Do I need a winter bike?

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Knowledge Level: Intermediate

One of the most common jokes among cyclists is that the number of bikes you need equates to the formula n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently own. If you already own a perfectly adequate road bike, is a dedicated winter bike an unnecessary  extravagance or is one essential for logging those winter miles?

It’s perfectly possible to make some modifications and winter-proof your existing bike but, especially if it’s your expensive and cherished pride and joy, there are a number of very real advantages to investing in a winter workhorse.

Advantages

Save wear on your best bike

After a long summer of riding and racing, you can give your best bike a complete overhaul, put it away for the winter and rest easy knowing that, without having to suffer miles of gritty, wet and salty riding, it’ll be in pristine condition and ready to ride come spring.

Component costs

Along with the saving on not having to replace the top-end components on your best bike after a winter of abuse, if you’re sensible with the spec on your winter bike and opt for mid or lower tier components, running repairs and end of winter servicing shouldn’t empty your bank account.

Ride comfort

A more relaxed frame geometry, easier gearing and bigger tyres all contribute to a plusher and more comfortable ride as you’re racking up big winter mileage. Full mudguards will also keep you drier and warmer.

Training gains

With a heavier frame, mudguards, sturdier components and more robust tyres and wheels, your winter bike is likely to be heavier and slower rolling than your best bike, so, miles ridden on it, will give you more training gains. Also there’s no doubt, when you get back on your lightweight best bike, it’ll feel like a rocket and give you a tangible boost.

Time saving

We’d always advocate giving your bike a thorough clean and inspection after every ride but a dedicated winter bike with mudguards will stay cleaner and, knowing that it’s not your  best, you can probably afford to be a little less thorough. Tougher tyres and more durable components should also mean less time spent fixing flats and tinkering.

Disadvantages

Initial outlay

A winter bike shouldn’t cost the earth but finding the motivation to ride in the depths of winter can be tough, so you don’t want it to be too low spec and unenjoyable to ride so it’s going to require a reasonably significant initial outlay. The second hand market is one potential option or have a rummage through the spares you’ve got and you might find that all you need is a frame, wheels and a few other components. Over a couple of winters though, the savings you make on lower wear on your more expensive bike will soon add up and recoup some, if not all, of the cost.

Storage space

If you’re tight on space, having two bikes can create problems. Remember though, you won’t be riding your best bike for about four months, so it can be broken down and stored in a relatively small space. Without wheels it’ll go in the back of a wardrobe, you’ve probably got some room in your loft or attic and there are some ingenious bike storage solutions on the market. If you already own a bike box for travelling, put it in there.

Slower speeds

Your winter bike is likely to be heavier and a bit more cumbersome, so your average speeds may drop a bit. Don’t forget that inclement weather and tougher road conditions will also contribute to a lower pace, so just accept that winter isn’t the time to be setting PB’s. Remember that boost you’ll get when you do get back on your best bike, that the tougher rides are making you stronger and that the winter is predominately about steady base miles anyway.

What to look for in a winter bike

Frame material

If you’re building up a winter bike, alloy probably offers the best combination of weight, durability and affordability. Some riders do find it a little harsh but the addition of a carbon fork and wider tyres can iron out the ride. A high end steel frame is an absolute joy and probably offers the most compliant ride but quality comes at a price and cheaper tubing is often heavy or overly flexible. Titanium is extremely durable but, like steel, quality frames are expensive. Carbon isn’t the fragile material some riders think it is but it is more susceptible to impact damage. If your bike’s going to be in and out of the shed, stacked next to your club-mates at café stops or tackling slippery roads, you might want to opt for a more robust option.

Geometry

You might want to consider a frame with a slightly more relaxed geometry than your summer bike to make those slower winter rides more comfortable. Many manufacturers now offer frames with sportive geometry that’d be ideal.

Groupset

Go for a lower or mid tier groupset as, with heavy winter mileage, it’s perfectly feasible that you’ll be needing a new chain and cassette mid-winter and potentially a whole new drivetrain by spring. Even the bottom tier named components from the major manufacturers (Shimano Sora, Campagnolo Veloce and SRAM Apex) deliver reliable performance and you’ll only be paying a negligible weight penalty. It’s a good idea to opt for a groupset that is compatible with your best bike as, if you decide on an upgrade, you can always swap those components onto your winter bike and you’ll be able to use your winter wheels for summer training.

Wheels

With high winds, cavernous pot-holes masquerading as innocuous puddles and corrosive salt, winter isn’t the time for high price tag deep section wheels with low spoke counts. Traditionally built and spoked wheels with alloy box section rims will be durable, deliver reliable braking and are easier to true if you do have a prang. As you might be running wider tyres you should also consider a wider rim as it will further improve ride quality and reduce the risk of pinch flats.

Drillings

Mudguards are essential for winter riding, especially in a group and many clubs insist on them. Although you can get clip-on mudguards for bikes without dedicated drillings, they’re often fiddly to fit, fragile and don’t extend quite long enough to fully protect the rider behind you in the line. Clip-on guards are definitely better than no guards but, if you’re buying a dedicated winter bike, drillings should be a priority.

Gearing

If you’re following a structured training plan through the winter, it’s likely that you’ll be doing some base work where your heart rate or power output will be restricted to lower endurance focus zones. If you haven’t got low enough gears, you might find it impossible to stick to these zones when climbing or battling headwinds. A compact chainset and wide range rear cassette should provide you with the bailout gears you’ll probably need.

Cables

Sealed cables are more expensive but are a sensible investment on a winter bike. They’ll last longer and require far less maintenance.

Tyres

Wider tyres will give you a more comfortable ride, better grip and will be less prone to pinch punctures. 25C or 28C are good options but make sure that your frame and mudguards can accommodate them. Cheaper tyres often use a hard rubber compound that, although durable, can be slippery in the wet so it’s worth spending a bit more for grippier softer compound alternatives. Puncture protection is essential as fixing a flat in the cold and wet can be a miserable experience.

Bars, stem and seat-post

Reliability and durability are the key requisites for winter. You don’t want to be having to stop to deal with a slipped seat-post or bars because you were worried about over tightening on carbon components. Opt for alloy and, just for good measure, smear a little assembly paste on too.

Bar-tape

Double wrap bar-tape will soak up road vibrations and, because it offers more insulation from the metal of your bars and gives a bigger circumference to grip, will help your hands to stay warm.

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