Depending on your mindset, getting in the winter miles can either consist of a miserable slog through the dark or enjoying those beautifully crisp morning commutes. There is a certain beauty to those winter morning ride outs, when a chill permeates the air and frost is draped serenely across the landscape. In our latest blog, we offer you our recommendations for how to turn winter miles into summer smiles.
The winter survival guide
Winter riding is incredibly beneficial come the spring, you get to reap the rewards of those hard-earned winter miles. Here are our tips for how to make the most of those hard-earned winter miles.
The Winter bike
The Ribble Endurance AL is a fantastic winter trainer / fast commuter.
So, what is a winter bike and why do we need one? The traditional template for the winter bike is a carbon, alloy or steel framed bike with a low to mid-range drivetrain. Think of Shimano Sora, Tiagra or 105 as likely examples of these. Why do people choose these in particular? It’s as simply a matter of cost.
During the winter months, the weather and road conditions can take their toll on the drivetrain and cause them to wear out prematurely. Having a slightly cheaper groupset than your summer bike helps with the cost of replacing these components when they wear out. Though it is also worth noting that the cheaper the parts the faster they wear out.
The final item that sets apart a winter bike is mudguards, you either love them or loathe them but they are in some cases absolutely essential. For the loss of aesthetics you get the following benefits;
- You will not run the risk of being relegated to the tail end charlie position on a club run for lack of guards. No-one wants to be the recipient of a face full of the rooster tail from your back wheel.
- No more spray giving you cold, wet nethers and no big dirty stripe up your back!
- Your feet stay drier; until I started using a bike with guards I had not realised the sheer volume of water deposited onto your feet via the spray from the front wheel. This means less chance of soggy and smelly shoes that need drying when you arrive home or to work.
Fancy a new winter bike? Check out our recommended winter collection here.
The Ribble CGR collection are the most capable mixed terrain bikes that we produce.
Similarly to the age-old question of Campag, Sram or Shimano, the subject of disc brakes vs rim brakes continues to be a divisive question. There is a clear split with traditionalists preferring to stick with rim brakes and the rest committing to disc brakes. Disc brakes unquestionably have their advantages over rim brakes and when buying a bike it is a great idea to weigh up the Pro’s and cons of each.
- You won’t wear out the wheel rims with disc brakes and disc rotors are considerably cheaper to replace than a new set of wheels.
- They’re more powerful than rim brakes, which allows you to brake later into corners and with complete confidence, this is especially useful when descending.
- Wet weather braking is improved dramatically by the addition of disc brakes. Rim brakes first need to clear the water from the braking surface before they start to provide deceleration. Any grit and debris picked up on the rim or brake blocks will scour the braking surface which causes the rim to wear prematurely.
There aren’t many downsides to disc brakes but the most obvious would be;
- Weight – a full hydraulic equipped bike is heavier due to the reservoir, hoses, rotors etc. Disc wheel hubs are slightly heavier than their rim brake equivalents too. The difference overall is not huge by any means and can range between 200 to 500g overall.
- Price – The approx price difference between a bike equipped bike with a hydraulic brake system and a rim caliper shod bike is £300 so, if you have your eye on a new bike it’s worth factoring this into your budget.
- Maintenance – When a hydraulic disc brakes performance starts to fade it is necessary to bleed the system to remove any air which may have infiltrated the system or the oil simply needs changing. This only happens infrequently so is not something that needs to be performed often. It’s then time to learn how to do this yourself or have an experienced mechanic service the brakes.
Winter is the worst time for debris being washed into the roads. If you don’t want to be stood at the side of the road in the dark with frozen fingers, fumbling to find whatever caused your current predicament, investing in some durable tyres is a must.
Tubeless – Tubeless tyres do not require an inner tube, instead, they are filled with a sealant and then inflated. They can be run at a lower pressure or at the same pressure as a traditional clincher tyre and tube. If a puncture occurs the sealant seals the hole and prevents the tyre from deflating. Leaving you to carry on along your merry way.
Winter clinchers – There are a wide variety of tyres out there that offer extra puncture protection, one of the most well known being Continental’s Gator Skin. The slight price you pay for such a tyre is that they have a higher rolling resistance which translates into a slower tyre. There are exceptions to the rule, however like Continental’s GP5000 tyres which are a fantastic all-rounder and offer great protection. But for an almost fit and forget reliability, something like a Gator Skin is difficult to beat.
We’re all different and what works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else. In terms of how we dress during winter, most road cyclists will prefer to ‘layer’. This is exactly as it sounds, we will choose what to wear based upon the conditions and temperatures expected whilst out on the ride. When the temperature is near freezing it is not uncommon to have 3 layers up top (thermal undervest, long or short-sleeved jersey and some type of jacket), some decent thermal tights, under helmet insulation, gloves and overshoes.
There is a vast choice of jackets on the market and you have various considerations to take into account. Do you want the jacket to be waterproof, windproof, showerproof, thermal, breathable, a mix of all of these and does it need to be lightweight enough to fit into a back pocket or saddlebag etc?
- Shell jacket – (example pictured above) is normally windproof and showerproof but tend to the thinner side of the material spectrum. If the temperature is too low then wearing layers underneath will combat the cold and if it’s wet out, then opting for a rain jacket is probably the better option.
- Windproof jacket – As its name suggests it will offer protection from the wind and will normally cope with a light shower. There are also heavier versions with a fleece lining and some will be heavier with some form of Roubaix lining (fleece).
- Waterproof / Rain jackets – There there are 2 distinct types of jacket, the lightweight (cape) or the heavier weight jacket. The heavier weight jacket tends to find favour with leisure cyclists/ cycle commuters who prefer the relaxed fit. The cape is more popular with road cyclists who value the tighter race fit.
Bibtights / Tights / Shorts and Bibknickers
The most common garment to be worn on the lower half of the body in winter by far is a pair of bibtights. These bibtights have a fleece lining and come into their own when the temperature heads down into the low single digits. They are also available with varying amounts of reflective piping/panels for added visibility in the hours of darkness.
Tights are exactly the same but they do not have the ‘bib’ feature which are the straps that slide over the shoulders.
Bibknickers are also a popular option, these are essentially 3/4 length bibtights. They stop approximately mid-calf so are a great intermediate option for the autumn or milder winter days.
Winter bibshorts have also proven to be very popular and would normally be worn in conjunction with Roubaix leg warmers or knee warmers.
Arms/ Knees/ Leg warmers
Again these clothing accessories are fantastic options for layering due to the versatility that they afford. Is it a bit cooler when you set off but after an hour or 2 you may be too warm for the long sleeve jersey or bibtights? A pair of winter bibshorts with knee warmers would be a great option. You can just remove the knee warmers at any time. Same with a jersey, opt for a short sleeve option with arm warmers which you can then remove on the go should the need arise.
The extremities always suffer during the cold winter months and the hands in particular need adequate protection. Good quality gloves are an absolute necessity and if you live in an area that is subject to freezing temperatures more than 1 pair may be required. Liner gloves beneath the outer gloves may be required (here in Lancashire we have been known to wear 2-3 pairs) to stave off the dreaded pain as the blood flows back into frozen hands!
Nobody likes wet feet or even worse cold and wet feet! A good pair of overshoes are worth their weight in Gold. Choose the right overshoes for you and to suit the conditions you expect to ride in. Most overshoes will have reflective piping and/or logo’s and these are essential if you expect to ride in the dark. If you’ve ever seen a cyclist in the dark with reflective overshoes either as a fellow rider or as a motorist you will be well aware that the rotating parts are easily distinguishable in the dark.
- Roubaix overshoes are booties that fit over your shoes and will keep your feet toastie warm, but offer zero waterproofing whatsoever.
- Waterproof types are generally thinner waterproof covers which offer great protection but have virtually zero thermal properties.
- Neoprene overshoes are the most popular option, neoprene has great thermal properties (hence diving suits being manufactured from the material). They keep the feet warm and dry.
Keeping your head toasty warm and especially your ears is essential. The most popular winter headwear items are,
- Buffs – This versatile gem can be utilised as a neck warmer , headband or atop the head as a skull cap as per your preference. Personally, when it’s really cold I use two of these, 1 around the neck and pulled up over the nostrils (not the eyes though!) and one atop the bone dome.
- Skull caps / beanies – It’s hard to discern the difference between a skull cap and beanie. They are an under helmet cover for your head.
- Hat / Neck Warmer – Essentially the same as the buff but instead is made from a thicker Roubaix material and will normally have a drawstring with a toggle at one end. If you pull the drawstring and adjust the toggle it transforms from a neck warmer into a hat. Though this cannot be used in conjunction with a helmet.
Base layers are a key part of the clothing layer system. There are Coolmax types which are breathable and wick sweat which are ideal for spring/summer use and Merino or thermal vests for winter use. They are crucial for keeping the core warm and wicking sweat away from the torso. They can become a trifle smelly unless you wash them often though. Merino wool vests are extremely popular for this reason as the material is naturally odour resistant and warm.