I just watched the weather, and they’re calling for snow for the first time this year. For a lot of people, this news is the beginning of the long, indoor trainer “hibernation” period. I really don’t mind riding the trainer as long as I can still get outside for some longer days here and there, but this requires learning to stay warm and how to deal with winter roads.
What exactly is a winter road, you ask? Once snow starts falling and road work begins we typically have to deal with three key things: first, the accumulation of road-edge piles of snow, ice melts, and slush; second, the amazing amount of blended ice-melting granules spread on the road (often gathering at the edge of the road), ranging from cinders to sand to salt; and third, the more narrow road shoulders bring cars closer to the edge (and to you). The key to make your winter riding a success is prepping your bike so you can deal with both these road conditions and some pretty cold weather.
Here are a few of my winter prep tips:
Flat Protection“Where the rubber meets the road” is important here. There are a few upgrades I recommend to make winter riding more enjoyable and avoid big mishaps.
Wheels: Get your training wheels out! I firmly believe that many of today’s carbon wheels are fine for everyday rides, but in the winter I want something heavier, with more spokes and aluminum (and a lower price). As an athlete who trains with power, my choice is the PowerTap G3 Alloy 32-spoke wheels. The classic box rim design ensures that even if you lose a spoke or two, you can still ride it home. It’s a bit heavy at 1,800 grams, but this is a good thing in training; when you switch back to your lighter carbon wheels in the spring, you’ll feel like you’re flying!
Tires: Tires are crucial for keeping the winter enjoyable. You’ll be pushing through all kinds of road debris, salt, sand, and more. Nothing sucks more than being out on a 30-degree ride and having to stop and change tires. How to avoid this inconvenience? Use a purpose-built, flat-resistant tire. My tire of choice is the Continental Gatorskin or the Grand Prix 4-Season in 25mm width. They’re great tires for the winter; they’re tough and flat-resistant, they ride well, and they’ve got a good grip in the wet (plus they’re easy to find and often on sale). The wider, tougher tire for the winter helps keep you rolling through roadside grit, salt, and cinders and can help improve traction (again, we’re trying to avoid flats). I also don’t run any lightweight tubes in the winter.
Tire Repair Kit: We’ve already acknowledged that changing flats in 30-degree temps just sucks. But since it’s bound to happen sooner or later, let’s be prepared. In the summer I carry one tube and one CO2. I double that in winter; I always carry two tubes and 2 CO2 cartridges. Why? In my experience winter flats come in pairs (or threes). It’s inevitable that grit/glass/whatever will eventually work its way into my tires, and when I’m rushing to change a flat before I freeze, the culprit can be harder to find and can end up causing another flat. Having two of everything crammed into my seat bag affords better protection and keeps me rolling. I also add a hand pump in case my CO2 fails. Preparation is the best defense against bad luck!
LightsAs mentioned above, winter tends to make roads a little smaller and bring cars a little closer. Riding against a white backdrop of snow can also make you harder to see. There is a ton of research that points toward increased safety (reduction in accidents) when cyclists use lights; so much research, in fact, that lights need to be part of your everyday routine. You’ll find me on every ridge sporting a bright flashy rear light and, if I’m riding close to dusk, a front light. For me, I am using a Cateye Rapid X but there are plenty of great choices out there. It has to be something that is bright, can be seen from the side (this is crucial), and has a long battery life. Cars pay much better attention to you when they see a flashing red light. Get one on your bike. The Cateye model I mentioned mounts easily right to my saddlebag. I actually own two of them; one is always on the charger so I have no excuse not to use a light. If I’m on the bike, my light is on. Period.
FendersI keep this real simple: a plastic milk jug, a pair of scissors, and some zip ties. Voila: front and rear fenders that work. There are so many ways to do this cheap and easy (Google it). I cut a rear to fit under my saddle and above my stuffed bike bag. If you form it just right, you won’t even need zip ties; you can use the seat rails (and the saddlebag) to hold it in place. For the front, just zip tie a simple strip to the down tube in the right place. It’s easy and cheap, and you can recycle it! If you’re not into the DIY thing, there are plenty of cheap clip-on versions for sale.
These simple bike prep tips will keep you rolling in the cold, regardless of Old Man Winter’s hazardous road conditions. Stay warm out there!
Tim Cusick is a USA Cycling Level 3 coach and the president of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Tim can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.