Winter is the season that can make or break a cyclist. It is demanding in terms of the conditions of constant wet weather, strong winds, and icy roads as it is mentally due to the lack of daylight and blue skies. In addition to these demands, winter cycling takes a proper toll on your bike unless you take good care of it.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated winter road bike and save your precious carbon bike for the dry, sunny days, winterproofing the steed is essential and not that hard at all.
Let’s have a look at our best tips for winterproofing your bike and making winter cycling that bit more enjoyable.
Mudguards are not necessarily the most fashionable cycling accessory, but they are some of the best investments for those who ride through winter.
Mudguards are available in multiple different styles and there are options available for bikes with or without mudguard eyelets.
Full-length mudguards, such as these KranX FendRs, are essential if you ride in groups or often end up in heavy downpours during your winter rides. Full-length mudguards are the best at keeping you and your bike clean, but they also prevent you from spraying everything from the road into the eyes of the person behind you.
Before you go and buy the first set of mudguards from your favourite bike shop, make sure you check what size mudguards you need. Your wheels and the tyre width affect the size of the mudguard, as do the eyelets your bike has.
No one ever wants to have a puncture or fix one, but unfortunately they do happen, and in the winter usually more often than in the summer. The winter roads are often scattered with debris, thorns and all sorts of sharp objects that can pierce your tyre.
In the winter fixing a puncture is multiple times worse than in the summer because you will have to take off your thick cycling gloves, which exposes your hands to cold. And while you battle with the tyre, you are much more still than when cycling, which is bound to make you and your riding pals get cold real quick.
Because of all this, prevention is the best approach. Consider having some more puncture-proof tyres on - something with thicker sidewalls and a more robust rubber compound. Even the best winter tyres might be more sluggish than your speedy road race tyres, but really, they are worth it when you ride months without a puncture.
Another thing to consider for winter tyres is studs. Even though daytime temperatures are not regularly below zero in the UK, country lanes and cycle paths can freeze overnight and become treacherous for cyclists. You can get a set of studded winter cycling tyres from major retailers and if you regularly ride early in the morning and in the dark evenings, they are well worth the investment for your safety.
What's true for punctures is true for other roadside bike repairs: in the winter they can be a seriously cold experience.
Carrying essential tools for basic repairs is a given on any bike ride, but in the winter it’s even more important so you don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain or below-zero temperatures simply because you could not take your rear wheel off to change the tube.
So what should you carry in your saddle bag or back pockets for repairs? The basic essentials are good tyre levers, a multitool, a mini pump, a CO2 inflator and canister and spare inner tubes or a tubeless tyre repair kit. You want your mini pump to be effective at pumping the tyres up quickly, so consider investing in a higher-quality one. If you know you'd rather just whizz the tyre up in seconds and don't mind the disposable aspect of a CO2 canister, always pack those with you.
Great additions that barely weigh anything are zip ties in various sizes, some electrical tape wrapped around your mini pump to be used for strapping things on, and emergency snacks.
In the winter it can be hard to ride during daylight hours, as the days are just so short. This means that bike lights that not only make you seen but also show you the road ahead need to be on your purchase list if you don’t already have a set.
What are looking for in good bike lights, then? In the winter you really need something that lights up the road well ahead of you even in dreary conditions, so you need to have enough power in the light. This means the front light ideally has more than 700-lumen power and for the rear light something over 50 lumens might be sufficient - unless you ride in very busy areas which require a flashing, brighter light to distinguish you from other rear lights.
It might seem obvious, but making sure that your bike lights have enough charge before you head out is really something you should check every time. If you’re unsure, plug them in just in case. And if you have a set of small lights, throw those into your back pocket or handlebar bag, just in case either of your main lights dies.
And finally, we have the cleaning and maintenance of the bike. As we mentioned in the intro, winter riding really takes some mental strength and perhaps the second most demanding situation is the one after you’ve finished your ride. It’s so tempting to just forget about your bike, hop in the shower and get cuddled up under a blanket… but you will pay for that later.
Cleaning your bike after a winter cycle takes little time and effort once you get in the habit and both your bike and wallet will thank you for it. A simple bike clean only takes minutes and you can do it with a bucket, a garden hose, or even in your shower. You then need a bike cleaner of your choice, some sort of sponge or brush, and rags to finish off and dry the bike. And after you’ve cleaned the bike, quickly check it is in a nice, rideable condition.
You don’t necessarily need to perform a full de-greasing and soap wash on your bike after every ride, but wiping your chain and re-lubing it is the minimum you need to do.
When you lube your chain, make sure you choose the right bicycle chain lube for the conditions. In the winter, this often means wet lube, which doesn’t mean that the lube is wet, but that it is meant for wet conditions. It’s a little stickier and thicker than summer lube, which means it attracts more dirt and thus gets your drivetrain dirty quicker - but it is worth it as it doesn’t wash away in the rain or puddles.
Some people swear by waxing their chain instead, and if you hate the gunk that regular wet lube leaves behind on the cassette, you might want to check out how to wax your chain.
If your shifting starts to be a bit off and no amount of cable tension (or changing your gear cables) helps, it might be time for a new chain. Checking your bike chain wear is simple with a dedicated chain checker tool, and if you replace your chain before it gets too “stretched”, you will save yourself from it wearing down the chainrings and cassette, both of which are much more expensive to replace.
And last but not least, brakes. Your bike’s brake pads are really having a hard time in the winter and they get worn at speeds that your eyes can’t believe.
Making sure that your disc brakes still have some brake pads left on them is an easy, visual check that you should do before every ride and if they look worn, replace the worn-out brake pads immediately.
Every brake calliper takes different types of brake pads, so before you chuck the old ones into the bin, check what they say on them.
In the winter you might also want to consider changing your disc brake pads to a different material. Organic disc brake pads are the quietest and sharpest brake pads, but they wear out a lot quicker than for example, metallic brake pads - especially in wet and dirty conditions.
Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops.