Winterise your bike

Winter is tough on you and your bike so here are our tips for making it smoothly through to spring

by David Arthur   October 24, 2013  

Sabbath September - riding 1

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. 

Mudguards

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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 excellent Race Guards.

Our Buyer's Guide to Mudguads 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.

Winter tyres

Punctures are easily the most annoying thing about cycling through the winter. And they're more common during the winter, because the roads are generally covered in more stones, flint and glass from the bad weather. 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 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.

Here’s our pick of the best.

Saddle pack carrying maintenance essentials

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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 a 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.

Pump

A good pump is a necessity at any time of the year.  This is not the time to skimp on a cheap pump, it's always worth investing in a high quality pump. 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 inflating a tyre to a decent pressure.

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.

Lights

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, for 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.

http://road.cc/sites/default/files/imagecache/galleria_1200/images/Products/Cateye%20Omni%205%20rear%20light.jpg

And sometimes, even with the best intentions, you might find yourself racing home before the sun sets. 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's our guide to choosing the best lights.

Regular cleaning

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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

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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. 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.

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 reasonable 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! 

http://road.cc/sites/default/files/imagecache/galleria_1200/images/Products/KMC%20X11L%20Gold%2011-Speed%20Chain.jpg

However, 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

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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.

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.

49 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Brummie,

I use Crud Racers Mk2 and think they work really well - even toured with them, though can be a fiddle to set up.

As for brake pads - Swiss stop - def the best last longtime, work well wet or dry and do not generate that black grudge.

Si

posted by rootes [38 posts]
10th December 2012 - 12:12

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Is anyone using Portland Design Works Full Metal Fenders?

posted by BigDummy [258 posts]
12th December 2012 - 14:55

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I use Cruds on my commuter/winter bike and they are fine. A fiddle to set up, yes, but they do the job for only a couple of hundred grams. And you can pull them off in a moment for summer.

I agree with bikeylikey about Crud's 'defensive' tone: I wrote to them because one of the special releasable zip ties was missing from the pack and was told 'it couldn't possibly be missing because my own daughter packs them'. They wanted me to send stamps to pay for one to be sent!

That is crap, but the guards are ok.

posted by drmatthewhardy [166 posts]
7th January 2013 - 14:12

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Cruds and Raceblades are no replacement for a frame with mudguard eyes and proper length guards...

Ive tried them both for years and Ive now given in...proper winter bike project underway...

At least two sets of my cruds are somewhere in the warwickshire countryside...

posted by NeilXDavis [88 posts]
7th February 2013 - 12:49

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Reading with much pleasure Brummie comments YES they are SHITE! Now the really funny bit....get yersself a "MODERN" Raleigh Clubman...No REALLY! GREAT winter trainer/commuter ok they're a little on the expensive side for a second bike BUT it'll last a lifetime nice to ride and as a winter alternative to the full carbon summer job I can't fault mine!.....and the mudguards are superb(?)..

Dave Arnot.

posted by davenot [0 posts]
8th February 2013 - 20:34

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Brake-pads, brake blocks or rubber bits for stopping who cares what you say as long as you get the message across. RULES f*** the RULES

posted by sodit [51 posts]
6th March 2013 - 10:58

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Well having been riding in a monsoon today, I appreciate the comments about brake pads. It is a bit disconcerting when you come down a hill and squeezing the brakes has no effect!

Edgeley

posted by Edgeley [137 posts]
16th March 2013 - 21:07

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It is a bit disconcerting when you come down a hill and squeezing the brakes has no effect!

Unfortunately you should be clearing the water constantly on a large downhill, not just waiting for the second you need to stop! Lightly feather the brakes on the descent, it helps.

I would suggest to all winter commuters that you look to the cheap ranges of cassettes and chains through the winter. They just get shreaded. Sad

Cycle or Die

posted by miles_from_anywhere [15 posts]
14th June 2013 - 6:06

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Tip for keeping your brakes working - take the wheel off, clean the pad, then use a scalpel to tease out the little shards of metal that'll have embedded themselves. It'll save your rims a lot of wear, and keep you stopping effectively.

posted by bashthebox [457 posts]
4th October 2013 - 13:41

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Regarding mudguards - not fashionable no, but more stylish than having a brown streak from your arse to your upper back!

Asolare

posted by Goldfever4 [140 posts]
24th October 2013 - 9:56

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Not using the PDWs ... yet, but I have just read a couple of very favourable reviews PLUS they look nice and should last a long time ...

Cycling - not just a pastime or sport - free your soul on the open road.

timbola's picture

posted by timbola [199 posts]
24th October 2013 - 10:26

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wyadvd wrote:
Swissstop green

There is an echo here ...
SWISSSTOP GREEN - I have them on 3 bikes in our family so far and when time comes, others will get some, too ! Great brake blocks.

Cycling - not just a pastime or sport - free your soul on the open road.

timbola's picture

posted by timbola [199 posts]
24th October 2013 - 10:35

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It's not really a question of mudguards or 'man up'. Unfortunately, your bike components aren't too bothered by being told to 'man up' they will still get trashed if not looked after and bearings will fail. Mudguards are good for keeping at least some of the crud off, when used in conjunction with regular maintenance. Wise up Wink

posted by southseabythesea [43 posts]
24th October 2013 - 11:08

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and then there's the "joy" of being behind someone without
guards ....... I advise keeping your mouth shut Smile

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [542 posts]
24th October 2013 - 11:24

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Mudguards..?
Well I clean my bike after every dirty ride anyway, so mudguards would be another item to clean.
A good waterproof, the right kit and I'm off.

posted by HulaBoy [4 posts]
24th October 2013 - 11:27

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andyp wrote:
'Quite how you can recommend Crud Race Guards or indeed any mud guards is beyond me.'

FTFY. It's only a bit of water.

... and oil, petrol, mud, salt, soot, rubber, glass, grit, farm effluent... guaranteed to make any bike look fabulous and tastes great too!

I concur with the comment about using cheaper chains and cassettes during the winter, just keep the chain well lubed and wipe down after a wet ride.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [625 posts]
24th October 2013 - 11:58

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Just as a matter of interest, how often over the winter do you strip and clean the headset and bottom bracket?

posted by southseabythesea [43 posts]
24th October 2013 - 12:56

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3 is even better, a old dog as you describe, and big heavy gate with wheels that can take a hit from the pot holes, hub gears add to the misery. As you say all the hard slogpays off in spring and that first trip out on your carbon pride and joy. Roll on April Smile

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [141 posts]
24th October 2013 - 14:54

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southseabythesea wrote:
Just as a matter of interest, how often over the winter do you strip and clean the headset and bottom bracket?

just when they start sounding crunchy. Guards tend to save both of those parts from the worst of the winter anyway.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [625 posts]
24th October 2013 - 15:47

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I fail to see the attraction of buying a dedicated winter bike, sure if you've recently upgraded and kept the previous 'best' bike, but to spend some serious money on a heavy steed with the sole purpose of convincing you to ride it when the temperature drops to freezing, snow is in the air and lashings of rain are all but guaranteed? Not for me, I'll stick with the 'best' bike I ride all year, but will look after it even better, in fact after every ride, including fitting mudguards. And I'll be smiling until, not when, spring eventually arrives. The one concession I do make is stick on a sturdy set of wheels.

Cruds Mk 2 are fiddly to fit initially, but work - not had any issues last winter after doing about 4000k on them, and my kit still looks good, unlike the lighter coloured jerseys I've used before they were fitted!

posted by Metjas [215 posts]
24th October 2013 - 18:46

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Im another +1 for having a dedicated winter bike/ commuter - however you need to spend a bit of money so that you enjoy riding it.

I used to ride a Scott Speedster 50 which for some reason I never got on with once I bought a racier bike. This January I pulled the trigger on a Kinesis TK3 which I adore to ride and doesnt mean that I'm put off by the wind/ rain/ snow/ sleet.

Id rather not spend 20 minutes giving my Venge a good clean down after every ride when you are cold and wet and all you want to do is throw some GT85 on your chain and get in the shower. - Personal preference though

posted by benwatson1989 [2 posts]
25th October 2013 - 12:32

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Applause Kool Stop dual compound are superb. Crudguards MK II are good but only have enough clearance for a 23mm tyre (on wide rims-such as 6800 wheelset). If you don't have a full winter/cross/touring frame available, some 32x36 spoked wheels with 28mm tires and raceblade longs are the way to go!

posted by Kim Chee [12 posts]
25th October 2013 - 17:30

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PhilRuss wrote:
What are "brake-pads"? They are them thingies what you put on motor vehicles. We bikies use brake-blocks, ....
P.R.

I've got brake-pads on my bike!

posted by wormscoffer [13 posts]
12th November 2013 - 18:19

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Remember if you can't stand mudguards and don't want a brown stripe get an Ass Saver Smartass from us in loads of colours http://bit.ly/1dnl8Jb

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posted by thepocpac [9 posts]
12th November 2013 - 19:26

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totally agree. crud guards are a bit of a joke if your serious about doing miles in the winter.

posted by philtregear [48 posts]
12th November 2013 - 20:43

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southseabythesea wrote:
Just as a matter of interest, how often over the winter do you strip and clean the headset and bottom bracket?

About every two years

William Black's picture

posted by William Black [192 posts]
12th November 2013 - 21:01

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philtregear wrote:
crud guards are a bit of a joke if your serious about doing miles in the winter.

I'm doing serious miles over every winter and wouldn't want to be without crud guards.

posted by Metjas [215 posts]
12th November 2013 - 21:12

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Kim Chee wrote:
Crudguards MK II are good but only have enough clearance for a 23mm tyre (on wide rims-such as 6800 wheelset).

I run 25mm Conti GP4 season tyres on Fulcrum 5 rims with Crudguards MkII without a problem.

posted by Metjas [215 posts]
12th November 2013 - 21:16

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I have MKS full mudguards on my Tricross all year boring but simples Wink

posted by sodit [51 posts]
13th November 2013 - 10:21

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Say nothing about the sheer cold which has a detrimental effect on steel components from the contraction and expansion due to temperature.

posted by dogcc [57 posts]
13th November 2013 - 11:31

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