Home
How to protect your bike front the worst that winter can throw at it

Riding through the winter can be punishing for your road bike, all that rain, mud and salt can quickly bring it to a grinding halt.

Whether you’re commuting every day or training for an event next year, or just heading out at weekends, it does pay to pay closer attention to your bike if you want it to keep working smoothly through the winter months. 

Here are our 10 top tips for looking after your bike this winter.

1. Keep it clean

Washing your bike frequently might seem like a chore, but it’s vital to wash away any dirt and muck accumulated straight after a ride, washing the bike when it's still wet is far easier than letting the road muck dry onto the frame and components. Horse droppings have a particularly tenacity on a bicycle frame. If riding on gritted and salted roads, it is especially important to wash your bike as soon as possible, otherwise you'll come back to your bike the next time you ride it to find some rusty parts. 

A bucket of hot soapy water and a good sponge or brush is all you need, and doesn’t have to take all that long. You don't have to be absolutely thorough every time you wash the bike, the main thing is to get the worst of the grime and muck off. There are a raft of specialist bike cleaners and degreasers available that will make a proper job of cleaning your bike and that can make even giving it a quick once over that bit more effective too.

2. Lube that chain

Once you’ve cleaned your bike, a good wet lube is an ideal choice for winter riding. The drive train consists of many expensive parts, and if left un-lubed these will simply wear out more quickly, work less effectively while they do so while making a sound like a load of hungry mice that have just spotted a large lump of cheese.

So invest in a decent lube - don’t skimp now - and keep the chain running smoothly over the cassette and chainset. Wet lubes are good at this time of year because they last a long time and work well in adverse conditions. It's best to apply lube to a clean degreased chain, so it's the first thing you want to do after washing the bike. 

3. Winter tyres

If you'e bike is running them it’s worth swapping out the sub-200g race tyres for some heavier duty puncture resistant tyres in the winter. There are many available with thicker sidewalls and reinforced breaker belts sandwiched between the rubber tread and carcass.

Some manufacturers make tyres with a rubber compound designed to provide a little more traction on wet roads, generally it will be a softer compound. A softer compound will wear out more quickly however. It’s the rubber compound and not the tread pattern - those sipings and grooves make marginal difference on such narrow tyres - that is key to a tyres traction on wet roads. 

Wider tyres are a good choice for the winter, as they can be run at lower pressures so offering extra comfort and grip, from the little increase in contact patch. How wide a tyre you can fit depends on your bicycles. Typically race frames won’t take anything wider than 23mm, or 25mm at a push. Many touring and commuting bikes, and the new breed of endurance bikes, will take up to 28 and 32mm tyres quite happily.

It’s good to keep a regular eye on your tyres. When you’re washing your bike, have a close look at the entire tread of the tyre, and remove any flint, glass or sharp stones that might be buried in the tread. 

Buyers guide: The best tyres to get you through the winter.

4. Tyre pressure

When the roads are wet, letting a bit of air out of your tyres can increase grip by slightly increasing the size of the contact patch. A little less air will also improve the tyre's ability to absorb vibrations from riding over rough roads, so you get more comfort too.

I regularly run my tyres at about 90-95psi during the winter, and softer than that if the roads are likely to be really wet. You don’t have to inflate the tyres to the 120psi maximum indicated on the side of the tyre, that’s just a guideline, in fact one school of thought is there is no actual gain from inflating a road tyre above 100psi in any conditions.

5. Preventing punctures

During the winter the roads can become coated in glass, flints and debris just lying there waiting for an unsuspecting cyclist to trundle over. Believe me it's no fun fixing a puncture when it's lashing down with rain. Slightly more fun maybe than waiting for a friend to fix a puncture in the rain, that is.

 

Slime-filled inner tubes, or adding some liquid latex to your existing inner tubes, can help to reduce a flat when something sharp cuts through the tyre deep enough to hit the inner tube. You can buy protective strips that go between the tyre and inner tube, acting as a breaker belt in a tyre, which while adding weight and reducing the ride performance a bit, will greatly reduce the potential for a puncture. I've heard people to slice up an old inner tube and lay it as a strip between tyre and inner tube.

Going tubeless is another good choice. Alghough it's an expensive upgrade if you don’t have tubeless-ready wheels, the main benefit of tubeless is that there is no inner tube to puncture, with the space occupied by a small amount of liquid sealant. When something sharp goes through the tyre, not only is there no inner tube to pop, but the sealant will react with oxygen and plug the hole.

6. Mudguards

One way to prevent a lot of the water and filth being sprayed all over your bike as it’s churned up by the wheels, is to fit some mudguards. Not only do they keep the road spray of your body, but they can help to protect the bicycle, including the brake calipers and front mech, and bearings in the headset.

If your frame is designed for mudguards, then a set of traditional full-length mudguards is a sound investment. They offer the most protection for you and your bike. If you don’t have mudguard eyelets on your frame, fret not, there are many mudguards that simply clip on to the frame. Their advantage is they are very light, and can be easily removed.

Buyer’s guide: Mudguards for keeping you dry this winter

7. Avoid rust

Treating those components likely to rust quickly during harsh, wet conditions with a corrosion  preventative such as ACF50 will make sure your bike lasts the winter, and that under the encrusted dirt lies a gleaming, unsullied machine just waiting for the restorative flush of hot, detergent-filled water.

8. Regular maintenance

Winter accelerates the wearing process of mechanical components, so it’s worth checking them regularly, monthly at the very minimum, but more frequently if you ride a lot of miles. Brake pads will wear out much more quickly in the poor conditions they’re having to deal with, so keep an eye on the pads. Most brake blocks will have a wear line indicator, so don’t let yourself get caught out with rapidly disappearing brake blocks. It's also worth checking the condition of the blocks regularly, to make sure they are wearing evenly, and remove any grit that might have lodged in the grooves. 

If you have disc brakes you might find it easier to pop the wheel out to have a closer inspection at the brake pads. Sintered brake pads are preferable to organic pads in the winter as they’re harder wearing, so will last longer.

While you're checking the brakes, pay some attention to the condition of the rims. Are they very concave in shape? That's the sign the rim is wearing out, and for safety reasons you don't want to be riding on rims with a dramatically concaved rim wall. I've seen the result of a rim wall collapsing because it was so worn out. It wasn't pretty. 

The drivetrain gets a hammering in the winter, and it's the most expensive collection of parts on your bike. Replacing the chain, cassette and chainset in one go will hit your wallet hard, but an easy way to extend the life of the chainrings and cassette is to regularly replace the chain.

Popping a new £20-40 chain on your bike at regular intervals will save you money in the long run, and is a lot cheaper than buying a new cassette and chainrings when the whole lot wears out at the same time. Some people will replace the chain every couple of thousand miles, if they’re keeping track. Or you could buy a chain check tool that, while seemingly an expensive purchase, will save you money in the long-term.

9. Check gear and brake cables

Water can get into the gear and brake cable housing, and over time will reduce the performance of your gear shifts and braking performance. Changing the cables at regular intervals - cables are relatively cheap - is a good idea. Removing the cables, cleaning them and adding some lube as you insert into the cable housing can bring a tired set of cables back to life.

Lined and coated cables for gears and brakes offer a low maintenance solution. The likes of Jagwire produce cables sets with a proprietary L3 liner and Fibrax make a Pro-formance sealed cable kit, which should keep gears and brakes working smoothly through the winter grind. 

10. Slippery coating

A top tip from the British Cycling squad is one that stops mud sticking to the frame and other components as easily. A silicone spray, widely available, can be used on the frame and parts of the transmission with the idea to create a slippery surface that dirt and mud just can’t stick too.

Be sure not to get it anywhere near the braking surface though. You could use a car wax polish instead for a heavier duty coating on the frame.

Do you have any of your own winter-proofing tips? If you do, feel free to share them by commenting in 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.

26 comments

Avatar
Graymee2 [3 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I keep reading articles and forum posts telling people to decrease their tyre pressure in winter to increase the size of the contact patch and therefore the grip. When I was at school I was taught a physical law that states friction is independent of surface area so decreasing your tyre pressure would not increase grip. Has this physical law been disproved?

Avatar
kknb2162 [5 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

That law is correct with hard surfaces but not quite with visco-elastic materials such as rubber. With racing slicks for example there is also a shear force where part of the tire is literally ripped from itself and deposited on the ground. This shear force does increase with contact area.

Avatar
crikey [1252 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I see more and more suggestions related to chain measuring and early replacement to prolong the life of cassettes, and yet I've used cassettes with the same chain for year after year. In addition to the 'you must measure and change your chain' advice, I also see a growing number of 'I changed my chain and now my gears jump' threads.

Chains and cassettes wear together.

Changing the chain asks a new chain to work on a part worn cassette, and over time, an increasingly worn cassette.

My suggestion is to ride both chain and cassette until they don't work; you'll get at least as many miles out of them as you will by changing chains, and save yourself money.

Avatar
colhum1 [86 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

How to protect your bike front the worst that winter can throw at it

Umm grammatical error...?  7

Avatar
mbell [42 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Wet wipes and mr sheen, cheap household products that get my bike shiny clean (and help to stop crap sticking to the frame ).

Avatar
Welsh boy [282 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Graymee2 wrote:

I keep reading articles and forum posts telling people to decrease their tyre pressure in winter to increase the size of the contact patch and therefore the grip. When I was at school I was taught a physical law that states friction is independent of surface area so decreasing your tyre pressure would not increase grip. Has this physical law been disproved?

I have also read that bike tyres do not need aggressive tread patterns and dont aquaplane like cars because their tyres are thin and cut through the water to make contact with the road. So, reducing tyre pressure surely reduces this effect and increases the likelihood of loosing traction and grip. There are a lot of urban myths perpetuated and regurgitated in the cycling world and everyone seems to believe the old chap down the club who learnt what he knows off his grandfather.

Avatar
Guyz2010 [304 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I run Schwalbe Durano S tyres usually at about 110 - 120 psi in the dry but 90psi in the wet. Grip is dramatically improved and very noticeable. A bucket of soapy water & a brush by the garage door helps to clean up the wheels too, only takes a minute to do a once over.

Avatar
TimD [13 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

"the sealant will react with oxygen and plug the hole"

This isn't true. I'm not sure that I want to try to explain exactly how the sealant works without copying and pasting from a manufacturer's website, but it's related to particles that respond to changes in pressure (e.g. the point where air's escaping from a punctured tyre) and essentially pile up on each other forming a plug.

It's definitely not a reaction with oxygen for two reasons. (1) in most cases the tyre's full of air, which is exactly the same as the air outside the tyre - just at lower pressure. (2) air is about 80% nitrogen, and 20% oxygen.  1

Avatar
DeanF316 [135 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

What aload of rubbish mate. So how many miles do you do before you have to replace the cassette, chain, front chain rings and jockey wheels. If you take your logic just never clean or maintain your bike to save money to buy a whole new bike to replace the one that is worn out by no maintainance.

Avatar
badback [302 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Usually strip and grease the pivot bolts on my brake calipers to stop them getting crudded up and sticking on which can be a complete PITA.

Can emphasise to much about cleaning wheels. I have learned that the hard way having being told that my wheels could not be trued because the spokes had fused onto their nipples.

Like the article says, it's also worth remembering clean your chain before you lube it or the crud on it can act as a rather handy grinding paste for wearing down the rest of your drivetrain.

Avatar
Gordy748 [110 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Regarding bicycles being more likely to aquaplane if you reduce tire pressure, this is absolutely not the case.

Yes, it's possible to go fast enough that the rate in which the water is sliced through drops below the rate the water can actually be moved aside. In this situation the tire has nowhere to go but up, and so will aquaplane.

But in bicycles this speed is around 200 mph. In cars, it's much lower as car tires are flat, so it's much more difficult for the water to get out of the way. So the speed of aquaplaning is around 40 or so mph, depending on the tire design, car weight, etc.

The old wives' tale you're referring to is the belief that bicycles will aquaplane in the first place.

Avatar
allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I've cleverly avoided wear and tear and corrosion on my roadbike by the simple expedient of leaving it in the garage until spring.

Isn't winter what winter hacks ( or mountain bikes) are for?  3

Avatar
Gizmo_ [1381 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

How do you recommend keeping a CX bike clean? I took my brand new bike out in the forest earlier and came home because I wanted to clean it  4

Avatar
William Black [193 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Gizmo_ wrote:

How do you recommend keeping a CX bike clean? I took my brand new bike out in the forest earlier and came home because I wanted to clean it  4

Words fail me.

Avatar
crikey [1252 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Load of rubbish?

It's worked for me for 25 years riding and racing.
Using the same chain, cassette and chainrings used to last a season of racing here and in Europe. Training bike chain/cassette/chainrings last for a lot longer, 2-3 years.

I'm using a chain and cassette that have done the 3Peaks twice on my winter road bike; works perfectly well.

Avatar
Gizmo_ [1381 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
William Black wrote:
Gizmo_ wrote:

How do you recommend keeping a CX bike clean? I took my brand new bike out in the forest earlier and came home because I wanted to clean it  4

Words fail me.

I wasn't entirely serious. And I was out for 90 minutes sploshing through leaf mulch and puddles, not just 100 yards from the carpark  3

Avatar
NeilXDavis [122 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Couple of quickies:
1 I use my cassette and chain for ages, just don't buy this replace it all the time stuff. Wait till it starts slipping etc. then you know its replace it time.

2 Winter Bike - thats the number 1 tip for any newbie - get a heavier bike with mudguard eyes or push the best machine down the pecking order and get a new one for the following year - selecting new bits etc. for a new build helps me get though the grim months!.

3 Mud Flaps - Nearly all decent cycling clubs will immediately tell anyone to attach mudflaps as well as mudguards for all group riding. Hows about a DIY mudflap article road.cc??

Avatar
flobble [92 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Welsh boy wrote:
Graymee2 wrote:

I keep reading articles and forum posts telling people to decrease their tyre pressure in winter to increase the size of the contact patch and therefore the grip. When I was at school I was taught a physical law that states friction is independent of surface area so decreasing your tyre pressure would not increase grip. Has this physical law been disproved?

I have also read that bike tyres do not need aggressive tread patterns and dont aquaplane like cars because their tyres are thin and cut through the water to make contact with the road. So, reducing tyre pressure surely reduces this effect and increases the likelihood of loosing traction and grip. There are a lot of urban myths perpetuated and regurgitated in the cycling world and everyone seems to believe the old chap down the club who learnt what he knows off his grandfather.

OK. Let's put the speculation to bed with some (shock, horror) science.

Long version, essentially validating the NASA model at relevant speeds and proposing some adjustments for factors such as thickness of water, pavement surface texture, and tire tread design. However, the adjustments are irrelevant for you and me:
http://www.nus.edu.sg/comcen/svu/publications/hpc_nus/dec_2005/hydroplan...

Mid length version, summarising the NASA model:
http://sheldonbrown.com/tires.html#hydroplaning

Short version: road bike tyres don't aquaplane at any speed you're likely to be riding at.

Avatar
chokofingrz [404 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
badback wrote:

I have learned that the hard way having being told that my wheels could not be trued because the spokes had fused onto their nipples.

Hopefully the only thing that you will find fused onto your nipples this winter.  36

Avatar
pcaley [37 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

My tip is to make sure that those screw down collars on your valve stems do not sieze. Do this by either removing them or lightly lubing the threads. This may sound daft but if they are siezed on you will not be able to remove the tube when you get a puncture! And yes I know someone this has happened to - not me, I hasten to add!

Avatar
pmr [196 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Bad advice IMO.
I dunno how many miles you ride, but unless you ride all the time in one gear only its physically impossible for your cassette to see as much action as the chain.
The cassette is normally the last to wear, the chain is first and a worn chain (also called stretched, as the worn pins elongate the chains overall length) will fairly quickly wear out the teeth on the chain ring, normally the big ring as that's what you are mostly in. You will then experience noise, & poor gear changes up front.
If you change the chain before it gets too "stretched" then you will avoid damage to the front chainring (which is typically more expensive than a chain, and also avoid damage to the cassette.

Thinking about it, I bet you dont change from the big to little ring, or that you in fact only have one chainring and no front derailier and hence no bad front shifting?

Since the chains contact area is far greater on the big chainring than any other sprocket or chainring, this is where the wear really notices.

Avatar
crazy-legs [724 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Quote:

Since the chains contact area is far greater on the big chainring than any other sprocket or chainring, this is where the wear really notices.

No it's not, the cassette wears quicker than the chainring(s) since the load is spread over far fewer teeth.
Imagine you're in the 53:18 - a nice middling gear. The load on the chainring is spread over about 26 teeth (the half of the chainring ion contact with the chain at any one point), that same load on the cassette is spread over 9 teeth. Hence it wears quicker.

Most cassettes show wear on the 16-20 teeth range first while the 11/12 and 25 (or whatever your lowest gear is) last longer since they're used less.

I still can't work out if it's easier to clean it all regularly in the hope of prolonging it's life or ride the whole lot into the ground and replace...

Avatar
WolfieSmith [1314 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
NeilXDavis wrote:

Couple of quickies:
1 I use my cassette and chain for ages, just don't buy this replace it all the time stuff. Wait till it starts slipping etc. then you know its replace it time.

2 Winter Bike - thats the number 1 tip for any newbie - get a heavier bike with mudguard eyes or push the best machine down the pecking order and get a new one for the following year - selecting new bits etc. for a new build helps me get though the grim months!.

3 Mud Flaps - Nearly all decent cycling clubs will immediately tell anyone to attach mudflaps as well as mudguards for all group riding. Hows about a DIY mudflap article road.cc??

Agree with all three. I keep the summer bike chain clean by soaking it in white spirit once a month and lubing it thoroughly with tethlon spray. It's stretch that causes skipping not wear. I change the chain every year putting the old one on the winter bike. Cassettes I change every 3 years.

Standard long mudguards still spray the rider behind. I have a set of those flimsy plastic clip on mudguards. No good at all as mudguards - but cut a 6 inch section off and Araldite to the bottom of the existing back mudguard and Bob's your uncle! A section from a plastic bottle works too. Super glue doesn't work for long. Too brittle.

Those neoprene collars to protect the head set are a good buy.

Avoid thick winter lube. It may last longer but it attracts more grit. Tethlon spray on summer and winter bike and it's fine for both. Unless you're selling winter lube of course...

My winter bike is a cheap heavy aluminium pig of a bike but come April I'm climbing as well as those with their fancy carbon winter bikes. Then I switch to the Ti summer bike which is much lighter and Spring is finally here!

In 4 days the nights start getting shorter again. Horray.

Avatar
ronin [263 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Let's all agree that new chains feel lovely  1

I had one puncture last year, but technically it wasn't really, as I was kinda squeezed at a traffic light and hit a drain at low speed and got a snake bite. That was on Conti 4000s 23's, which I rode all summer and winter.

This year I thought I'd be smart and changed to 25's. They felt a bit better, 'til I got a puncture. I changed to Conti 4 Seasons a few weeks ago thinking those Vectran Breakers would do the trick...a little shard of glass soon punctured the marketing hype.

Can't help thinking that a higher pressure than the 90 psi recommended would have been better. Oh well.

Are there any tires that actually have real puncture protection?

Avatar
Simon E [2620 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
pmr wrote:

If you change the chain before it gets too "stretched" then you will avoid damage to the front chainring (which is typically more expensive than a chain, and also avoid damage to the cassette.

I use the same logic, so chains usually get replaced at or before the chain checker's 0.7% mark. I can get KMC Z82 8 speed chains for £7 while the 9 speed aren't a lot more. And as ronin says, a new chain always feels nice.
 1

Tyres with better puncture protection than the Conti 4 Season have thicker belts below the tread. Durano Plus, Marathon Plus and Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase are three that I'd consider.

As for reducing tyre pressures - another factor is that a lower pressure and/or larger tyre volume means the tyre is less likely to skip over surface irregularities or detritus. It should also make for a more comfortable ride. A 25 mm tyre has 18% and a 28mm 45% more volume than 23mm.

Avatar
Jimmy Ray Will [457 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I have to say I work to different rules when it comes to drivetrain maintenance depending on what bike I am riding.

Race bike; the chain is changed every 6 weeks throughout the season.

Winter bike; if I am keen, I'll circulate all the semi-worn chains from the race bike over the course of the winter. What actually happens is that I fit one chain all winter, destroying the whole drivetrain in the process. At the start of the following winter, I'll stick on a 'new' chain and cassette and hope the chainrings and jockey wheels still work.

Regularly changing chains will maintain your rings and cassettes, but you have to replace them regularly. For me its about performance, a worn chain equates to 10-20 watts of power lost through the drivetrain. In speed terms that is approaching up to half an mph on average speed. An experienced rider could take a years training to train that kind of performance gain.

Reference tyre pressure, I work to the rule that, as mentioned above, it is more about not skipping over the road than it is about contact patch size.