Eight steps to prepare your bike for winter - Road Cycling UK

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Eight steps to prepare your bike for winter

Short days, dark nights and winter weather don't have to be a barrier to riding

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 riders, that means putting their beloved summer bike into hibernation and pulling out something more suitable from the bike shed on which to rack up the miles this winter. You may have a dedicated winter bike, or perhaps have bought a new best bike which means your old number one has been relegated to winter/training duties.

Winter doesn’t need to mean the end of your cycling season (Pic: Kalf)

For others, budget or space constraints will mean that’s not an option – but you can take a number of simple steps to ‘winterise’ your regular bike to ensure it’s ready to face 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.

Mudguards

Love them or loathe them, mudguards are a winter riding essential both for your own comfort and for that of your fellow riders too.

What is sacrificed in terms of the clean lines of your well-tuned machine is made up for in protection from the water, mud and general grime which coats our roads in the winter.

With little sun to dry the roads either, mudguards will protect you and your riding buddies from the cold and dirty water kicked up by your tyres on roads which remain wet long after it’s stopped raining.

Mudguards are a must in winter

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 like the Crud Roadracer Mk3 mudguards, which will still do an excellent job and will fit almost any bike.

If you want to add a bit of bling to your bike, meanwhile, the SKS Bluemels are now available in four colours, while those looking for something more subtle (and cheaper) might favour an AssSaver – available either in original, wide or extended forms.

Check out our comprehensive mudguards buyer’s guide for more information on how to pick the right set for your bike.

Winter tyres

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 always 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 tyres more typically associated with summer sportives and racing but in return they’re likely to be more durable and offer increased puncture resistant.

The Michelin Power All Season impressed us on review

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.

Michelin head the field when it comes to superb winter tyres, upgrading the Pro 4 Endurance – a long-standing RCUK favourite – to the Michelin Power All Season, while Specialized’s All Condition Armadillo Elites and Bontrager’s AW3 Hard-Case Lites also impressed us on review recently.

Tubeless tyres are 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.

Our winter tyres buyer’s guide has more essential advice.

Lights

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!

A good set of lights is vital – and they are well worth using year-round (Pic: Kalf)

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. From commuting lights to get you home, to high-powered lights to illuminate the night, take a look at our buyer’s guide for a more thorough lowdown.

In short though, Exposure have been producing first-class lights year-on-year – with their latest wares also featuring DayBright settings – while Lezyne have options to suit all budgets, including this year’s RCUK 100 inductee, the MacroDrive 800XL.

Saddlebag

Some cyclists curse the very thought of a saddle bag on a road bike but, in winter, the benefits are clear justification for breaking ‘rule number 29’.

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 all too often can be in the midst of winter. Having a small saddlebag on your bike not only ensures 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 for long base training ride and extra clothing.

The demands of winter are good justification to use a saddlebag

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, while our saddlebag essentials article has plenty of reader suggestions.

As for the bag itself, check out the Birzman Roadster or PRO Medi. Both are compact bags, with simple Velcro straps and reflective detail.

Frame pump

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.

RCUK 100 2017 – Birzman Infinite-Apogee Road with CO2 mini pump

It’s well worth investing in a quality pump – standing at the roadside 50 miles into a big training ride is no time to discover yours is a dud. Also check it regularly 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.

Other options include CO2 inflators, such as the Birzman Infinite – which is, in actual fact, a two-in-one manual pump or inflator. And your frame pump does not have to be an ugly addition to your beautiful winterised steed either – Fabric top the style stakes with the wooden-handled Z250.

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.

Your bike is subject to a lot of abuse through winter so clean it regularly

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. Check out our five top tips to keeping your chain clean. Cables, especially those routed externally, are also susceptible to the winter weather and will benefit from regular attention.

As for your options, we recently got our hands on the excellent Crankalicious KWIPES, while at the other end of the scale the Kärcher OC3 is a handy bit of kit – a portable cleaner, which comes with an additional bike box with specific brushes for your moving parts.

Maintenance

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. Here’s our guide to replacing brake pads.

Your chain should really be cleaned and lubricated after every ride

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. Here’s how to check and replace your chain.

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.

The Specialized Diverge offers top performance both on road and off

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 road plus 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 recently-reviewed Specialized Diverge, for example, for an excellent bike both on the tarmac and off it.

Kinesis, Genesis, Enigma and Ribble, among many others, all provide bikes well-suited to the British winter too.

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