7 ways to prep your bike for winter
Just as you need to rethink your cycling wardrobe, your bike needs some extra loving when winter takes hold, too. Laila Ozolina, mechanic at Full City Cycles shows you how…
1) Winter tyres
When the weather is wetter, your tyres are more prone to puncture, so whatever you do, start by fitting a decent set of winter-specific tyres. These are made from heavy-duty compounds, usually with a puncture-prevention layer under the tread, and have thick sidewalls to stop sharp objects finding a way through to the inner tube.
There’s always a trade-off between ride quality and puncture protection, so don’t expect to get a Strava QOM on bombproof winter tyres any time soon. But, you will be rewarded by harder wearing beasts that will be far more likely to brush-off encounters with road debris and pot holes, both of which tend to increase as it gets windier, rainier and colder.
Inner tubes filled with sealant are an option too – but not if you hate mess. These basically self-seal any small holes, so you can do any necessary repairs at home rather than on the roadside.
2) Wide boys
Another job of winter tyres is to provide more grip on greasy, icy roads. Ever had that awful feeling when you go over leaves or a slippery drain? It’s the worst feeling ever. Wider rubber will reduce the risk (although it won’t totally stop that risk of slippage). We suggest 25mm as a minimum but go for 28mm if your bike has the clearance. To further boost traction as well as ride comfort and puncture resistance, you can also run your tyres at a lower pressure.
3) Tyre pressure
Tyre pressure is really important, and especially when the roads are wetter. 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 lower when wet. And it’s not out of the question to go as low as 80-90psi.
Even if you escape puncture free, get into the habit of checking over your tyres before, or if you can face it, after every winter ride, for cuts and tube-threatening pointy bits. It’s not the most fun you can have with a bike but you’ll be thankful you bothered when you find a thorn wedged into the rubber that’s planning to do its worst just when you’re furthest from home and it’s starting to snow.
Yes, they’ll ruin your bike’s lovely clean lines but mudguards are a winter necessity if you don’t want your bike ravaged. Why? Because they’ll protect your frame, components – the chain especially – and clothing from the wet, salt and general grime that coats the roads in winter. Not having a wet bum is a massive bonus, too.
If you have the appropriate fixings and clearance, then go for full mudguards because they’ll give the most protection. Otherwise you’ll need clip-on guards, which will still do a very good job. We’re rather partial to an Ass-Saver for value, flexibility and variety of patterns.
If all that hasn’t persuaded you, mudguards are an important etiquette thing. If you ride in a group, it’s basic cycling courtesy not to spray other people in the face with a constant jet of your watery filth.
For the same reason that you need mudguards, your bike needs regular cleaning and maintenance in winter – ideally after every ride.
If you don’t have the time for such high demands, at the very least you should dry and lube the chain as it’s particularly susceptible to corrosion and wear in wet, gritty condition. You should also make sure you give it a frequent wash and degrease too.
If you keep slapping wet lube on top of old it will build up into an abrasive paste that will do the very thing you’re trying to prevent, quickly grinding up your chain into a useless pile of metal. It’s the pins and rollers that need the lube, not the outside plates, so let it penetrate, then wipe off the excess with a dry rag.
Lights should be a permanent fixture on any winter bike, as journeys in the dark are inevitable. Plus, they’re good for making you visible on dull, dingy days.
Basic options for being seen by other road users are relatively light and inexpensive, but if you cycle on unlit paths and roads you’ll need a more powerful to light the way.
Either way, it’s always worth having an extra set of emergency lights – even just clip-on ones – for those times you forget to recharge your main light.
7) Be prepared
Saddle bags containing everything you need for an emergency roadside repair should be a permanent fixture on your bike at any time of the year, but they’re even more essential in the winter if you want to avoid a very cold walk home.
Always carry a couple of spare inner tubes, tyre patches, levers and a multitool. Make sure you have a mini pump on your bike or in your jersey pocket or carry CO2 cartridges as they’re super quick for inflation and mean you’ll be off and moving quicker, too. And if you don't have quick-release wheels, you'll also need a 15mm spanner.