Stay safe, warm and happy — but whatever you do, don’t stop cycling!
Never be fooled into thinking cycling is only for the summer. Snow and rain may not sound so great, but riding in the winter doesn’t have to be any less enjoyable.
With the right preparation and equipment, cycling during the winter can be just as fun as during the summer. In fact, it can be even more enjoyable. A winter ride or commute is not only a challenge for the keen cyclist but it can be a good chance to get outside and enjoy the fresh air during the otherwise bleak winter months. If you’ve set your trusty steed up and invested in the right clothing and safety precautions, you’ll be in for a safe and enjoyable winter’s riding. Here is our guide to the essential considerations and bike alterations for winter riding.
Love them or loathe them, mudguards are a winter riding essential for the protection of your bike, your own comfort and for that of your fellow riders too. They may break up the smooth lines of your cherished steed, but they will protect from the water, mud and general road grime which coats our roads in the winter. A more than worthwhile exchange in our opinion.
With consistently damp roads throughout the months of winter, mudguards will also protect you and your riding buddies/fellow commuters from the cool and filthy water flicked up by your tires.
Bikes with eyelets and the appropriate clearance (most likely to be machines geared up for winter riding, touring and audax) will accept full mudguards, which provide the most comprehensive protection, while ‘race’ bikes without will require clip-on guards, which will still do an excellent job and will fit almost any bike.
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 of the worst of the debris but we’d advise switching from your supple summer tyres to a new pair of winter boots to keep rolling.
Winter-specific tyres will typically be a little heavier and have a higher rolling resistance than your slicker summer tyres but in return will be more durable and offer increased puncture resistant.
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. 25mm tyres are fast becoming standard across road bikes and we’d advise wider rubber through winter, with 28mm tyres providing even more comfort and grip if your bike has the necessary clearance.
Tubeless tyres are also worth considering for winter, with the use of a sealant protecting against small cuts in the tyre and the absence of an inner tube eliminating the possibility of pinch flats and allowing for lower pressures.
The nights have quickly drawn in and it’s dark long before 5pm, which, 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.
Some cyclists curse the very thought of a saddle bag on a road bike but in winter, the benefits are hard to ignore.
It’s never nice to be stuck at the side of the road, and certainly not when it is cold, wet and miserable – as it is all too often can be in the midst of winter. Having a small saddlebag on your bike not only ensures that you have the essentials to get you up and running in the event of a mechanical, but also frees up space in your jersey pockets for food and extra clothing.
So what should go into every saddlebag at this time of year? A multi-tool, tyre levers, two spare inner tubes – or at least one in the bag and one in your jersey pocket – and glueless patches will cover the basics. Any spare space can then be used for an emergency energy gel or two and some cash.
A spare inner tube is no use without a pump – and fitting a frame pump to your bike ensures you’ll never be without in winter. The increased volume of a frame pump also means it’s likely to enable you to inflate your tyre to the correct pressure quicker than a mini pump.
It’s well worth investing in a quality pump – standing at the roadside 50 miles from home is no time to discover yours is a dud. Also check it regular to ensure it hasn’t become damaged by the inevitable grime kicked up by the road, and resist the temptation to wash the bike without first removing the 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 keep it clean.
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. Cables, especially those routed externally, are also susceptible to the winter weather and will benefit from regular attention.
A good old fashioned bucket of car shampoo and warm 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.
Also old fashioned but effective: apply a generous layer of car wax to the entire bike, especially under the down tube and in the bottom bracket area after cleaning. You can also treat components, even spokes. Harmful grime, grit and dirt are prevented from gaining a solid foothold thanks to the super slippery surface created by the wax. Simply spread the paste or liquid with a cloth, allow to dry to a haze, and wipe off. Repeat, then buff to a high polish.
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.
Keep an eye on water ingress, and removing the seatpost and tipping the bike upside down will help remove any water that may have found its way in. Watch out for worn cables, too (ensure you also lubricate cables), and as previously mentioned, 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
So, with all of this in mind we wish you a safe and thoroughly enjoyable winter of riding. For an added incentive, why not consider booking a Pedal Ventures cycling holiday for the summer of 2017. Working towards a target always encourages more dedication and commitment, and if you’re feeling especially committed to push your training to that next level, why not consider one of our more arduous drop handlebar road cycling holidays?