NOTE, THERE IS AN UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS REVIEW. IN SHORT, DO NOT PURCHASE THE CURRENT MODEL.
Once in a while you learn a thing or two from riding your bicycle. Things like the value of family, friends and life’s little wonders – you know what I mean. There’s also the minor lesson of what to do when the weather changes. But to stop riding is certainly not one of our options. As autumn approaches, we turn to our alternatives, and one of these options is the faithful mudguard.
I use the term ‘faithful’ loosely. From personal experience the mudguard isn’t always a faithful friend. At best, fiddly; at worst, your hard earned cash is seemingly going down the drain, as what seemed like a good purchase at the time, causes more harm than good. Enter the SKS Race Blade Long (RBL). First seen at EuroBike 2012, it was to be the answer to complete road bike protection. With a sturdy construction, using SKS’ trusted and robust materials; its greatest selling point continues to be it’s very smart setup.
So after a year of riding it on the trusted CADD5 to everywhere from Herts, Kent and Kings Lynn, this is my take on the RBL’s…
Space is no longer a frontier
As you can see from this Cannondale, there isn’t much room to fit proper mudguards. That’s because it probably wasn’t designed to take any. Even the famous Crud-Racers aren’t able to do the trick. When the RBL arrived, I was inittially perplexed that they too failed to find space between the brake calipers and tyre. This was easily remedied by creating a shim out of cardboard to create the necessary clearance. Wedging it on top of the tyre allows the brackets to sit as upright as possible; and hey presto, it works.
Well you won’t have to. The only tools really required to put this together, is an Allen Key to work with your brake mounts. Everything else simply requires you to add the the guards to the stays, then attaching lugs to your Quick Releases (QR). The only tricky bit is making sure the brackets go onto the brakes properly. More about this later. For now, here’s a great video by GCN showing how straightforward it is
It goes without saying, that to get the best out of the RBL, is to have your bike nice and clean. Visually, you’ll appreciate just how much protection it provides, when compared to other people riding without them. Talking of people, they’ll really appreciate you riding with them, espeically when they choose to follow you. Unlike many mudguards unable to handle the the British weather, your rear and and your friends face will be muck free. I’ve even had strangers come up to express their thanks!
Yes, it’s that word again ‘practcial’, but in a sexy way
How do mudguards and the word ‘sexy’ get into the same sentence? It’s not the guards themselves, but the design solution that makes the SKS RBL a worthy option. The problem with many fix-on or semi-fix-on mudguards, is that they’re trouble to take off and put back on again. The lugs and mounts that attach to the QR’s and the brake mounts make this a doddle. Go for a race and need to take them off; no problem. The sun’s come out and you don’t want guards; great – once again, you’re in control.
It won’t break. Not even the bank.
One final asset to the RBL is it’s price. Now currently available at £35 and in some places £30, these tough mudguards won’t break the bank. Nor break at all very quickly when riding. If you’ve followed the video instructions above, you’ll find very little to tweak, and because the build is quality, you’ll ride whatever the weather with a lot more confidence. – THE BUILD IS QUALITY, TO A POINT – SEE THE UPDATE BELOW.
The RBL isn’t without it’s flaws. Even when fully in place, the front blade, designed to keep your vision clear, vibrates up-and-down annoyingly (see the first picture below). What was once a streamline setup, becomes a distored accessory, which isn’t nice to hear and totally ruins the look of the bike. Thankfully, this too can be remedied, but requires removing the front brake and bending the SKS brackets to the required fit.
Protection Quality: There seems to be a whole lot of clearance from the mudguard threatening your seat-tube. This accsessory looks pretty nifty at doing it’s proposed job, but falls a bit short. Firstly, it can tarnish your paintjob in just one sitting. You can see from picture 2 above, I was caught short and had to either risk removing the blade, and risk losing it, or use electric tape (yes, I happen to carry some wrapped around the pump), whilst out on our maiden voyage. Of course, a better solution is to use a bike shield. More worryingly, it certainly doesn’t cover half as much protection for your chain-ring, as say the Crud-Racer.
Tyre clearance: This wasn’t a problem this time round, but that was because these tyres are 23×700. With the trend towards 25+, these could possibly pose a problem; particularly if you’re already accustomed to wider tyres. My advice, is to check you have ample clearance on your frame. No point in changing your preference in tyres just to fit the guards. Fit is always the first priority.
Usability: My final concern, and it isn’t much about the design, but more about the wider audience for the product: Throughout the wet n’ chilly season, my fixed sees a lot of miles, and the SKS RBL seems like an ideal accompaniment. However, the RBL is designed for QR’s, and just doesn’t have the clearance in it’s lugs to handle such wide bolts. A shame really, as this could be a versatile product for more than just your road bike.
What could be done to improve it?
As stated, the blade from the rear brake bracket to the seat-tube isn’t sufficient. It’s a token short-term solution that actually throws up more problems: giving a false sense of protection where it is much needed, and risks damaging the frame by chipping away at the seat-tube. This needs looking into.
If SKS could supply a bike shield for the ‘rubbing’ and a variety of lugs to fit QR’s as well as bolts for fixed bikes, this would be the champion of mudguards.
Overall I’m very pleased with the RBL’s. It took SKS a long time in matching the Crud-Racer; the previous bench-mark for road bike mudguard protection, but I think it’s knocked it off the top of the podium for now. The solid construction and the ability to remove the guards on the fly, without any tools is priceless.
Get these if you want as much protection as possible, and keep your riding mates happy too! (CORRECTION – PLEASE READ BELOW)
UPDATE – NOT A HAPPY CUSTOMER
Most of what I have observed above still applies, except now the rear guard is absolutely useless!
The spring-action mechanism that locks the rear-guard in place continues to be an area of frustration. Within in months of installing, it would release all by itself. It was a minor irritation, until it became a safety issue. The guard now crashes into your down-tube and wheel. The result, is you stopping to a standstill fast!
If at first you don’t succeed try, try, try again
And that’s what I did. I took the very same rear-guard from my better-halfs bike and tried to see if this was an isolated incident. It turned out it is not. The very same thing happened again.
On my most recent experience, this happened whilst a 4×4 was behind me. I was travelling at 25mph, then suddenly the bike stopped, almost causing me to crash. This could have been the end. Thankfully, the driver behind braked in time, but even he couldn’t figure out why I stopped suddenly.
The rear-guard releases and then jammed in between my wheel and seat-tube. All this on the second set of SKS mudguards.
In my experience, there isn’t any. I used the contact sheet direct to SKS customer services in Germany. After 3 months, I haven’t heard a thing. No acknowledgement, nor an apology.
Is this an isolated incident? No. A good friend who also has these SKS’ has discovered the same fault on his set. However, ratther than seeing a problem, he set about finding an answer. Being an engineer, he had a better solution than mine, I threw mine in the bin they were so dangerous. He on the other hand, decided to drill a hole in the guard and put a nut and screw in to secure the fitting.
Alex had more patience and salvaged his mudguard
If I have persuaded you to purchase the SKS Race Blade Long mudguards before this update, I am very sorry. I wished I did this update earlier, but wanted to give SKS the opportunity to respond – they have not. I hope that you get a better experience than I did when contacting SKS.
UPDATE, October 2015 – There’s rumours that a V2 is coming out. What experiences have you had with SKS Race Blade Long? Share your thoughts below…