First Published November 14, 2019
Winter is a hard time of year on bikes. All that rain, salt and mud can induce rapid wear and turn your pride and joy into a creaking rust bucket in no time at all. It’s why many cyclists have long made the switch to a dedicated bike when the winter months roll around, but what are the reasons for a winter bike, what do you want from a winter bike and what’s the best bike for the purpose?
It might seem a luxury to have a dedicated winter bike, but it’s popular with many cyclists. A poll of road.cc readers revealed 57% declaring they have a dedicated winter bike. It’s still clearly popular.
Do you have a dedicated winter bike? We're wondering if it's still a thing these days?
— road.cc (@roadcc) November 6, 2019
The main benefit is that you’re not going to grind your favourite road bike into a grimy paste from riding it on winter roads.
A cheaper second bike that you’re less precious about, whether it’s bought primarily for the purpose or a bike you upgrade from a few years ago, is the ideal candidate to take up that punishment. Better to wear out cheaper components than the spangly expensive kit on your best bike.
So it saves your best bike taking a load of punishment. You can store it away for the winter and when you drag it out in the spring it’ll be in pristine condition (provided you washed it before you stored it away!).
The other big reason for a bike dedicated to winter riding is that you can spec it to suit the conditions, and the biggest benefit above everything else is the fitment of mudguards. Not all bikes will have space let alone mounts for mudguards, so touring or gravel bikes with space for wide tyres and mudguards are preferable.
Riding on wet roads, splashing through puddles or dealing with mud and other debris is not much fun when you don’t have mudguards. The front wheel spray saturates your feet and ankles turning them into blocks of ice, and your bum and thighs get pasted from the rear wheel spray.
Wet weather is bad enough without getting a dirty drenching from your own bike. The idea behind a dedicated winter bike then is to fit mudguards. Preferably it’s a bike with eyelets for proper full-length mudguards. These provide the best coverage front and rear. Failing that, clip-on mudguards are much better these days and a decent compromise if your bike doesn’t have eyelets.
The other reason for a dedicated winter bike, as we’ll highlight in a bit, is that fact it’s prepared and built for the doing those long-distance training rides in all conditions, with a focus on reliability and comfort over aerodynamics and weight. It will be a trusted and faithful companion on those rides through challenging conditions when the urge to stay in bed is strong.
We’ve already mentioned them, but mudguards are the main thing you want to look for in a winter bike. That’s the reason why metal bikes, steel and aluminium, have long been popular choices - there just aren’t many carbon frames that will take mudguards.
The frame material choice also reflects that fact you don’t need to spend a fortune on the bike. Keeping the cost down through careful purchases and recycling older components from the back of the shed are good tactics for a bike designed to be ridden in the winter.
Your winter bike needs to be comfortable, reliable and dependable. So fit the widest tyres you can, and choose a puncture-proof tyre to minimise the risk of getting a flat on freezing cold or wet ride miles from home. Don’t worry about weight, in fact adding a bit of weight is no bad thing, it’ll make you train hard and you’ll feel amazing when you jump back on your best bike in the spring. Also consider tubeless, the benefits of the sealant plugging small holes caused by glass and flint and enabling you to continue riding without stopping aren’t to be underestimated when it’s lashing down with cold rain.
Also make sure to fit a really good saddle that you know will be comfortable for the longest winter rides you have planned. You could also consider double wrapping your bar tape, and bunging a few more spacers under the stem to relax the fit is not a bad idea either. Being comfortable is really a lot more important than being aerodynamic at this time of year.
Once you’ve got the bike sorted, you want to make sure you’ve got all the spares and essential accessories. A good set of lights is a must, even for day time riding when it’s gloomy and overcast, and a bright main light obviously if your rides must take place after hours. A well equipped saddle bag with two spares tubes, tyre levers, chain tool and Allen keys should be the minimum you want to carry with you. And don’t forget a really good pump that will actually inflate the tyre to a rideable pressure.
Given we’re trying to keep the price down for this bike, you might as well leave the fancy carbon aero wheels at home and throw on some cheap aluminium wheels. You don’t really need aero in the winter, and it’s going to be cheaper to wear out some aluminium wheels with easily serviceable spokes and bearings.
In the olden days before disc brakes and gravel bikes, touring bikes were the popular candidate. They had the requisite mudguard eyelets, spacer for wider tyres and more relaxed geometry than race bikes. Modern touring bikes with disc brakes and even wider tyre clearances still make jolly good choices.
Cyclocross bikes have also long been popular winter bikes. Before disc brakes they offered increased clearances over road bikes so you can fit wide tyres and mudguards, with many having the necessary mounts for full-length mudguards. You could pick up an aluminium cyclocross frameset relatively cheaply and put some older parts on it and have a low cost and practical winter bike.
These days there’s another option: gravel and adventure bikes. These are becoming hugely popular as second bikes because they are hugely versatile. Many have mounts for mudguards and can be ridden with slick tyres, making the fast and comfortable road training bikes. But you can sling on some gravel tyres for exploring bridleways and woodland trails. The geometry is generally better suited to road riding than cyclocross bikes which typically have high bottom brackets for ground clearance.
Whatever type of bike you opt for, one way to save some cash is to buy a frameset and cobble it together using whatever parts you might have lying around. There are lots of brands that offer very reasonably priced metal frames that could be the basis for a winter bike build. Add some cheap wheels, a low-end groupset and some finishing kit and you can build a decent bike on the budget.
The even more controversial choice isn’t even a bike. It’s a smart trainer. I’ve had several discussions with people considering whether to spend a lump of cash they’ve saved on a mudguard-equipped bike for the winter or a smart trainer. The top-end smart trainers with all the associated accessories can cost the same as a bike, and that’s before you factor in all the extra accessories like a computer, television, fan etc to get the full experience.
With all that said, any bike is ideal for a dedicated winter bike. It can be anything you want it to be.
You might not even have to buy one. If you’ve bought a new bike recently you could turn your old bike into your dedicated winter bike. Add some mudguards, some tough tyres and the accessories mentioned previously, and you have yourself a bike that is going to suitable for thrashing around the lanes in the rain and cold.
There’s obviously nothing to stop you winterising your main bike and using that, and in this article, we go through some steps you might want to look at to ensure it’s going to cope with the winter conditions.
The other trend in recent years stems from the idea that it’s a bit rubbish to spend such a big chunk of the year on a bike that is inferior to your main bike. Putting all your money into one bike that can be ridden year-round with mudguards in the winter and faster wheels in the summer, and made from a posh long-lasting material like titanium, has become a popular option with cyclists who want the comfort and benefits of a winter bike but year-round.
Personally I wouldn’t be without my winter bike. It’s a trusty partner on long winter training rides in rubbish weather, it’s reliable and comfy and never lets me down.
We’ve tested many bikes that will do great service as a winter bike and below we’ve picked five we’ve reviewed
If you were putting together a winter bike from scratch you'd struggle to do a better job than Cube have done with the NuRoad Race FE; our only significant criticism is that the front mudguard is a bit short, easily fixed with a bolt-on mudflap.
Tester Stu Kerton was pleasantly surprised by the NuRoad Race FE, writing that it was "loads more fun than I originally envisaged, and it is pretty much the ideal winter commuter or trainer – especially if you want a bit of variety in your riding. I loved the ability to just dart off down a rough track to see where it goes, or being able to string different routes together by linking them with the various byways that criss-cross the Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset landscapes to create some properly epic rides."
What makes it such a good year-round bike is the extras. Cube makes five bikes in the NuRoad line but only two – the Race FE and the Pro FE – come with a few extras to make the Cube even more versatile as a year-round workhorse. The Race FE has a Supernova E3 Pure 3 dynamo headlight powered by the front hub and paired to an E3 Tail Light 2 to complete the package.
At 205 lumens the front light is bright enough to be used as a daytime running light and the beauty is that it is always on, so you never need to worry about charging batteries for the commute or if you get caught out in the dark.
Proving you don’t need to spend a fortune, the Triban RC 520 Disc appeals to a wide range of cyclists from those buying their first bike, to people buying a second bike for winter riding. It’s got a relaxed geometry from the super-tall head tube and compact top tube, and the plethora of eyelets and mounts for mudguards and pannier racks are plain to see, while there's clearance here for 35mm tyres with mudguards.
Ribble's Endurance SL Disc is a bike that we'd happily ride and race all year round. It handles well, remains composed over broken tarmac, climbs quickly, and can hold its speed on the flat too. The customisable spec makes this an easy bike to get right for your riding aims and budget. And it has mounts for mudguards, along with clearance for wide tyres.
Highly capable, with a performance that shines on any surface as it smooths out bumps with the skinniest of skinny rear stays – and a very competitive price – the GT Grade Carbon Expert is a top choice in an increasingly crowded gravel bike market.
It’s also a good example of how versatile modern gravel bikes are. This one has space for wide tyres for adventuring and bikepacking, but you can easily fit slick tyres and mudguards for winter riding.
Fast and sporty, with all the practicality and dependability of hydraulic disc brakes, wide tyres and space for full-length mudguards, the Whyte Wessex is a bike that is up to the task of taking on the roughest roads and toughest weather. It’s available in several builds, including a 1x if that’s your thing, and it can be bought with the company’s own mudguards.
The Aspect is the latest titanium offering from Mason Cycles and it's a beauty, not only in the way it looks but also in the way it rides. It’s not cheap, firmly falling into the last bike you might ever buy, but it has mudguard mounts and space for wide tyres and is nice enough that you won’t want to ride anything else, whatever the weather.
Do you have a dedicated winter bike? Let’s hear from you in the comments below.
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David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.