Winterise your bike
Winter is tough on you and your bike so here are our tips for making it smoothly through to spring
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 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.
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.
Saddle pack carrying 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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!
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
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.