A bike should give you a reason to ride in the off-season.
If you’re willing to bunny hop the virtual barriers to riding in winter (like cold weather, for one), then don’t you think you deserve a “winter bike”? Don’t worry – it’s not a new breed of bike that’ll put a huge hole in your wallet. Sure, a “winter bike” can be as elaborate as a new bike specifically for winter, but it can also be as simple as your all-purpose bike that’s been winterized for the season.
First let’s get over the obvious. A winter bike is simply a bike that you ride in winter (any questions?). It can be a second, relatively inexpensive bike that’s been tricked out with parts to help you deal with winter’s defining characteristics. Or it can be your trusted, year-round two-wheeled steed that’s undergone a seasonal makeover to make it fit for winter.
Either way, what makes a bike a “winter bike” is how it’s been fortified against slick roads glazed with rain, slush, mud, or snow, and corrosive salt or chemicals used to combat winter weather. This sort of punishment provides a convincing reason for getting a cheap winter road bike that can withstand winter’s abuse. You’ll know a good winter bike when you see one if it has the following features.
Mudguards – What many people don’t know is that it’s not what’s coming down from the sky but rather what’s being churned up from the ground, which includes water, slush, mud, sand, and salt – sometimes a cocktail of all five. A rear mudguard is an obvious must-have but so too is a front mudguard to block whatever your front wheel sends upward from the ground. Mudguards come in a variety of designs from clip-on mudguards that attach to your saddle rails and downtube, to bolt-on mudguards that stay on throughout the season.
Wide, durable tyres – Winter is not the time to be whittling grams off your bike so save the weight loss for spring. Studded winter bike tyres can tip the scales quite a bit but having a peace of mind when you ride over treacherous terrain is worth the extra weight. To choose winter road bike tyres, opt for 28c tyres with a good grip so that every ride doesn’t turn into a white-knuckled effort just to stay upright. Investing upfront in tyre liners or tubeless tyres will also help spare you from punctures that will literally leave you out in the cold (and rain, and wind) to fix them.
Heavy-duty chainrings, chain, cranks, and cassette – These may suffer the most abuse in winter since whatever type of contaminant can and will find its way into your drivetrain. The first line of defence is to clean and dry your bike after every polluting ride. If you are converting your primary bike into a winter bike, you may want to swap out your fancy groupset for something cheaper and with lower gears to help manage a heavier bike and/or wintertime headwinds.
Winter bike bonus: If you train with heavier parts during the winter, you’ll experience an instant performance improvement once you return to skinnier tyres and lighter parts.
When it comes to a winter bike, the decision may be less about “whether” and more about the “weather” because that’s really what it comes down to regarding a winter bike. A winter bike can calm nerves about riding in the elements, but a dedicated winter bike can also prove motivating when you know that you’ve got the right bike for the season.