Staying on the bike in Winter takes commitment. You’ve got to want it to brave chilling temperatures, soul-freezing wind, and buckets of rain. Besides being on top of the mental game by maintaining enthusiasm, your equipment has got to be up to the task also. We’ve already told you how to stay fit on a trainer and how to insulate your body with winter apparel, so now it’s time to properly outfit your bike for adverse conditions.
When it comes to safeguarding your bike from hibernal assault, blocking water and its effects are where to focus your efforts. Water getting into to the nooks and crannies of your bike will spell disaster for its performance and longevity. Thus, every effort should be taken to prevent water’s incursion.
Winter’s deluge also brings an assault on your tires in the form of debris washed onto the road. Without proper protection, you’ll suffer increased punctures and tire damage. Unfortunately, winter riding usually means kissing your light weight, supple tires goodbye for a few months. Installing tires with bead to bead breaker layers and harder compounds is imperative. The Maxis Re-fuse, and the Continental Ultra Gatorskin Hardshell are good winter-weather tires.
Mountain bikes need special tires too, although not to protect against tire damage. When the trail turns wet and muddy, traction practically disappears, so purpose-built mud tires are required. Mud tires have very tall knobs, usually in robust pyramid shapes, which is why these tires are often referred to as “mud spikes.” As roots and rocks get slippery in wet conditions, mud tires use super soft compounds to eke every last bit of grip out of the unforgiving terrain. Some of our favorite mud tires are the WTB Warden (many people cut down the knobs and use the Warden in drier conditions also), the Schwalbe Dirty Dan, and the Michelin Wild Mud Advanced. Due to their aggressive design, you should also note that mud spikes tend to rip up trails quite effectively, so use them with caution.
Besides covering the road with tire-eating detritus, water will shoot off your tires, up your back, and into your face. Avoid the freshman stripe and blinding spray by installing fenders on your bike. If you’re riding on the dirt—on a trail that can handle the water, of course—getting soaked is unavoidable, so maintaining clear vision is your only concern. This means a front fender is all you’ll need, and our favorite is the Marsh Guard. Easy to attach, light, tough, and stylish, the Marsh Guard covers all the bases, along with providing excellent protection.
Road bikes require both front and rear fenders, especially if you’re riding in a group. Otherwise, your rearward companion will be on a steady diet of grimy spray, although leaving off the rear fender could be a way to eliminate wheel suckers if you don’t mind having your back soaked. Your choice of fenders will be dictated by seat stay and fork clearance. For tight clearance frames we like the Crud Roadracer Mk2. Wider tires and frames with more clearance will be able to fit SKS or Planet Bike fenders. Finally, fenders will help to protect your bike’s finish by reducing the amount of grime and debris that touch and bounce off of paint, clear coat, or carbon.
Water and mud have a way of working their way deep into the hidden spaces of your chain, and quickly wear away low-viscosity chain lubes. For wet conditions, use a thicker, more tenacious lube that won’t easily be washed off. Re-lubing and thoroughly wiping down your chain more often than usual is necessary in consistently wet and/or muddy conditions. Otherwise, if the grit attracted by the chain lube isn’t flushed out, the lube slowly becomes grinding paste, and wears out chains, cassettes and chainrings at an accelerated rate. Pedro’s Syn Lube, Rock n Roll Extreme, and WD-40 Wet are some of our favorite wet conditions chain lubes.
One of the most important things you can do to help your bike make it through the winter isn’t even a thing. Keep your bike clean with frequent, regular washings, being sure to clean the chain—chain cleaning machines make this a lot easier—and always apply a dirt-repelling finish like Maxima SC1 Clear Coat, Pedro’s Bike Lust, or Finish Line Show Room Pro Detailer.
Regular drivetrain maintenance goes a little something like this: