We may be in the joyous flush of Indian summer fever right now, but mark our words – it’s not going to last forever.
Give it a few weeks and you’ll be wiping chunks of rain-sodden roadkill from your brow as you battle sideways hurricanes in a vain effort to cling on to your last Strava PB.
Your bike will start to sound like a coffee grinder as the mud and elements work their insidious way into bearings, gears and cables.
And you’ll be squinting into the darkness even for the morning commute as the sun all but disappears until April.
Winter is undeniably on the way, but fear not – gloom doesn’t have to mean doom!
With some considered preparation and a bit of extra kit, you can keep riding in comfort through the winter months until the dusty trails and bone-dry tarmac return in the spring.
Here’s our top picks – and a few sneaky bodges – for winter-proofing your bike and body, laughing in the face of rain and sticking two fingers up to the mud…
PROTECT YOUR BIKE
Mud and grime act like abrasives, robbing your paintwork of its sheen and stripping grease from bearings. Water ingress encourages corrosion – be warned that a seized seatpost corroded inside a steel frame can be a costly – if not impossible – job to remedy. Treat your seatpost to a thin smear of grease or copper-slip to avoid future headaches!
>Use good old gaffa tape or electrical insulation tape to shield your frame from cable rub, or go the whole hog and invest in some proprietary frame protection such as Bike Shield. A pack of stick-on, transparent shields will cost you £25.99.
>Tape can also be used to mask gaps and crevices where mud collects – between your saddle rails, for example.
>Chop up an old inner tube and stretch it over your seat tube clamp, securing the make-do rubber boot with cable ties. A similar bodge will help prolong the life of your headset.
>Regular washing is more important now than ever as mud on your drivetrain will work into your bike lube and break down into a grinding paste. Give your bike a good wash after every wet and muddy ride – avoid jet washing which can blast muck into pivot points and bearings. Muc-Off do a range of a cleanse and care products, including their ‘duo pack’ containing a litre of bike wash a can of post-wash PTFE spray. Currently 1/3rd off in store at £11.95.
After washing your bike you’ll need to re-lube it. Dry the chain, derailleurs and drive train as best you can and apply a quality lube such as Muc-Off’s Wet Lube. (£6.99).
A water-dispelling spray such as GT85 (£5.99) can help drive water out of fiddly components like shocks and derailleurs. Spray it on frames before a wet or muddy ride to help prevent mud sticking and make your bike easier to clean afterwards. Be careful when you apply it to avoid spraying wheel rims or disc brake rotors.
GEAR AND BRAKE CABLES
Muck accumulated on cables is dragged into the outer cable housing every time you brake or shift gears. Over time, shifting and braking performance is affected – really sticky cables can might even stop you shifting into that lower gear just when you need it!
Check your cables regularly and swap them for new ones over the winter months, adding some lube to the outer cable housing as you go. If your bike will allow, consider running full-length housing to minimise the amount of cable exposed to dirt and elements.
For a thorough solution and hassle-free gear shifting through winter and beyond, invest in sealed cables such as Fibrax’s Pro-Formance derailleur cable kit (£29.99). You will need some tools and patience to fit them, though, so book your bike in for some workshop time if you’re not confident with home spannering.
Touring bikes as well as some leisure and road bikes are likely to have mudguard mounts, in which case you can fit full-length guards such as SKS Chromoplastics (from £34.99) – one of the best known and highly-regarded options on the market.
On racier bikes without mounts and where clearance might be an issue, check out Crud’s Roadracer super-light mudguards (£29.99). They’re almost as long as full-length guards but need only 4mm between the top of your tyre and the inside of your brake caliper. And they attach to the frame with reuseable cable ties and rubber band brackets.
Mountain bikes – particularly full-suspension bikes – can be a trickier prospect as frame design varies wildly. A good compromise – and a tried and tested solution – is Crudcatcher’s TwinPac (£20.99), featuring a rear ‘Raceguard’ mudguard, and a down tube-mounted ‘Crudcatcher.
For a lightweight option that won’t cost the earth to replace if you damage them in a crash, go for the Mucky Nutz front Fender Bender (£8.95) and rear Butt Fender (£7.50)
Winter conditions compromise puncture resistance and grip , so you should consider swapping out your summer tyres for winter-friendly options.
On mountain bikes, it’s always a toss-up between grip and drag – the grippier the tyre, the draggier it will be on smoother surfaces and tarmac. You also want something that sheds mud well.
The Maxxis Beaver (folding tyres from £36.99) is a firm favourite which mountain bikers return to winter after winter. Their Minion (From £31.99) is also worth a look. But the last word on winter mountain bike tyres goes to Maxxis’ new(ish) Shorty (£51.99). It offers phenomenal grip and picked up a four-and-a-half out of five star gong in What Mountain Bike mag.
Wetter months are also a dangerous time for road bikes and tourers as rain washes flinty stones and bits of glass into the road. Look for tyres that offer an extra level of puncture-resistant protection and run tubes at lower pressures to increase the tyre’s contact surface with the road.
Ones to consider are Continental’s Gatorskin (£37.95) – the UK’s most popular road bike tyre. They feature a bead-to-bead puncture-resistant ‘Duraskin’ mesh layer. Or for weightier but bombproof protection check out the Schwalbe Marathon Plus (£34.99). They can be awkward to fit, but once on your hoops you can reliably kiss punctures goodbye.
As a racier compromise have a look at the new Continental Grand Prix 4000s (£49.95). These wouldn’t necessarily be a ‘first choice’ winter tyre, but they do offer good levels of puncture resistance, are larger than most and can be run at lower pressures. Continental’s ‘Black Chilli’ rubber compound means outstanding grip.
A super-cheap hack for riding on snow is to use zip ties to turn your existing tyres into winter spikes. See here for a how-to, but bear in mind this will only work for bikes with disc brakes.
To do a really thorough job, you could even zip-tie lengths of chain to your tyres, as in this neat hack.
Lighting up your ride serves two purposes – to see and be seen.
New for 2015 is the world’s brightest bike light – the Cateye Volt 6000 (get 10% off the RRP of £649.99 in our online store.)
It’s a hi-tech super light capable of chucking out a whopping 6000 lumens. To put things into perspective, the average car headlamp on low beam is 700 lumens. In fact, Cateye advise riders don’t use the light on the road at full tilt for fear of dazzling oncoming traffic.
From Moon, there’s the Aerolite COB (£34.99), a new 360-degree safety lamp, integrating a front headlight (60 lumens) and a 10-lumen rear red light in a single unit. It’s rechargeable via USB, features six modes and can be fixed to helmets, bars, drops, seatposts or stays with the included mounts.
A cheaper city / commuter option are Bookman’s minimalist-design lights – £14.99 per pair for the battery operated version or £29.99 for a USB-rechargeable model.
The Swedish brand’s rechargable Curve front light (£29.95) provides three hours of 80 lumens.
For our round-up of new bike lights for 2015, head here.
It’s all very well prepping your bike for the rigours of winter, but without the right clothing riding in extreme conditions can be at best uncomfortable and – at worse – downright dangerous.
To protect your core from the cold, try to wear layers of clothing that offer a degree versatility if things warm up. How many layers comes down to personal preference and conditions, but a good starting point would be:
A long-sleeve base layer. Check out the Altura Merino (10% off at £35.99 online.)
A softshell / windproof mid-layer or jersey. Santini’s new Beta jacket can handle wind, showers and dry conditions. It’s made from Gore Windstopper Xfree, designed to keep you warm at temperatures as low as -5 degrees.
A waterproof outer. Altura’s Nightvision Evo (£89.99 – 10% off in our online store) waterproof features 360-degree reflective visibility and great visibility for road and commuting duties. For mountain biking, look at Altura’s Attack 180 – an entry-level, two-layer waterproof available for just £71.99 online.
It’s also vital to keep your extremities warm – consider investing in waterproof gloves like the Peloton Progel from Altura – £31.49 online from us. Also look at the Attack Overshoes (£34.99 – available from our e-commerce site here) for mountain biking or the Etape £24.99 (buy online here), both from Altura.