Winter riding is a bit more complicated than summer riding in that it generally requires a little more planning and a fair bit more kit and clothing. Here are a few things you need to think about if you want to get out and about on the bike on or off-road through the colder (and wetter) months.
Of all the upgrades you can make to your bike, good quality tyres should be top of your list. 'But haven't you banged on about this enough on Freewheel' we hear you ask and yes, yes we have, but we will continue because tyres are incredibly important. Your tyres are the only part of the bike that touches the ground and that means how well those tyres perform is essentially the difference between you riding round a corner or sliding round one.
This is even more important in winter when conditions tend to generally be rather more perilous than in summer or spring and the last thing you want is to end up on the deck after your tyres let you down (see what we did there?). So whether you're on or off-road your first priority for winter riding should be to find a set of tyres that are up to the conditions you want to ride in.
On the road this generally means something that has more puncture protection but is also supple enough that corners dont start to feel like skating rinks. Our favourite winter tyres are Vittoria's Corsa Control and Rubino Pro Control IV, both of which employ more puncture protection but also come in up to 30mm (Corsa Control) or 28mm (Rubino Pro Control) for a larger contact patch with the ground and a little more security.
Off-Road you'll generally need something with a bit more tread in the winter, so something like the Maxxis Forekaster if you're on a more XC-oriented trail or up to something like the Assegai or Minion if you're thinking more towards Enduro or aggressive riding.
You know that saying 'there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?' well we dont really buy into that because there are days when it's just not a good idea to get out. But if you want to ride more days than not through the winter then there are a few pieces of clothing that you really need to have in your cycling wardrobe.
The first one is a quality waterproof. And by waterproof we mean waterproof, not water resistant. If you're riding in light rain then water resistant is great, but when the heavens really open you need something that's going to keep you dry, because cold and wet is a really bad place to end up. Madison Clothing's DTE (Defy the Elements) jacket is a great place to start for anyone riding off road (or even on-road if you don't mind a hood). With a three-layer construction and using 20K/20K waterproof/breathable fabric , you get an awful lot of jacket for the price and if you're a mountain bike there are matching trail pants too which will keep you going on even the wettest of days out.
One obvious other thing to think about is warmth. While we're sure you all think about layering, it's the hands and feet where the cold can really get in and those extremities are the hardest parts to warm up again on the go. For your hands, Pearl iZUMi do a variety of gloves ranging from those for chilly days out right up to 'maybe I shoudn't be outside today' sorts of weather, and for the feet, Pearl, Shimano and Madison Clothing all have overshoes designed to make sure you don't lose the feeling in your toes even on long, cold rides. There are even open-soled overshoes for spd-cleated off-road shoes that you can walk in, so you're covered no matter what type of riding you want to do.
The other main thing about winter rides is the muck. Even on seemingly dry days you go out on the bike - on or off-road - and come back dirty and in dire need of a good clean. Here's t the thing: not only does your bike look better clean, but it works better clean and keeping it that way will make sure that all your components last as long as possible. It doesn't seem like it on a ride-ro-ride basis, but a dirty drivetrain will significantly shorten the life of your chainrings, cassette and chain, not to mention the jockey wheels on your rear mech, your bottom bracket, hub and headset bearings and pretty much every moving part on a bike (and your suspension if you're riding an MTB).
You can just clean your bike using a combination of water and washing up liquid and it'll do a decent job, but what does a better job is a specific cleaner line Finish Line's Super Bike Wash which you spray on, leave for a few mins to break down any dirt and then wash off again. It's really easy to use and cuts cleaning time right down, especially on those bits where dirt and grease is really hard to shift. One other product that's worth its weight in gold is Finish Line's Disc Brake Cleaner. Cleaning pads and rotors is really difficult and if you use the wrong stuff you'll be stuck with brakes that squeal like the bowels of hell are opening every time you need to stop. The Disc Brake Cleaner is formulated to clean those rotors and evaporate - so no water needed - and no residue left afterwards which is what usually causes any noise-related issues with disc brakes.
Whether you need to see or be seen, lights are one of the most important bits of kit for the short day seasons because they keep you safe. On the road, you need lights that will make you visible from the front and rear, and if you're riding at night the front light also needs to be powerful enough to light your way and expose any potholes that you might be headed towards. Off-road you need a much more powerful light becaause the surface is far less regular and things tend to come at you fast!
For road riding, 1000 lumens is a more than ample light for the winter. Something like the Light and Motion VIS 1000 is perfect for the job and you can also run it in a pulsing mode when it's not pitch black that makes you a little more noticable when you're riding through a lit urban environment. For a rear light, the Light and Motion Vya PRO 100 pumps out - as you may have guessed - a punchy 100 lumens but also has a few smart functions that make it more than just your standard light. For example, it turns on automatically when inserted into the mount, but also turns itself off when the bike has been stationary for a period of time or you remove it from its mount, meaning you wont come back and find it dead if you accidentally leave it in the bike shed all day and you can't leave it on in your pocket. Smart stuff.
Off-road is a different matter entirely and you're going to want something with as much power as possible, and ideally something that can be mounted on a helmet as well as on the bike so the light shines the way you're looking, not the way the bike is pointing. Light and Motion have this covered too with the Seca 2500 Enduro light system. It's a very expensive unit, but if you really want to get out a lot when it's dark you need something top quality that'll help you enjoy rather than endure riding at night.