Buyers guide to winter road bikes

Here are a few tips to look for when buying a winter bike. You’ll need provision for mudguards, not to mention fatter tyres. Strong wheels and lower gears are a good idea too. And there’s more.

Winter conditions can really take their toll on road bikes. The cold and wet weather plays havoc with road surfaces meaning bikes can take a real battering from even the shortest of rides.

By Hugo Pujszo desde La Carlota (foto de Hugo Pujszo) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The amount of debris, spray and especially grit brought up into the frame and parts means components can wear out in a surprisingly short space of time.

Add to this the effect the cold and wet weather can have on the rider and you can see why your stripped down, lightweight summer race bike may not be the best option to ride in winter.

A winter bike therefore needs to be a dependable, comfortable bike able to take a fair amount of abuse and add ons to make things more comfortable for you and harder wearing for it.

Mudguard clearance

Mudguards not only keep spray from the rider, they protect parts such as brake calipers and also keep your feet warmer as they stay drier for longer.

Previously winter bikes had to have large amounts of clearance between wheels, stays and forks for mudguards to attach to but in the last few years the choice of clip on guards available has increased dramatically.

Clip on versions tend to be thinner to fit the closer clearances but they still give a great amount of protection and are suitable for most race bikes as long as the tyres aren’t too thick.

A bike with slightly more clearance gives a lot more choice in mudguards and fitting much easier. Only point to watch out for is that you may need a longer drop brake caliper on certain frames to make sure brakes hit the rim braking surface properly.

Tyre clearance

Fitting wider tyres for winter makes sense for several reasons. The wider tyre offers more contact with the road increasing grip; the larger volume of air gives more cushioning making it more comfortable and wider tyres can have more protection added to strengthen them and help avoid punctures. Winter bikes therefore have more space between the wheel and frame/ fork to allow wider tyres to be fitted.

Stronger wheels

As mentioned above, road conditions deteriorate in winter so your wheels take more of a bashing. While it’s nice to have some lightweight nimble wheels for summer, winter wheels should be more about durability and comfort so usually have more spokes and are slightly heavier but it’s small price to pay.

Relaxed geometry

Winter riding is more about social rides and longer distances than speed so comfort is important. Winter bikes tend to have more relaxed geometry to help soak up bumps and allow for more clearance.

The important thing is to make sure all your measurements are the same from your summer bike so it’s easier to transition between them. If you can use the same saddle and handlebar even if it is a lower spec that will also help when switching bikes again.

Lower gearing

A lot of riders use smaller gears during the off season to help encourage spinning and keep pressure of the knees. Also as fitness levels drop it makes it easier to get up hills especially as winter bikes tend to be heavier!

Don’t be surprised to see long cage rear mechs and compact or triple chainsets to cope with the increased spread of gears.

You don’t need to spend a fortune these days to get a decent winter bike, something like the Merlin Performance PR7 Road bike (see below) costs less than a set of race wheels.

Or how about getting a cyclocross bike that can be used all year round on rough stuff as well as being more than capable of taking the abuse winter can throw at it?

Here’s a few of our recommended bikes for winter…

Merlin PR7
merlin pr7 road bike

Our entry level Merlin Performance PR7 Road bike is one of – if not THE – best value and best riding winter bikes available at this price point in the UK (check out the review in the November issue of Cycling Active magazine if you can).

Alloy frame, carbon fork, Shimano Claris groupset, Mavic CXP 22 wheels and plenty of clearance for mudguards and rear rack attachment points make this the ideal winter bike on a budget or an ideal year round commuting bike.

Sensa Umbria Sora Special
sensa umbria sora 2015

If you fancy spending a little more and getting a more race tuned geometry winter bike then the Sensa Umbria Sora is for you.

Alloy frame, carbon fork, Shimano Sora groupset and Supra RA Comp wheelset make this a solid, fast machine for quicker winter rides.

Sensa Ferma SL Cyclocross bike
sensa fermo sl 2015

Fancy trying some off roads tracks this winter as well as the road, then a cross bike like this Sensa Fermo SL is ideal. Mix up your training rides with some dirt tracks and learn new skills.

As this model doesn’t have discs you can swap your road wheels in (as long as they have similar amount of gears) and have an excellent winter bike along with a set of clip on mudguards.

The lightweight alloy frame, carbon fork, Shimano Tiagra CX groupset and Supra RA Comp wheelset will keep you on the road and trail all year round.

Browse our current range of road bikes at Merlin Cycles

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