Gear Talk is an ongoing article series where all things gear related are discussed, from: researching, finding, buying, using, breaking (often), fixing and anything else to do with gear that deserves a mention. This is where all those thoughts and experiments get written down.

Today's Topic(s)

  • Creating a DIY fat bike rear mud guard using plastic document folders and zip ties

Document Folders to Mud Guards

With new gear comes new problems, and my racks with panniers were no exception. Mud being flicked up by my rear wheel has always been a lingering issue. However, I largely avoided the brunt of it with my more pure bikepacking setup due to the sleeping bag sitting high on top of my Revelate terrapin harness. Any mud flicked up would hit the sleeping bag dry bag and thus my back was safe. Now with the panniers, my sleeping bag sits much lower and with it the loss of my dry bag mud shield.

My solution needed to be: cheap, easy to source parts, reasonably reliable and ideally a dark colour. In that order. With the small clearance between the rack and tyre inhibiting any traditional mud guard attached to the seat post, it opened up new options for attaching the guard directly to the rack itself. I wasn’t sure what product would fulfill my requirements but my plan was to find some cheap thin plastic in square sheets that I could then cut up to fit the rack. Using scissors, the plastic sheets would be cut to match all the shapes of my inner rack and then small holes would be made along the border of the sheets to feed the zip ties through. Simple right.

My initial search for these plastic sheets took me to hardware and general goods stores where I thought I might be able to find: a plastic lid to a container; plastic place mat; or even I would get lucky and they would sell plain square sheets of plastic.

Nothing I found matched what I was looking for – the plastic was too thick and heavy or not big enough, plastic parts were protruding out, too brittle etc.

I was honestly about to give up for the day when I stumbled into one of those incredibly cheap stores selling all kinds of items where you wonder how they can possibly make a profit off a sales price of a dollar or two. Walking up and down the isles, subconsciously looking for lollies/sweets/candy as you do, I came across a range of document folders. Initially not thinking much of them due to being too thin or flimsy, I almost walked right by them with little thought. On closer inspection they were thin and light but not so thin that they would fall apart; flexible so they can be cut to shape and won’t crack; easy to replace and most important of all, they were cheap as chips! All the plastic I would need for only $3 euros. Using zip ties I found at the hardware store for $4 euros a packet, that gave me a total cost $7 euros. Not a bad start.

Holding the plastic folders to the rack, I made rather crude cuts of the plastic, making sure to cut them a little wide so I could refine the shape. A little extra wide would also help with making the holes where the zip ties would go through.

The first and most important part was the plastic that would hang off the back of the rack. This would ensure no mud or water would flick up onto my back. There were no exact measurements in this process, just enough plastic to cover the top of the rack and enough to hang far enough off the back so it seemed like it would work.

Cutting the plastic folder and using my best guess, I cut some holes in the plastic for the zip ties with a bottle opener that I found lying around. Feeding the zip ties through and pulling them tight, I was surprised how quickly it all came together. Cutting the loose end of the zip ties off, the top guard was done seemingly before it even began.

Continuing the same approach as above, I cut a slightly thinner strip to cover the remaining exposed section on the front of the rack closest to the seat post. This ensured the top of the rack was completely covered.

Following the same approach as above, I made holes in the plastic with the bottle opener and then fastened it to the rack with zip ties.

The next step was the mud guards for the sides of the rack. Extra consideration needed to be taken to make sure it would not interfere with the panniers. I simulated me putting the panniers on and off the rack maybe 10 times and looked at exactly where the securing nob moved throughout the process. With that information, I was able to cut the plastic folder to the shape of the rear section of my rack and at a length down the rack that would not interfere with the panniers. It was rather crude cutting but I figured it would get the job done. Holes were cut for the zip ties and while taking longer then the top guard, it all came together quite quickly.

The finishing touch thanks to an idea from my warmshowers host, Martha in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, was a smaller stronger mud guard that sits across the back of the rack. This would further help to catch any thicker mud flicked from the tyres.

With the final zip ties in place, the DIY mud guard was done! It turned out far better then the crude plastic and odd shapes I had imagined it to be before I started. Now to give it a proper test out on the trails and see if it lives up to expectation. I'll get back to you on that one.