[This article was last updated on November 30, 2017]
Winter is a testing time not only for your motivation but for your bike and equipment too. Bicycles really don't like all the water, grit and gunk that comes their way during the winter, but you can help out by using the best equipment and following a simple maintenance routine. Get things right and you'll be riding smoothly and safely through until spring.
Okay, so they’re not the most stylish or, dare we say it, fashionable thing you can stick on a bicycle but if you want to stay dry then keeping the surface water off your butt and lower legs/feet will make a huge difference to your comfort and enjoyment. What 'guards you fit depends on your bike.
If you have mounts and have the space and clearance you could fit traditional full-length mudguards like SKS Chromoplastics. If your frame doesn't have mounts, don't worry, there are lots of mudguards that will clip on to any bike, like Crud’s Race Guards.
The SKS Chromoplastic mudguards are one of the best known, and very highly regarded, full-length options. They’re made by sandwiching aluminium strips inside a plastic housing. The resulting profile is quite deep which makes it stiff and sturdy. Stainless steel stays fix them in place and the Secu-Clips on the front means they pop out of the mount if somehting gets caught between the mudguard and tyre, rather than locking the wheel and putting you on your face. You get a generous mudflap on the front mudguard and a reflector on the rear. They’re available in several sizes to fit around tyres from 20 to 45mm wide.
The other popular option is the Crud Roadracer. As long as you've got 4mm between the top of your tyre and the inside of your brake caliper, the Roadracers will slide in.
You don't need mudguard eyelets. Roadracers attach to the frame with Duotech 'Interloc' strips, which are a bit like industrial strength Velcro. That makes the Roadracer’s incredibly light at just 262g for the pair.
The weight is saved because Roadracers do not use the four stiff metal stays used on conventional mudguards to keep the guards from touching the wheel or tyre. Instead, the Roadracers have four flexible plastic stays and are designed to 'float' above the tyre, with some little strips of soft brushing on the inside of the stay-clip to rub very gently on the rims and keep the guards central.
The all-plastic construction means Roadracers are more fragile than chromoplastic guards, an issue for some riders.
Our Buyer's Guide to Mudguards goes into great detail on the pros and cons of the different mudguards available, and will help you choose the right one for your bike.
Punctures are easily the most annoying thing about cycling through the winter. They're more common during the winter, because the rain washes more sharp flints and pieces of glass on to the road and water also acts as an annoyingly good lubricant for sharp objects to slice through a tyre.
Look for a tyre with a thick reinforced breaker belt sandwiched between the rubber tread and carcass. This will help prevent flints and glass from puncturing the delicate inner tube.
Tyre pressure is important, and especially so in the winter when the roads are most likely to be wet. As a general rule, the wetter it is, the lower the pressure you want to run your tyres at. While it might be fine to ride tyres inflated to 120psi during the summer when the roads are dry, it's a good idea to go a little lower the wetter it is. It's not unknown to go as low as 80-90psi.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are essentially heavy duty, ultra reliable commu-touring tyres that inspire unprecedented confidence without feeling sluggish or barge-like, despite their 970g/pr weight.
A lighter option is the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season. A tough Duraskin mesh and two Vectran anti-puncture layers beneath the tread make this a good choice. And at 220g it's a good weight, for the rider wanting a fast winter tyre. Conti's max grip silica rubber compound provides a good level of grip. A good choice for winter and one that can be used in spring and autumn too. If you want even more protection, the Continental Gator Hardshell (see review) is a good option, with a third layer of Polyamide in the sidewalls.
Saddle pack with maintenance essentials
That last thing you want to do on a ride is to have a mechanical and not be able to sort it out. We always make sure we have a saddle bag packed with at least one spare tube, a few patches, tyre levers if the tyres demand it, and a quality multi-tool with a chain breaker. We carry a quick link or chain pin and tyre boot as well. Those are the essentials and should see you able to fix most roadside mechanicals.
By putting everything in a saddle pack you can simply leave it on the bike for the whole winter and it will always be there if and when you need it, and it beats stuffing your pockets, saving them for really important stuff like food and money for a coffee/cake/pint.
A good pump is a necessity at any time of the year, but winter is really not the time to skimp on your pump; invest in a high quality model. I once punctured 40 miles away from home, it was raining hard, and the mini pump I was testing completely failed me. A tiny pump may be attractive because it's light and doesn't take up much space in a jacket pocket, but they're not always much cop when it comes to quickly inflating a tyre to a decent pressure. If you're riding in company its also unfair to keep everyone waiting and getting cold while you struggle with an inadequate pump.
There are lots of very good mini pumps these days. Personally I think a traditional frame pump is best. Yes, it's heavier, but you can inflate a tyre to 85-100 psi every single time, and quickly too. If you can’t manage a frame pump, at least ensure you’ve invested in a high-quality pump that you’ve tested properly before hitting the road, or carry a CO2 cartridge inflator.
Getting high pressures out of a pump small enough to fit in a jersey pocket is always a challenge, but GT have nailed it with their Attack Mini Pump. Maximum tyre pressures are achievable and you don't have to have arms like Popeye to make it happen.
Legendary US bike shop Rivendell Cycles calls the HPX "the biggest commercial mainstream normal zero-snobbeury bicycle success that has ever come out of France" and we can't argue with that. The narrow barrel makes high pressures easy, the thumblock grabs the valve firmly and the switchable sprung handle means no wasted effort.
The design's been around since the early 1970s. HPXes are tough and durable enough that we wouldn't be surprised if there are still a few of the first batch in use.
The Genuine Innovations Proflate 16 may not look the smartest, but it's a very cleverly designed CO2 pump that instills trust and makes you feel in control. It uses 16g non threaded cartridges (which are slightly cheaper than their threaded equivalents) and works on both Schrader and Presta valves.
The Proflate 16 has a host of really well designed features: it auto-detects Schrader or Presta valve; it's got a little indicator that tells you if the cartridge is punctured and the pump is therefore charged; it's got a trigger, protected by a security catch; you can store cartridges upside down in the body avoiding the risk of accidental puncturing; you can't accidentally unscrew the body with a charged/punctured cartridge; and it's got an automatic dirt/water shield.
Even if you’re not planning to ride in the dark, it can be very gloomy on some grey, overcast days, so we’d recommend always riding with a set of lights. Even if they’re small single LED blinker lights, you have the reassurance of being able to put them on if it doesn’t turn out to be the blue sky day you'd hoped for.
And sometimes, even with the best intentions, you might find yourself racing to get home before the sun sets and not quite succeeding. We’ve all been there and know what it’s like. It's best to play safe and get some lights on your bike throughout the winter.
Here are a few of our current favourites.
Here's a great little rear light that you will find very useful. The Moon Alcor is simple, bright and has a nifty magnetic mount. It has five modes, including a flash that's bright enough to use as a daytime running light, and steady modes that are plenty bright enough for general use. It recharges by plugging straight into a USB port so you don't have to find a cable.
The Moon Arcturus Auto is a super little rear light for commuting and general riding. It's useful for a variety of scenarios, with seven modes in total – two main modes each with three sub-settings, plus a daytime mode for added safety. The single button is perfect for on-the-move adjustment.
We tested the Arcturus Auto on an unlit commuting run that includes a mix of A roads and narrow country lanes. The Moon's 35-lumen modes are easily bright enough for pitch black riding, while the extra-bright 70-lumen double flash is great for daytime. This is enhanced by the Auto Mode (hence the name), which switches the light on when it senses very low light. This came in really handy when going from sunshine into heavy tree cover, giving that bit of extra safety against drivers adjusting to the light change.
An extra couple of quid gets you the Moon Arcturus Auto Pro, with a 100-lumen daylight mode but shorter run time.
Be sure to check out our rear light buyer's guide
The Moon Meteor C3 is a compact, eight-mode front light capable of delivering 300 lumens in constant and an equally impressive 400-lumen daylight flash. Build quality is superb throughout. The diminutive dimensions, comprehensive mounting options and generally usable run-times ensure it can play a wealth of roles, from a single commuter light to support act for a powerful main system.
The Magicshine MJ-858 is a tiny gem of cast, black anodised aluminium with a small light aperture and base that pumps out 1,000 lumens. It runs for 3.5 hours on full brightness with its 4.4Ah battery, and you can easily extend this by reducing the output. However if run time is paramount to your requirements, then just upgrade to the bigger 6.6Ah battery to get well over five hours of bright, well-distributed beam on full power.
I finished a ride the other day and actually had a tidemark along the down tube. There was even a bit of driftwood in the muck. Yes, riding through the winter clearly places a lot of stress on all the moving components so you’ll need to embrace a regular cleaning and servicing schedule.
Ideally ,you should give your bike a very thorough clean straight after a mucky ride to prevent rust setting in. A bucket, some soapy water and a sponge/brush will do for a basic clean. There are plenty of specialised cleaning products on the market that will make cleaning your bike easier.
Keep it lubed
Even if you don’t wash your bike regularly, you’re going to need to keep the drivetrain will lubed. Hear that squeaky chain? That’s not a good sound; you don’t want to be hearing it.
Buy a good-quality bicycle lube and use it, this isn't the time to skimp. Wet lubes are good because they last ages, but can attract muck and grit to the chain and need more thorough cleaning. Dry lubes might not seem the obvious choice in the winter but a good one can work well and has the benefit of keeping your chain clean. On the down side, it does need much more regular application and can be more fussy to apply in the first place.
Carbon Pro Heavy Duty Lube is very clean-running for a truly hell'n'high water lubricant. It laughs at thunderstorms, river crossings and similar antics. Most surprising of all, it doesn't impair the feel of sportier groupsets.
Green Oil proudly boasts that it contains no environmentally harmful chemicals, such as PTFE, and no palm oil, which is implicated in the destruction of rainforest. What it actually does contain is a secret. Green Oil only admit to "naturally occurring plant extracts" and no animal derivatives. But this is all detail; what matters is that it works really well, whether you care about its green credentials or not.
Check that chain
If you’re riding a load of miles in the winter, it’s good to keep an eye on the chain wear. A chain will slowly stretch over time as the components wear out.
A chain checker tool is reasonably cheap and could save you a lot of money in the long run. If you leave a chain to wear unchecked, the chain rings, cassette and jockey wheels will wear out and and eventually you’ll have to replace the whole transmission. Costly!
Park Tool's Chain Checker lets you monitor the condition of your chain so you can decide for yourself just how cautious you want to be about the effect of its wear on the rest of your drivetrain.
Alternatively, if you change the chain regularly, you can extend the life of the transmission hugely. Some people will fit a new chain every three months if they’re do lots of miles. A new chain - and it doesn’t need to be a posh one - is a small price to pay compared to a Dura-Ace cassette, for example.
Inspect tyres and brake blocks regularly
The brake blocks (or pads) will take a beating through the winter and wear out much faster. Every time you wash your bike, pay particular attention to the blocks and replace them before they get too worn. It’s also worth checking the tyres for holes, cuts, gashes and flint/glass lodged in the tyre.
Kool Stop Dura 2s are aftermarket upgrade brake blocks with the dual compound providing good braking performance in a range of conditions and decent longevity too.
Follow this guide and you should sail through the autumn and winter months quite happily. If you've got any of your own tips, feel free to add them below.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.