40 years spent riding a bike have taught me many things, and one thing I've learnt is that my winter bike is the most important bike I own. This is the bike that I will spend the most time on over the course of a year, and it is also the bike that has to be the most reliable. Having a mechanical is troublesome at the best of times, but the last thing you want in the middle of a winter ride, when both your hands and bike are frozen, is to carry out a road side repair.
And yet, despite this need for reliance and dependability, the winter bike will be the one that receives the least attention, will have the least amount of money spent on it, and will generally be forgotten as we fuss, fettle and preen our skittish, lightweight summer machines.
But it doesn't, and shouldn't, have to be like this. So here are a few tips I have learnt that will give you many hours of troublefee, comfortable winter riding without blowing the bank balance.
First, spend some money on a dedicated bike frame for winter. It is tempting to simply repurpose an old summer bike, but this won't come with all the bosses needed for mudguards and suchlike, and the hard ride and skittish handling are not what you need when the roads are icey. So buy a decent frame that can take all the hardship of winter, and for me this means a steel frame. It doesn't have to be a gas tube clunker, my Genesis Equilibrium breezes up the climbs and descends on rails, and is totally reliable and, after 8 winters, still looks like new.
Mudguards - get some. And when I say mudguards, I don't mean those dainty clip on's that require constant adjustment and provide little in the way of protection (I know, because I have used them), get something that will do a proper job. For years I used the popular SKS chromoplastic guards. They are good, but they needed changing about every 2 years, so 5 years ago I invested in a set of Fend Off aluminium guards and haven't looked back since. I say 'invested' as they are more money, but in 5 years I have not had to make a single adjustment. Solid.
Get mud flaps to go with the guards. Your feet and your mates will thank me.
It's tempting to spend less money on winter components, but one area where you should spare no expense is brakes. You need total confidence in your brakes when conditions are tough and fingers are frozen. I use rim brakes and for me the gold standard in long reach rim brakes is the offering from Shimano. The model I have are Ultegra standard, and after many years of use there is not a single spot of rust on them and they perform flawlessly. To further enhance their performance, there is only one brand of brake block I use: Swiss Stop. For aluminium rims you need the blue blocks, and they give me total reliance in all conditions.
Winter doesn't have to be heavy, and no one wants to haul around a weighty winter beast, so do a bit of research to find some hard wearing, but light(ish) components. For me this means a pair of AR24 wheels from Cycle Division. These little beauties can currently be bought for less than £200 and they come in at a smidge under 1500g. At that price and weight they are a steal and, what's more, they can more than handle anything that winter throws at them.
Just because your winter bike needs to be a beast, doesn't mean it can't also be a beauty, so treat your winter ride to some jewellery handed down from your summer bike. For me this means a C-Record chainset and front derailleur, and whilst I am searching for a matching medium cage Record rear derailleur, I've put on a rather fetching Veloce number. Bellissima!
And while you're selecting components, try to match things up so your bike looks like a coherant package, rather than just a heap of bits from your spares bin. For me this means black wheels matched up with a black top half (seat pin, saddle, bars, stem and levers) which contrasts with silver components - gears, chainsets and brakes. It can take a bit of work - that silver Veloce derailleur took ages to find (it's available in black by the truck load) but after a bit of perserverance, Balfes Bikes came to my rescue - but it's worth it, as nothing lifts the morale more than a pretty bike.
You will have a mechanical at some point, so make sure you have the tools for the job. As a minimum have a chain tool, a spare link, tyre levers and inner tubes, and also invest in a good pump. My Blackburn pump is the only piece of carbon on my bike and it hardly gets used, but I know when I do need it, my tyres will be pumped up in no time at all.
Keep it clean. After a tough ride in the cold and rain, the last thing you'll want to do is clean your bike - but you really, really need to do this. Make sure you look after you first, so have a shower and re-fuel, but then it's time to get out the soapy water and sponge. A well looked after bike will literally repay you back as you'll spend less on replacement parts. It will also be a lot safer, and more enjoyable to ride. Finally, who wants to be the one that has the bike with the annoying clunky noise, and always breaks down?
Have lights and be bright. Don't let "sorry, I didn't see you" be an excuse.
So I'm not sure whether this constitutes everything you need to know about setting up the perfect winter bike, but after many years of trial and error, I am now the proud owner of the best winter build I have ever had. I (almost) look forward to the colder months as I know this means it's time to get my trusty steel Genesis out of the garage. And with to a bit of care and attention, and a little money, I know it will be ready to roll whenever I need it.
Enjoy the next few months and remember, winter miles = summer smiles!