As autumn sets in and we approach the winter months there is one thing on all our minds that can strike fear in many a cyclist – the gradually increasing risk of inclement, and, as a result, potentially debilitating weather.
Though the month of October has been unusually warm this year, without a doubt the temperature will soon find its way down into the 0-10º range, lingering there and sometimes even dipping into sub-zero numbers. This can cause some serious trouble to cyclists of all kinds, from the daily commuter to the die-hard racer aiming to maintain their training schedule. The increased risk of punctures, mechanical malfunctions and accidents due to poor road conditions is one thing to be wary of - and that’s not even taking into account the frosty fingertips, tingling toes and general wetness that undeniably characterise this time of year. In short - this is not an easy time to be a cyclist. However, if one is prepared to brave the arduous climate and adequately prepare themselves for what lies ahead, then keeping up the mileage throughout the winter can turn into a very rewarding experience, both for the mind and for the body (did you know that exercising in cold weather can be particularly good for weight loss as you body has to work extra hard to keep itself warm?). But what does a rider need to do to ensure that they will remain happy and road-safe throughout the season?
In this first part of the autumn & winter cycling guide, we will discuss some simple modifications you should consider making to your bike to optimise it for winter riding, as well as what to take into account when purchasing a new bike that you plan to use all year round. See below for Gloria Cycling’s top winter tips.
This is probably the first place to begin. Nobody likes going for a ride only to find they quickly develop a rather embarrassing mud-coloured skid mark crawling from the saddle up their backs, as well as the irksome spittle constantly hitting their face and dampening their legs and shoes as a result of the splash coming from the front wheel. This same spray can even cause damage to your frame and its components, making its way into cracks and crevices and slowly summoning a formation of rust. Mounting your frame with a good set of mudguards will keep the majority of this ailment at bay, covering both front and rear wheels and deflecting the water back downwards. Companies like Portland Design Works and Rene Herse offer excellently crafted and fully-covering options that are as beautiful as they are functional, whilst SKS makes more commonly found mudguards in a wide range of styles to suit all applications, including clip-on designs which can me attached to a frame that is lacking mudguard eyelets.
If you happen to ride a super-racy aero frame, or simply desire the most minimal mudguard setup on the market, Ass Savers from Sweden have got you covered with their unique system which secures to your saddle, and does exactly what it says on the tin – no more, no less.
Uncontestably, another adjustment to think about in the pursuit of winter happiness is the tyres you are running. The increased contact area of wider tyres will give you not only added comfort, but also more stability and grip for those days where the surface of the road is soaking and littered with puddles. Furthermore, increased tread on the tyre will come to your aid on looser surfaces such as trails and pebbly pathways, as well as giving you a certain degree of puncture protection by increasing the distance between the inner tube and the tarmac. The caveat of this is that you may have to pay the price of higher rolling resistance, effectively slowing you down a little bit – in practice, this should not really matter for most daily applications. Look at models by names such as Rene Herse, Panaracer, and Pirelli for tyres of this kind.
The Rene Herse are available in our shop.
If you are using 25mm or even 23mm tyres, definitely consider going up to a 28mm or even higher if your frame can take it. In this gravel-ready age, most modern road frames have the clearance to go way up to 32mm and sometimes even higher tyre widths, so it is very much possible to just switch out your tyres in the winter for something more suitable. Or you could have a setup similar to that of one our Gloria CC riders, Ethan, who opts to alternate between two different wheelsets on his frame, one being for road (slick, narrow tyres inflated to high pressure) and the other for gravel (wider tyres with more tread and lower inflation pressure). This allows him to conveniently switch between the wheels when the riding terrain calls for it, getting the best of both worlds without needing two different bikes.
If maximum puncture protection is what you are after, then look no further than Continental and their industry-standard products, with their specifically puncture-wary models such as the Grand Prix 4 Seasons tyre (typically used by professional racing teams to tackle the arduously uneven surfaces of the Paris-Roubaix classic), as well as the slightly less racy, commuter-minded Gatorskins and GatorHardshell tyres.
Let’s not forget one of the most crucial aspects of bike safety – braking. This is one thing that you definitely do not want to take a chance on, and having the most powerful braking system possible is a most favourable option at all instances. Despite the time-tested success and undeniable style of traditional rim brakes and calipers, it is no secret that their performance worsens in wet conditions. Anyone who has ridden on rim brake wheels in a storm will be able to testify to the deterioration of stoppage time caused by the reduced friction between the rim and rubber of the brake pad.
Disc brakes, having been around for quite a few years on MTBs, have now become the modern standard for road and gravel frames, and it is easy to see why – their performance under the stress of moisture is far better than their rim-based cousins, and the position of their action closer to the centre of the hub gives them more leverage with which to halt the rotation of the wheel. Hydraulic disc systems trump rim brakes further by improving efficiency and lifespan of the components, whilst reducing fatigue and strain by requiring less force from the rider to achieve similar results. In addition, unlike calipers, disc brakes do not limit the tyre size mounted to your wheel, again due to their location away from the rims.
Of course, upgrading to disc brakes is not the most mindless of operations, as your frame must have specifically designed mounts to accommodate the disc calipers, and you will need to replace your rim brake wheelset for one designed for discs. As such, this is really the kind of thing you must be aware of when buying a new bike, rather than simply modifying your current steed (but if you happen to be in the uncommon position of riding a frame with unused disc brake mounts, then go for it!)
Most serious riders will probably have this one covered already, but if it is something missing from your arsenal of winter accessories, or you are perhaps looking for an upgrade, a good set of lights is an absolutely essential bit of kit that you should ideally never be riding without. Naturally these can be used all year round and are not exclusive to winter, however as the days get shorter and the darkness descends upon us earlier on in the days, there is an obvious increased necessity for lights during the winter months.
With lights you want to look at the brightness output, measured in lumens. Brighter is better in almost any scenario, but alas, it is also more expensive. Generally speaking, a good set of lights (front & rear) is going to cost somewhere between £50 and £100, however there are certainly much cheaper, and much more expensive options on the market too. At GLORIA we love the Exposure Lights for their classy designs and performance. They are available in store and in our online shop.
This isn’t so much an issue of safety, rather than enjoying a nice and smooth riding experience, but modern electronic shifting systems such as Shimano’s Di2 and SRAM’s eTap can make a huge difference when it comes to surviving the wet and cold, as they will maintain their already superior precision and responsiveness far better than their mechanical counterparts. Put simply, there is just less to get clogged up by dirt and road grime when you remove the inner / outer shift cables and the mechanisms within the shift levers (electronic shifters just use buttons to trigger gear shifts). No inner cables means no cable stretch, less maintenance, and cable replacement is a thing of the past (though in the case of Di2, you may need to replace the wire once in a blue moon, or in the case of a crash).
Electronic groupsets don’t necessarily have to be picky with regards to the frame they are being mounted on either – though Shimano’s system will require a Di2-ready frame to accommodate the internally-routed wires (which like disc brakes, is becoming an increasingly common feature on modern frames), SRAM’s eTap is completely wireless and as such can be installed on pretty much any frame you want to use. Just remember to keep an eye out on the battery(s) used to keep your groupset working, as they will eventually run out of juice and require a charge (this may only be once or twice a year though, depending on your riding habits).
All in all electronic shifting is a lovely, albeit non-essential upgrade to the quality of your ride, which can certainly aid your winter cycling experience, though at the current moment in time only comes at a fairly steep price that most people will not be prepared to pay (full groupsets starting at around the £1000 mark).
This last one is obviously quite a big consideration, as for obvious reasons, you cannot simply “switch” the material used in your frame. Changing frame material effectively means buying an entirely new bike (or at least taking your current bike apart and rebuilding the old parts onto a new frame, provided you have the tools and inclination to do so – lets not get into this rabbit hole just yet). But if you happen to be in the market, then there is certainly one material that we would recommend above all others for pretty much all applications, no least winter riding.
Gloria Cycling would not be doing its duty as a titanium frame specialist without mentioning the vast advantages that our favourite frame material has over carbon and other more traditionally used metals such as steel and aluminium. Let’s go back to the main topic flowing throughout this article – the issue of water and rain.
As previously mentioned, splash coming up into the bike from puddles (and rain coming down onto it) will inevitably start to degrade the frame and other components of the bike, particularly if the bike is left damp and stored in a cold place (tip: take 10 minutes to wipe down your bike after a wet ride to greatly prolong the life of your machine). To make matters worse, the pebbles and other particles that can fly up into the frame while riding on horrible winter roads can put little dinks and scratches in your frame, and in the case of a steel bike, remove the protective layers of paint and expose the bare metal, catalysing the risk of rust forming and spreading in areas such as beneath your bottom bracket and on the underside of the down tube. Titanium has the brilliant property of forming an oxide layer on its surface, preventing it from rusting altogether.
Whilst it is true that aluminium has a stronger defence against rust than steel due to similar reasons as titanium, and carbon is another matter altogether, neither of these materials has anywhere near the tensile strength and durability that titanium can boast. And let’s face it, you are far more likely to crash whilst riding in wet and stormy conditions, in which case an expensive carbon frame will probably not make it, whilst a titanium-framed machine can simply be picked back up and ridden away without a worry.
For these simple reasons, the high price titanium commands is a worthwhile investment to make for anyone serious about their cycling and the longevity of their bicycle.
>> Got any suggestions on how to improve your bike for the winter to add that we left out? Let your fellow cyclists know in the comments!
GLORIA CYCLING 2021