Depending on your mindset, getting in the winter miles can either consist of a necessary commute in the dark or enjoying those beautifully crisp mornings. There is a certain beauty to those winter morning rides when a chill permeates the air and the fields seem to shimmer with diamond-like frost is draped serenely across the landscape. In our latest blog, we offer you our recommendations for how to turn winter miles into summer smiles.
The winter survival guide
Winter riding is incredibly beneficial. Especially when spring arrives and you get to reap the rewards of that extra winter’s worth of training. Here are our recommendations for the equipment you need to turn winter miles into summer smiles.
The Winter bike
So, what constitutes a winter bike and why do you need one? The traditional template for the traditional winter bike is a frame made from carbon, alloy, or steel with a low to mid-level drivetrain. Shimano Sora, Tiagra, or 105 groupsets are particularly popular options for winter bikes. But why do people choose these in particular? It often comes down to a simple matter of cost.
During the winter months, the weather and road conditions can take their toll on the bike’s drivetrain. Road grit that is spread on the road to prevent icing is particularly hard on the moving parts and can cause them to wear out prematurely. Fitting a groupset that offers cheaper replacement parts when they wear out can be highly beneficial. However, it should be noted that such groupsets will include components that are constructed of cheaper materials. Because of this, you can expect them to wear out more quickly than top-tier components.
The item above all that sets a winter bike apart from all others is, of course, mudguards. Whether you love them or loathe them, they are in most cases absolutely essential for winter riding. For the loss of aesthetics you get the following benefits;
- You won’t run the risk of being relegated to the tail-end charlie position on a club run for the lack of mudguards. No-one wants to be the recipient of a face full of water and road detritus from your bikes rooster tail.
- Say goodbye to that horrible feeling of cold water being sprayed over your nethers. Plus you won’t be the victim of that dirty great stripe up your back that never seems to come out in the wash.
- Your feet stay drier. You wouldn’t believe the sheer volume of water that is deposited onto your feet via the front wheel. This means less chance of soggy and smelly shoes that need drying when you arrive home or to work.
Fancy a new winter bike? Check out our recommended winter collection here.
Disc or rim brakes?
Similarly to the age-old question of Campag, SRAM, or Shimano, the subject of disc brakes vs rim brakes continues to be a divisive question. There is a clear split, with traditionalists preferring to stick with rim brakes and the rest committing to disc brakes. Disc brakes unquestionably have their advantages over rim brakes, particularly when the roads are wet. When looking to purchase a bike it’s a great idea to weigh up the pros and cons of each type of brake.
- You won’t wear out the wheel rims with disc brakes, replacing disc rotors and pads is considerably cheaper to replace than a new set of wheels.
- They’re more powerful than rim brakes, this allows you to brake later into corners and with complete confidence. This is especially useful when descending.
- Wet weather braking is dramatially improved by the addition of disc brakes. Rim brakes first need to clear the water from the braking surface before they start to provide deceleration. Any grit and debris picked up on the rim or brake blocks will scour the braking surface which causes the rim to wear prematurely.
There aren’t many downsides to disc brakes but the most obvious would be;
- Weight – a bike equipped with hydraulic disc brakes is slightly heavier due to extra weight of the reservoir, hoses, rotors etc. Disc wheel hubs are slightly heavier than their rim brake equivalents too. The difference overall is not huge by any means and can range between 200 to 500g overall.
- Price – The approximate price difference between a bike equipped with a hydraulic disc brake system and a rim caliper shod bike is £300. So, if you have your eye on a new bike it’s worth factoring this into your budget.
- Maintenance – After a period of time hydraulic disc brake will start to ‘fade’. Think of it is as being similar to cable stretch. On a bike equipped with rim brakes you will need to adjust cable tension when the levers have to to be pulled further into the bars to activate the brakes. The same is true of disc brakes as air will eventually infitrate the system and require a ‘bleed’. This only happens infrequently so is not something that needs to be performed often. It’s then time to learn how to do this yourself or have an experienced mechanic service the brakes.
Winter is the worst time for debris being washed into the roads. If you don’t want to be stood at the roadside in the dark with fumbling, frozen fingers trying to locate the source of your current predicament, investing in some durable tyres is a must.
Tubeless – Tubeless tyres do not require an inner tube. The tyre instead forms an airtight seal with the rim and a sealant is injected into the tyre adn then inflated. In the event of a puncture, the sealant forms a seal over the hole and prevents the tyre from deflating. Leaving you to carry on along your merry way. The other advantage of the tubeless tyre is that it can be run at a much lower pressure than a clincher tyre. Subsequently, comfort is improved and a larger contact patch with the road is formed which results in lower rolling resistance. In short, more speed!
Winter clinchers – There is an almost inexhaustible selection of tyres available that offer extra puncture protection. One of the most iconic of these is Continental’s Gatorskin. The trade-off for such a tyre is that they ride noticeably slower than a summer tyre. This is because they have a higher rolling resistance. There are other great options out there if you want the holy grail of speed AND puncture resistance. Continental’s own Grand Prix 4 Season or GP5000 tyres, Michelin Pro 4 Endurance to name but a few.
We’re all different and what works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else. In terms of how we dress during winter, most experienced road cyclists will prefer to ‘layer’. This is exactly as it sounds, we will choose what to wear based upon the conditions and temperatures expected whilst out on the ride. When the temperature is near freezing it is not uncommon to have 3 layers up top (thermal undervest, long or short-sleeved jersey and some type of jacket), some decent thermal tights, under helmet insulation, gloves and overshoes.
There is a vast choice of jackets on the market and you have various considerations to take into account. Do you want the jacket to be waterproof, windproof, showerproof, thermal, breathable, or a mix of all of these? Does it need to be lightweight enough to fit into a back pocket or saddlebag etc?
- Shell jacket – This type of jacket is normally windproof and showerproof but tend to the thinner side of the material spectrum. If the temperature is too low then wearing layers underneath will combat the cold and if it’s wet out, then opting for a rain jacket is probably the better option.
- Windproof jacket – (pictured above) As its name suggests it will offer protection from the wind and will normally cope with a light shower. There are also heavier versions available with a fleece (roubaix) fabric lining
- Waterproof / Rain jackets – There there are 2 distinct types of jacket, the lightweight (cape) or the heavier weight jacket. The heavier weight jacket tends to find favour with leisure cyclists/ cycle commuters who prefer the relaxed fit. The cape is more popular with road cyclists who value the tighter race fit.
Bibtights / Tights / Shorts / Bibknickers
The most common garment to be worn on the lower half of the body in winter is by far the ubiquitous bib tight. They are manufactured from lycra and are available with a fleece lining for when the temperature heads down into the low single digits. Depending upon your personal preference, you also have the option to purchase a pair with a pad pre-sewn into the crotch or buy a plain pair and wear padded shorts underneath. Many models also feature various amounts of reflective piping/panels for additional visibility during the hours of darkness.
Similarly, tights do exactly the same job and include the same features. However, they do away with the bib straps so there are no straps over the shoulders.
Bibknickers are also a popular option, these are essentially 3/4 length bib tights. They stop approximately mid-calf so are a great intermediate option for the autumnal or mild winter days.
Winter bib shorts have also grown in popularity and can be combined with knee or leg warmers. These are essentially normal cycling shorts with fleece lining.
Arms/ Knees/ Leg warmers
Arms, legs and knee warmers are a fantastic option for those who prefer to layer. Their popularity stems from the added flexibility that they offer. Put them on when the temperature’s a little cool and remove with ease when you have warmed up sufficiently. being quite minimalist it’s also easy to stuff them in a pocket or saddlebag when not required.
The extremities always suffer during the cold winter months and the hands and feet, in particular, need adequate protection. Good quality gloves are an absolute necessity, and if you live in an area that is subject to freezing temperatures more than 1 pair may be required. Liner gloves beneath the outer gloves may be required (here in Lancashire we have been known to wear 2-3 pairs) to stave off the dreaded pain as the blood flows back into frozen hands!
Nobody likes wet feet or even worse cold and wet feet! A good pair of overshoes are worth their weight in Gold. Choose the right overshoes to suit the conditions and temperatures that you expect to ride in. Most overshoes will have reflective piping and/or logo’s and these are especially effective when riding in the dark. As they are constantly in motion the legs and feet, in particular, are extremely visible in car headlights when encased in reflective. Again there are various types of footwear and each offers something a little different.
- Roubaix overshoes are booties (oversocks) that fit over your shoes and keep your feet toastie warm. However, they offer little to no protection from rain or standing water.
- Many waterproof overshoes are generally on the thinner side and offer limited thermal properties. There are also versions available that have a lining to improve their little pinkie warming capabilites.
- Neoprene overshoes are the most popular option as the fabric has great thermal properties (hence diving suits being manufactured from the material). They keep the feet warm and dry.
Keeping your head toasty warm and especially your ears is definitely a good idea. The most popular winter headwear items are,
- Buffs – This versatile gem can be used as a neck warmer, headband, or atop the head as a skull cap, as per your preference. You cna even use two of them in tandem, one around the neck and pulled up over the nostrils (not the eyes though!) and one atop the bone dome.
- Skull caps / beanies – It’s hard to discern the difference between a skull cap and beanie. They are an under helmet cover for your head.
- Hat/Neck Warmer – Essentially the same as the buff but they are made from a thicker Roubaix material and will normally have a drawstring with a toggle at one end. If you pull the drawstring and adjust the toggle it transforms from a neck warmer into a hat. The drawback of this design is that they cannot be worn under a helmet.
Base layers are a key part of the clothing layer system. There are Coolmax types that are breathable and wick sweat, which makes them ideal for spring/summer use. Merino and thermal vests are designed for winter riding. They are crucial for keeping the core warm and wicking sweat away from the torso. They can become a trifle smelly unless you wash them frequently. Merino vests are made from natural fibres which are incredibly odour resistant. This makes them an extremely popular option for those hardy winter cyclists.
On the lookout for a good winter bike? The CGR 725 is a perfect winter bike and Oli our Clitheroe Store Manager gives hi verdict on his test ride. Read it here.
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