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How to prepare your bike for winter cycling

Winter cycling can be tough on your bike so follow our guide to stay in tune as the weather closes in

Joe Robinson
15 Nov 2021

Winter arrives every year but it still takes people by surprise. Not wrapping up your bike, or yourself, will end in a worn out groupset and worn out legs.

However, with a few shrewd investments and handy additions to your bike, you can protect your pride and joy from unnecessary wear while also continuing to enjoy your cycling through the dark and dingy months.

Some of the headline acts include adding a set of mudguards and swapping in a set of harder-wearing tyres but the small stuff, such as keeping tabs on cable wear, are also just as important.

Below, we’ve put together a little guide with some ideas of what to pay extra attention to this winter.

How to prepare your bike for winter cycling

1. Fit some mudguards

Mudguards aren’t cool in some parts, but we know of plenty of clubs that wouldn’t let you ride without full mudguards after October. Plus mudguards not only protect your fellow riders from road spray but also protect parts of your bike from grit and dirt, extending component lifespan, and that is cool!

A full-length set of mudguards will work best, saving you and your kit from excess wear. Before purchasing, however, check whether your desired guards will be compatible with your bike in regards to attachment and tyre clearance.

2. Swap your tyres for wider and more puncture resistant models

When the roads are slippy you want your tyres to be grippy – a saying we live and die by. There are plenty of options out there in regards to winter tyres but one set that have consistenly impressed the team here at Cyclist are these Schwalbe One TLE models. They’re not cheap, but they’re likely to be long-lasting.

Plus you can set them up tubeless: rolling with a generous squirt of sealant inside, they’ll be able to seal most punctures before you even know they’re there.

They aren’t too heavy, so there’s still some joy to be had from them. Get them in a wide size – frame permitting – and you’ll be ready to roll through the worst winter conditions.

3. Get some lights

Even if you don't plan on staying out after dark, the clocks changing make it increasingly likely you'll find yourself caught out at some point. All you need is a heavy rain cloud to roll over and it will quickly feel as if you're riding at night.

And as not having lights after sunset is both dangerous and illegal, it makes sense to leave a set permanently attached to your bike over the winter and, at the very least, a solitary rear light.

There's near endless choice when it comes to lights, but we're big fans of the Lezyne Hecto Drive 500XL/Strip Drive Light Set.

Its front light pumps out a claimed 500 lumens from a very neat package and will last up to 20 hours on the lowest setting.

Equally quick to attach and compatible with aero-seat posts, the Strip Drive's five LEDs sit in an IPX7 waterproof case. Offering up to 270° of visibility and a 150-lumen output, it will ensure you get seen by any cars approaching from behind.

It's even bright enough to use as a daytime running light – perfect for gloomy mornings or when riding into low winter sunshine.

4. Stay on top of cleaning

Unsurprisingly, grim weather will make your bike accumulate dirt quicker. This means it’s important to clean it regularly. Salt from the road can be a particular killer, so after each wet ride, try to at least give it a quick hose down, followed by treatment with some water-dispersant spray and a quick re-lube of the chain.

This will help everything last longer and avoid rust. A nicely polished bike will also be more inclined to shed dirt the next time it’s ridden too. Clean bikes are also fast bikes, too.

A set like Muc-Off's 8-in-1 bicycle cleaning kit includes all the brushes you might need, plus bike-specific cleaning fluid and finishing spray. The only other bits you'll need is a few extra some sponges, a rag and maybe a set of Marigolds to prevent bike grease getting on your hands – it can be a nightmare to get off.

5. Be prepared for an increased number of mechanicals 

Even if you do go tubeless, punctures are more likely in winter as the rain washes foreign bodies on to the side of the road, where they're primed to bring misery. It is not unheard of that some unlucky souls have suffered upwards of five punctures in one winter ride, eventually having to get a cab home having ran out of spare tubes.

A decent-sized waterproof saddlebag is a trusty friend when carting around all the relevant tools and inner tubes to prevent you getting caught short.

This waterproof Topeak Wedge saddlebag even has an integrated light loop for and is quick to remove

5. Bag yourself some bags

Of course, the saddle bag remains king where carting spare parts around on your bikes is concerned but let us give a minute to the rise of bikepacking-style luggage. Originally designed for bikepackers and ultra-cyclists to carry around kit on their adventures, the best bikepacking bags can be a great option for regular cyclists on single-day rides too.

The most popular option currently is the bar bag which can be seen on every single bike rolling out of south London on a Saturday and Sunday morning.

Neatly attached to your bars, this neat little bag offers more storage than your typical saddlebag while also being accessible on the move.  

Something like the Brooks Scape pouch will do the trick. It's fully waterproof, has a 2L capacity and a max weight limit of 3kg, enough for 18 bags of Haribo Tangfastics.

6. Keep an eye on your cables...

It's amazing how far water and dirt can penetrate your bike during a wet, muddy ride. Even sealed-in components such as brake and gear cables can suffer after a good soaking, affecting your ability to stop or shift in a timely fashion.

7. And your drivetrain...

Your bike's drivetrain will suffer more in the winter. Whether from rain or salt on the road, it'll both get muckier and dry out quicker. One solution is to change to a thicker 'wet' condition chain lube such as Finish Line's Cross County wet lube, £3.99 for 60ml from Wiggle.

While this can work if you're lazy, doing so will soon see your drivetrain get black and gunky. A better solution is to clean regularly with a dedicated chain cleaning device and simply apply your regular lube a bit more frequently.

Of the bunch we group tested, the Pedro's Chain Pig Machine II won our vote, largely by dint of looking like a little pink pig.