It’s difficult, occasionally uncomfortable, riskier, and tough on your bike, but whether you’re a road racer, MTB trailer, or a devoted commuter, winter riding is still definitely worth it.
Not only does it set you up for a successful New Year of riding ahead, but cycling the quieter frosty trails or roads in the biting cold can be an exhilarating experience.
However, while you may be tough enough to handle the cold and the rain, your bike may need some extra care and attention to see it through the more testing conditions.
Heavier rainfall means there is more mud and debris on the roads, all of which has a knack of finding its way into your components and parts, vastly increasing the amount of wear and tear of every ride. Road salt and gravel can also play havoc when it gets into components if not cleaned away, while your tyres will be on the frontline and much more susceptible to punctures.
To fend off these weather-related threats, you need to take extra precautions and give your bike a much-needed course of winterproofing to ensure it remains free from rust and damage and ready to take on the spring.
Almost every area of your bike is affected by the changing conditions, so this bike winterproofing guide will provide you with an outline of the main steps to take to provide the best general protection against the elements.
We’ve also provided links to more detailed information on each section to help you protect your bike from top to bottom.
How to winterproof your bike
Here is a selection of steps to help you winterise your road or mountain bike this cold season, with links to products and guides to help you get it right.
Get a mudguard
This isn’t so much about protecting your bike as it is about protecting you, but it’s still important, especially if you use your bike to commute. Not only will you get a horrible line of crud along your back and torso, as well as muddied legs and feet, but the spray from your wheels will more easily find their way into those hard to see nooks and crannies on the underside of your cycle. Your choice of mudguard will of course depend on your type of bike and the conditions you expect to encounter, so head over to our Mudguards Buying Guide for some tips on picking the right mudguards for your needs.
Cleaning, lubrication, and greasing
This is your bike’s main defence against the weathering that winter causes. The combination of grit, debris and water left on your bike after a ride can quickly lead to rusting and erosion, which will mean having to replace a range of parts, if not the bike entirely.
To do the job effectively, you need to start by removing all the dirt and debris using a general bike wash, which is designed to shift mostdirt from components and the frame of your bike. Use an all-purpose cleaner for the bicycle's frame, saddle, steering components, tyres and wheels using good brushes like this LifeLine Brush Set.
The next step is using a degreaser to shift muddied oil and grease from your drivetrain to keep the components working efficiently.
Degreasers are powerful, acerbic products and should be used only on the correct components - such as the chain, cassette, and chainrings - with care.
Finally, anything that’s been degreased needs to be lubricated, while threaded components such as ball bearings, cables, headset internals and your seat post, need greased again to ensure the mechanisms operate smoothly. Products such as the popular Muc-Off Bio-Grease 150g also add a layer of protection to these vulnerable parts.
Four tips for bike cleaning:
- For best results, always use specific products for the job being done. Take a look at our Bike Cleaning range for some cycling-specific cleaners.
- Don't use washing-up liquid as it may contain harmful chemicals that can damage components.
- Start at the top of the bike and work downwards.
- Use a soft brush or sponge for the frame and components to help loosen any dirt.
Having a good set of lights for the winter period is an essential part of winterproofing your bike to cope with the shorter days and longer nights. Not only will it make you more visible to traffic, other riders, and pedestrians, but it will also help you see the road or trail ahead and allow you to get more out of the ride. Even if you don’t plan to ride into the depths of night, the winter will mean overcast days with low visibility and light levels generally, so a decent set of lights is still worth it. You’ll need something over 200 lumens to cast a beam and ride on unlit roads and paths at a sensible speed. The Cateye Volt 800 RC Front Light is a good place to start, or shop Lights and Reflectives at Wiggle.
Your brakes are another area worthy of attention in the winter months. Brake blocks or pads will encounter all the rain, crud, and debris that cling to your wheel, and can wear out much more quickly in the cold. Every time you wash your bike, quickly inspect the blocks and replace them before they become too worn. A new set will also give you a confidence boost while out on those treacherous roads. So, considering their relatively low cost, they’re always worth an investment.
Maybe you’re not too concerned about the condition of your chain – it’s only a chain, right? We’ll, not quite. What you may not have realised is that your chain will transport all the grit and grime it picks up to your entire drivetrain, while any warped links will quickly damage the most expensive componentry on your bike. That makes it particularly important to keep your chain sparkling clean, and to replace it if it begins to show signs of serious wear. To make your chain last longer, a good idea is to invest in a chain cleaner, like the Park Tool CM5.2 Cyclone Chain Cleaner. It’s a much cheaper alternative to replacing cassettes and derailleurs.
Should you need to make an ad-hoc repair while out on the winter roads, or to help you carry out any home bike maintenance, it’s a good idea to have a decent multi-tool. Easily packed into a pocket or saddle pack, they can be carried with you at all times and have an enormous amount of uses around the bike – every cyclist, serious or otherwise, should have one.
Check out this Topeak Mini 20 Pro 20 Function Multi Tool as a good starting point for the general cyclist.
Pumps and puncture repair
If you’re riding during the winter, then getting a puncture is almost guaranteed, so you need to be prepared. But while repairing a tyre on a bitter evening is never fun, a decent pump and quality puncture repair kit will take some of the misery out of this roadside chore. A Topeak Mini DX Master Blaster Pump with Gauge is a good choice while the Lezyne Lever Patch Kit should make your repairs quick and easy.
The tyre is the cyclist’s ultimate interface with the ground, translating your power and steering into performance. During winter, however, its duties increase, with water, ice, and snow all impinging on your available grip. Winter riding is tough enough without fishtailing all over the road and dealing with endless punctures, so if you want to get the most out of your winter riding experience then getting weather appropriate tyres is recommended. Winter tyres come with more durable compounds and puncture protection systems, and what they lose in performance they gain in resilience.
Another step is to lower the pressure in your tyres. Going for a lower pressure will improve grip and comfort on winter roads. It won't help much with puncture protection, but it will improve your winter riding experience.
This is especially relevant for cyclists lucky enough to have a cutting-edge set of wheels already installed on their bike. It may not be what you want to hear, but soaring around during winter on your elite wheels is probably not the best policy. Poor conditions will mean the performance advantage of your carbon hoops will be negated, so it’s a good opportunity to give those high-class spinners a well-earned break. To that end, it’s worth downgrading during the winter to a pair of hard-wearing wallet-friendly wheels to see you through the off-season, such as this robust Pro Lite Garda Alloy Clincher Wheelset, or for the mountain biker, this Shimano WH M788 MTB Disc Wheelset.
Of course, don’t forget that you have to accompany your bike out there in the winter conditions, so don’t forget to get kitted out in some warm and weather-proof winter kit. The more weather relevant your clothing, the more enjoyment you’ll get from your ride, and the more benefit you’ll derive from your off-season efforts. A huge selection to suit all budgets is available through Wiggle.
Another winterproofing measure is to invest in a pair of winter road or MTB bike shoes. Cycling with soggy wet feet can put a definite dampener on your enjoyment and performance, and shoe technology has come a long way in recent years. Another option is to get a pair of overshoes to keep out the worst of the weather. Overshoes fit on top of your normal shoes to provide a weatherproof barrier for your feet.