Winter Cycling I: Bike Preparation

This year I decided not to get caught out by the Scottish winter and to be properly prepared for a winter's worth of cycling.  I am going to post up a few articles that cover the basic of cycling in the winter.  These are all based upon my own experiences of what works and what doesn't.

The bike I will be using over winter is my Cotic Roadrat.  In its usual guise I have it set up as a fast tourer with tough, but fast rolling tyres, racks and panniers.  In this first post I will go through some of the changes I made to the bike in order to get it to work in the winter.
Roadrat in usual fast-touring guise


The first thing to address are the tyres.  Normal road-biased tyres will very quickly reach the limit of grip once the roads get icy.  Luckily there are a few options.  MTB style chunky tyres can be found in 700c sizes and will give a lot more grip in slushy and snowy conditions, especially if you choose some with a soft rubber compound.

Unfortunately, even chunky tyres will be useless once the roads get icy.  Once this happens the only option is to use studded tyres.  These are usually a combination of chunky tread for snow and a number of steel studs embedded in the rubber which bite into the ice.  I use Continental Nordic Spike 240 tyres which have 240 spikes in each tyre.  They're quite expensive, but as this is only way I get to cycle at this time of year, they're well worth it.  On sheet ice these tyres feel like you're riding on dry tarmac.


My Roadrat is equipped with an 8-speed Shimano Alfine gear hub.  So far this winter it has been faultless.  There's a barely perceptible increase in drag, but no more than you get with most hubs at this time of year.

Gear hubs tend to cope a little better than the alternative derailleur system as they are less prone to icing up and jamming.  Some people advocate, how do I phrase this... "micturating" on your rear derailleur once it gets frozen.  I'm sure this would work as a temporary fix, but in most conditions would re-freeze quite quickly.  A better option I use on my mountain bikes is to make sure all the moving parts are very well oiled.  This seems to do a reasonable job of keeping the water, and so the ice, from jamming up the mechanism.  Of course, even this will start to fail after a number of hours in snowy sub-zero conditions.

Other tweaks

A few other minor tweaks can be made to your bike to make it more comfortable in the winter:

  • Fit flat pedals so that you can wear warm boots.
  • Drop your saddle a bit for when the bike starts squirming around in the icy ruts.
  • Make sure you have plenty of lighting.  Winter conditions can change quickly so I run my usual Blackburn lights along with the USE Exposure lights I usually use on the mountain bike.
  • If fitted, raise your mudguards as high as possible.  Your tyres can get clogged with snow and jam under the guards, so try to get as much clearance as possible.

The end result

Once you've made these changes your bike should be in good shape for some winter riding.  I find my setup works well on icy roads, slushy conditions and snow up to about 15-20cm.  If you're riding in deeper snow you probably need to float on top of the snow rather than digging through it.  In which case you probably need something more specialised like the Surly Pugsley.

I'll be adding a few more posts on this topic in the next week or so.
Roadrat with spiked tyres

Winter riding!

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