Knowledge Level: Intermediate
If you make the right clothing choices, following the British Cycling Training Plans through the winter, shouldn’t be too unpleasant. However wind, rain, snow, ice and salted roads can be extremely tough on your bike. Follow these setup and maintenance tips from Great Britain Cycling Team mechanic Mark Ingham and keep your bike running smoothly through the winter.
Winter riding is tough on your bike so you want to make sure it’s starting off its cold weather purgatory in the best condition possible. A minimum should be to give it a really good clean, lube and make sure all the gears are firing slickly. However a complete strip and rebuild is the ideal, paying particular attention to unsealed bearings and cables.
Although more expensive, consider fitting sealed cables as they’ll run smoother for longer. If you don’t feel up to the task, book it into your local bike shop. It’ll cost you a bit of money but, when your bike is still going strong while your mates’ are starting to creak and misfire, you’ll know it’s money well spent.
Although thought of as unfashionable and ugly by some, mudguards are essential for winter riding. They’ll keep you and your bike cleaner and drier, help protect it from corrosive salt and will make you a lot more welcome if you ride with a club of group.
They’re even mandatory for many winter club runs. Even if your frame hasn’t got dedicated drillings for mudguards, there are numerous clip-on versions that’ll even fit super low clearance racers. They can be a bit fiddly to initially fit but, once on, you’ll wonder why you ever rode in the winter without them.
If you’re giving your bike a complete strip down and service before the winter, also consider applying some protective wax to the frame. You can buy specialist products but plain car wax does the job fine. It’ll act as an extra layer of protection against salt, will make cleaning road grime off easier and give your bike an as new shine. Also, when you clean your bike, finish off with a covering of a silicon based bike spray. Again, this will make dirt and grime far easier to remove.
You’re cold, wet and tired but, if you just dump your bike in the shed and head for the shower, you can guarantee that the next time you ride your drivetrain will already be orange with rust. At the very least, rinse the entire bike with clean water to remove dirt and salt, spray water dispersant on the drivetrain, run the chain through a rag and then re-lube the chain. It’s only a five-minute job at the most and your bike will thank you for it.
Winter roads aren’t the place for super skinny lightweight tyres, choose some robust rubber and opt for tougher inner tubes. You’ll barely notice the increased weight and you’ll certainly appreciate not having to fix a flat on a freezing roadside.
Many cheaper winter tyres achieve their durability by using a hard rubber compound which will certainly be tough but can also be like riding on ice. Spend a little more and you’ll get tyres with anti-puncture features, such as kevlar strips, but don’t compromise on grip. Wider tyres (25c/28c) will give you a plusher ride and are worth considering but check that you’ve got enough clearance if running mudguards.
Rather than subject your pride and joy to the horrors of winter roads, a second dedicated hack is the ideal solution. Especially if your “best bike’ has top line components, not having to replace them after a winter of use, can easily recoup the cost of a sensible winter bike over a couple of years.
Choose a solid alloy or steel frame with dedicated mudguard drillings, tough and easy to true alloy wheels and a mid-range groupset and let it do the hard miles while your carbon flyer stays warm and packed up. Another option is to go for a cyclo-cross bike. Put road tyres on it and you’ve got a robust winter trainer and, if the roads get too icy or you fancy some race action, put some knobblies on and get off-road.