunday ride.


Mud and mountain bikes don’t get along

When snow started to blanket Sani pass, most knew this year’s eponymously named race to the sea was going to become an extreme weather event. The rain was unrelenting too, converting some of South Africa’s most renowned trails to flowing tributaries of mud, instead of navigable singletrack.


I followed friends’ social media feeds, who were competing, and completely surrendered myself to trusting in the tagging discipline of those involved – for there was no way of recognising anyone, faces caked in midlands mud.


Sani2c Mud 3.jpg
Bikes took a beating at this year's sani2c. Photo credit: Anthony Churchyard.


Bikes? Crisis. The punishment suffered by the bikes appeared to be nothing less than frightfully expensive. You can lube all you like, but a drivetrain will become a grinding paste conduit in conditions like sani2c 2017 and brakes, down there at the hub-line and in a mud-projectile path of that back wheel you’re following, suffer badly. Suspension stanchions collect a terrifying coat of contaminants too.


As pity welled within for the mechanical wear and admiration built for those riders who had endured (and dare I say: enjoyed) the race, I couldn’t help but wonder if a rather cheap component could not have made a substantial difference to most sani2c competitors. Something really cheap. We’re talking R100. Or even a quarter of that if you have the time and mindfulness to make it yourself.


Borrowing some off-road motorcycling wisdom

The mystery component? Fenders. You can call them mud-guards, but I prefer fenders and if you’ve ever ridden with one in muddy or wintery conditions – well, you’d never go without one again.


mud guard 1.jpg


South African mountain bikers are masters of heat and dust. We speak with indisputable authority on hydration and correct cadence when temperatures are close to melting grips. Our group riding tactics in dust, and methods of coping with it, are proven. Wet weather and mud? Not so much.


Northern Hemisphere riders deal with mud and rain as a default. And from their commuter to mountain bikes, you’ll see fenders on a great many things in the Alps and British countryside. Because they work, keeping you safe and your bike’s suspension in better condition.


Safe? Yes, safe. That fender over your front wheel does a great job preventing projectiles of mud hitting you in the eye, avoiding that momentary flinching and potentially catastrophic steering reaction that can ensue. Some might mock this as an impossibility due to the angle required, but with the appropriate speed and trail surface you’ll be amazed at the reach of mud and small stones, capable of a target zone way beyond the forearms and chest, and into the face.


Fenders moderate your maintenance costs too. You’re not going to keep all the gunk off those fork stanchions, but a fender increases shielding and if you consider how crucial your front suspension is on a bike, that’s an investment worth protecting.


Mud also adds weight, especially if it is being sprayed onto the downtube over the course of 100km, a fender will protect your downtube from some residual mud build-up. Better yet, with its angle, shape, and flexibility, you’ll shed most of the mud build-up on a fender every few kilometres, as it vibrates - thereby shedding mud at speed over trail undulations.


Despite all of these benefits, we remain an anti-fender nation. Inexplicably. Quite possibly because of fashion and an undesirable association with MX bikes. Both are rather shallow instances of ignorance. I’ve ridden with fenders in the dry, and they catch a fair number of small trail projectiles too, which I’m very grateful for – having been clipped in the eye often enough by debris in the past.
There’s a notion that they’re not particularly aero, but then again: most of a mountain bike, even a negative stem carbon stage racer, is not remotely aero either. If I was packing my kit bag for this year’s Sani2C – or any stage race - there’d always be a fender in there: it’s only 30 grams and worth that weight in gold in when you need it.


Wannabe, May 25 2017 07:28


I have been riding with fenders (same as on photo, only home made) on the front and back of my bike, for a few years now. And yes, they do work / help in muddy situations.

Luckily I'm not that type of guy that worries if I'm conforming to the "rules and regs" of what is fashionable on a bike or not. I'm the function over form type of guy, if it works, I use it.

MphatiPyga, May 25 2017 07:57

Agreed, also works very well when you hit a soggy cow pat! Now that you don't want on your face!

Shebeen, May 25 2017 09:38

or you can just do as the caveman does





Grease_Monkey, May 25 2017 09:59

Been riding with a CSixx mud guard for ages now - one of the better choices I have made in a long time. And in my opinion they look quite cool - but that's probably because I used to ride MX haha.


The amount by which gunk on my stactions have been reduced is alone reason enough to use one, even if you think they are unfashionable and not aero enough. The cost of suspension services is just stupid, so if I can prolong that expense by even 250km per service interval I will take it.

Skinnyone, May 25 2017 10:14

Yeah truly a must have in those conditions, I know someone who almost lost his one eye (at the very first Sani) due to a cow pat that he rode thru in the rain, flung up and hit him in the eye - he didn't think anything of it whilst riding as it was all muddy, so he wiped his eye and carried on going...


He woke up the next morning and couldn't open his one eye as it was all swollen shut due to an infection....luckily they were able to control the infection and clean out his eye, but he wasn't right for weeks afterwards.

cadenceblur, May 25 2017 10:28

Yip - been riding with one for a while. 

BuffsVintageBikes, May 25 2017 10:40

Another lesson learned from riding motorbikes in mud is to spray the underside of your fenders & down tube with silicone spray, it gives the mud less grip and it falls off quicker.

milky4130, May 25 2017 11:49

Nice timing...Nice timing. Just great. S2C is over now & the damage is done.

Headshot, May 25 2017 01:09

I am constantly amazed at how few saffers use fenders and openly dis you when you suggest that they get one. Do they really think that 80g of plastic will slow them down?  Or are they just thick? Its the same with dropper posts.


Not only does a fender keep some of the crud off you, your fork seals will also thank you. DH and enduro bro's have been doing this for years. 


In summer they also work to keep rocks that the tread of your tyre picks up from breaking your teeth, assuming you actually run tyres with enough tread to qualify as MTB tyres :-) 

nonky, May 25 2017 01:12

Fenders and fanny-packs...what is MTB coming to?

Grease_Monkey, May 25 2017 01:32

Fenders and fanny-packs...what is MTB coming to?


No no, they absolutely cannot be put in the same class!

deanbean, May 25 2017 01:39

Comng from a wet and muddy area, my bikes always have fenders on them.

BaGearA, May 25 2017 03:48

Another lesson learned from riding motorbikes in mud is to spray the underside of your fenders & down tube with silicone spray, it gives the mud less grip and it falls off quicker.

I also spray my tyres with spray and cook and then do A few hard corners on the tar to clean the knobs , makes one hell of A difference

Traveler, May 25 2017 05:09

A small piece of plastic which makes a huge difference. On the last stage to Scottburgh plenty other riders commented that they should have had 'one of those'.

Mongoose!, May 25 2017 09:23

Or just ride a Lefty with its own guard on front...

andrew5336, May 26 2017 08:30

If only there was a reasonably priced, locally made option...

Hackster, May 26 2017 09:06

I ride with a front fender and enjoy the benefits talked about in article and comments..


But I've yet to see a rear fender that keeps the chain rings and/or drive train clean to any extent. The one's I've seen keep mud off the seat tube (and to a small extent the front derailleur if you still have one), or the rider (if it's the seat mounted one).


So, if you ride mud, you massively accelerate wear and tear on the drive train.


And so long as we're running open chains and derailleurs there doesn't seem to be any way of avoiding this.

T-Bob, May 26 2017 06:55

If only there was a reasonably priced, locally made option...


Nothing more 'local' than in your own kitchen... 


Tony datoy, May 26 2017 08:40

I ride with a front fender, not only for the mud, my magic mary likes to pick up stones and pass them my way. I also have a length of inner tube cable tied to my dropper to keep the grime away.