Winter is beginning to rear its ugly head and the change in weather – short days, falling temperatures and unpredictable conditions – mean it’s necessary to protect both yourself and your bike from the elements.
For some, winter means putting their fair weather only bike into hibernation and dusting off the winter training rig. For others it means decking out their trusty steed for winter. Cold, wet and windy weather, and slick roads littered with debris, can make winter a miserable time in the saddle. But it doesn’t have to be that way – here’s what you can do to ensure you’re well-equipped to ride through winter until spring returns.
Punctures are a fact of life for cyclists and, unfortunately, increasingly likely in winter with debris (glass, flints and the like) washed onto wet roads.
Stay out of the gutter to avoid the worst of the debris but we’d always advise switching from your supple summer tyres to a new pair of winter tyres to keep rolling.
Winter-specific tyres will typically be a little heavier and have a higher rolling resistance than tyres more typically associated with summer riding but in return they’re likely to be more durable and offer increased puncture resistance.
Compound, tread and size are all key considerations. A dual compound construction will use a durable, fast-rolling rubber on the centre of the tyre and a more supple, grippier rubber on the edges. While 25mm tyres are fast becoming standard across road bikes, we’d advise wider rubber through winter, with 28mm tyres providing even more comfort and grip if your bike has the necessary clearance.
A good option for winter road tyres might be something like a Vittoria Rubino or Pirelli PZERO 4S. Both of these tyres come in 25c and 28c options and offer reasonable rolling performance and exceptional puncture resistance by way of having more meat in the tyre. Essentially thicker tread.
The nights have quickly drawn in and the clocks going back, if you are a commuter, will almost certainly mean at least one ride under cover of darkness.
Good lights are essential, then, and we’d advise keeping them on your bike throughout winter as it can remain gloomy even in the middle of the day.
What lights you choose to use will depend on where and when you will be using them – on lit roads during the urban commute or pitch black country lanes during early morning or evening training rides? Either way, the progression of LED technology and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries means there are plenty of options out there. If you ride regularly when it’s dark, we’d recommend having two lights at the front and back. That way you can have one flashing and one steady state, and always have a back-up should one fail. Just remember to charge them!
Even if you’re unlikely to ride when it’s dark, a small, inconspicuous set of ‘emergency lights’ are a worthwhile investment to get you out of trouble should you need them. We would recommend the Bontrager light range with CREE LED technology. These light offer best in class visibility at a distance, being visible from up to 2km away and having some very affordable options for high powered beam lights. Another great option for a flashing be seen style light it the brand new offering from Knog. The Cobber is super bright and offers 3 different sizes in front and rear. The rear lights are incredibly visible with 330 degree wrap.
If you are going to brave the elements there is no reason you have to suffer through the rain, wind and cold. Investing in some good winter clothing is probably the one thing that will keep you motivated as it means you wont freeze. An essential piece of you wardrobe should be a good water and wind resistant jacket.
We would recommend something like the MAAP M-Flag jacket as it is semi breathable, will keep you warm and dry and allows for you to layer accordingly below, keeping you core warm is crucial so make sure you're wrapped up. Second thing should be to keep you hands and feet warm, gloves and water proof booties will do the job here. Our last recommendation would be full length, thermal bib tights. For many the expenses of these is a big barrier, they are not usually cheap, but they are totally worth it! Not only will you keep you pin toasty, but thermal bibs typically come up high around your waist to help keep your core warm as well. Trust us when we say its a luxury you can not afford not to have during winter!
A spare inner tube is no use without a pump – having a mini pump at your disposal ensures you’ll never be get on the side of the road in the rain.
It’s well worth investing in a quality pump – standing at the roadside 50 kilometres into a big training ride is no time to discover you have run out of Co2. For convenience we highly recommend Co2, but if there is a higher likely hood of punctures it is best to have a back up option in the form of a mini pump.
Keep it clean
There are two unavoidable facts about winter riding – your bike will get dirty, and it will not like it.
It can only take a short ride to cover glistening components in muck and grime, and wet roads covered in salt mean corrosion is a threat if you don’t regularly clean your machine.
A good old fashioned bucket of soap and water – and elbow grease – will go a long way but there is also an abundance of bike-specific cleaning products on the market to help you do the job. A degreaser and chain bath will make short work of mucky components. If using a jet wash, be sure not to point the lance directly at any bearing.
The chain, in particular, needs to be taken care of and, if you do not have the time or the inclination to deliver a full wash and service after every ride, at least dry and lubricate it.
Prevention is better than cure, as they say, and time spent giving your beloved steed a regular once over will serve you well in the long run.
Some essential maintenance checks are more obvious than others – the brake pads, for example, which only need a firm tug on the levers to check they are still in working order.
Watch out for worn cables, you should be replacing you inner and outer cables approximately every 12,000km to ensure optimal performance and avoid them breaking. The chain is particularly susceptible to corrosion and wear in the winter, so use a chain checker to ensure it hasn’t become overly stretch, after which it can damage components. If you don't have a chain checker, pop into the shop any time and we can check it for you. Bear in mind if you catch chain wear early you can potentially save yourself hundreds of dollar by not having to replace your cassette or chainrings and jockey wheels.
Buy a full winter bike
Even with a full winter dressing, your bike is going to be subject to a rough time of things during the winter months.
If money and space permits, then why not invest in a rig setup to tackle the elements rather than subjecting your best machine to the worst winter can throw at it?
Winter training is essential if you are intend on hitting peak form next spring or summer, so a winter-specific machine can be a very worthwhile investment to keep you riding through the months ahead.
Eyelets for full mudguards, wider tyre clearance, all-weather reliability and affordability are all features of the winter bike. Off-the-peg winter machines specced for the task in hand are growing in popularity, too – though, for those with the inclination, winter also represents a good chance to build your own machine. Make sure your component choice reflects the fact the bike will be subject to plenty of wear and tear. Super-light and expensive parts are best saved for summer.
The gravel bike market is growing year-on-year too, providing off-the-peg bikes built to cope with all terrains. Not only does that make them ideal for the unpredictable winter weather, but it also gives you the versatility to head off-road should you desire too. See the Trek Check Point, for example, for an excellent bike both on the tarmac and off it.