Survive and Thrive With These Winter Cycling Equipment Tips

By Reid Beloni, CTS Expert Coach

Riding outdoors in the winter comes with a number of challenges, but they all have relatively easy solutions. With a bit of planning and maybe a few purchases, you can make riding outdoors in winter safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable. And if you can do that, you will increase the likelihood you’ll actually get out there and ride instead of taking a weather-related day off. These tips are even important for athletes who enjoy indoor training. We’re all going to move a portion of our rides indoors in the winter, but in our experience athletes who ride outdoors in the summer are more likely to stick with a training program through the winter if they mix indoor and outdoor cycling.

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Winterize your drive train:

If you are doing a lot of outdoor winter riding you will probably be riding in wet, gritty and grimy weather. This can do some damage to any drivetrain. If you are replacing a chain and cassette as part of regular maintenance, consider replacing your lightweight chain and cassette with a cheaper and more robust offering for the winter. Shimano Ultegra level components work just as well as Dura Ace, but cost less so you won’t feel quite as bad as you ride through the winter slop and hear dirt and grime grinding away at your drivetrain.

Consider applying a “wet” chain lube instead of a “dry” one. The wet lubes are thicker and won’t wash off as easily so they do a better job at preventing rust. Just don’t over-apply or they can get goopy. Lastly, be sure you are using quality stainless shift and brake cables so they won’t rust. In spring you’ll want to replace both cables and housing for crisp summer shifting.

Once you finish an outdoor ride in the winter, take a minute and rinse the bike off, dry it with a towel, and re-lube the chain and any moving parts. While you are doing this, check for excess wear, particularly the brake pads and tires. This is especially true if you like in an area that uses salt for de-icing roads. Your frame may be carbon or titanium, but your drivetrain and cables are not.

Add some squish:

If you haven’t already moved to larger 25mm tires on your road bike, now is a great time. Higher volume 25mm tires run at lower pressure are also more comfortable than smaller, higher pressure tires so you’ll enjoy long miles over potholed roads a little more. If your bike can fit tires larger than 25 mm, consider doing that. Our favorite is the Kenda Kriterium Endurance at 700×25. Some road bikes can fit up to 28mm tires, like the Kenda Kountach, and boy, are they comfortable!  

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Light up the night:

With short days it’s inevitable that you will get caught in a low light situation. Lights are also good for inclement weather, such as rain or fog, when visibility is reduced. You may be able to see where you’re going, but you also have to make sure others see you. At a minimum, I would recommend having a set of small front and rear blinker lights you leave on your bike at all times. There are many options available now that are small and unobtrusive, but yet quite bright and noticeable, like these from Knog. A battery-powered handlebar mounted headlight is also a good idea, especially as something you can leave on the bike, just in case. If you are purposely going out for a night ride (lots of fun!) or commuting after dark, invest in a higher-powered rechargeable lighting system. For commutes and light trail use, the Niterider Lumina 750 is a good multi-purpose option. For more significant night riding, an even more powerful system, like the Niterider Pro 1400 Race or Light & Motion Seca 1500, would be advisable. There’s nothing wrong with having extra lights on your bike; you, cars around you, and your loved ones will appreciate that you can be seen.

Fender Frenzy:

If you live in an area that has wet winters or snow melt that drains across the road, you know that horrible feeling of water running down your legs or into your shorts! The piece of equipment that I regret not buying sooner (yes, because I thought they were silly) is a set of fenders. I now proudly ride with fenders whenever conditions call for it. There are many offerings; but the best ones are full coverage fenders that wrap almost all the way around your wheel to prevent as much spray as possible. My preferred model is the SKS Raceblade Long, but there are great models from Planet Bike as well. Many are designed to attach to low clearance road bikes and can be quickly removed and installed as needed. Buy a set, trust me.

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Be ready for anything:

Wet roads and deteriorating road conditions mean that flats are a little bit more common in winter. A fresh set of wider winter tires will help. Be ready with anything you might need, even if you ride in the group. Go beyond the minimum flat kit. Carry one more tube than usual; bring a patch kit, an extra CO2, and a few extra bucks. If you want to be the most popular guy or gal on the group ride, bring a full-size frame pump. Everyone who flats will be clamoring to borrow your pump instead of using their pricey CO2. Having an emergency jacket is also a great idea in case conditions change. Some jackets are small enough you can cram them between your saddle bag and saddle so it is always with you. If you see anyone on the road having trouble, be sure to stop and see if they need help; you might need the karma later on.

Enjoy the ride:

Done right, all of these things you’ve slapped on your bike are probably going to add a few pounds and make the bike a little more sluggish. Don’t worry! It’s about getting in the miles safely and enjoyably. Plus, your coach doesn’t care how fast or slow you are going, just what your power meter is saying. And stay tuned; coming soon I’ll talk about optimizing your clothing choices and your ride nutrition to have a great winter riding season.

Reid Beloni is a CTS Expert Coach working out of our Brevard, North Carolina training center. With a Masters degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University and a ton of experience riding in mucky and nasty East Coast winters, Reid is the perfect coach for this series on winter riding.

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Comments 22

  1. For adverse weather and winter riding I use my late 90’s Specialized Alliez with hearty Armidillo tires. Salt (in my area road salt is used on roads during winter) doesn’t fair well with carbon wheels and frames. A bike like this fetches for around 300.00 on eBay. Recently replaced the complete drive train (chain rings, rear cassette and chain) for under 100 bucks. This thing rides awesome now and practically as fast as my “good” bike. Also it’s green fluorescent paint scheme is ideal on dark gloomy days and match my fluorescent green Pearl shoe covers and arm warmers. This old aluminum bike is a lot of fun. I have more fun on it than my good carbon bike… incredible power transfer

  2. Reid,

    Thanks! For those of us who have the option of tubeless, versus tire/tube, what are your thoughts for winter riding? My understanding is there is a lower probability of flatting with tubeless…

    1. Tubeless tires with sealant installed minimizes the risk of having puncture flats from glass or other small diameter punctures. I’ve been riding road tubeless since Hutchinson first introduced them and have had only one catastrophic failure: a gashed tire caused by inattention to road conditions. I have had several punctures that sealed up after a few tire revolutions that got me home. The other benefit to Road Tubeless in 25mm is you also improve traction since you can reduce the pressure a tad. They feel like tubulars with lower pressure and are pretty grippy.

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    1. Look for hills to ride where you warm up quickly without a lot of speed. The downside is the downside. I am on my brakes on most descents to prevent blue balls.

    1. Super tips. I am 77 years of age and really much prefer riding outside. I live in Kentucky so the weather can really be sloppy and cold. I will use your suggestions and thank you.

  6. For the readers and Reid- what equipment works best for you to keep your toes warm and dry in cold and wet weather riding?

    1. Geoff, I would start with wool socks. There are different thickness; choose the one that provides enough warmth but without cramping toes and cutting off circulation. There are lots of options to put over the shoes from medium weight fabrics, to waterproof and windproof insulated options. Choose one that is warm enough but not so warm that your feet sweat heavily. Check back for a full rundown of clothing tips for winter next week.

      Reid Beloni
      CTS Expert Coach

    2. I now ride in the winter on cold days with just the following: an older pair of road shoes slightly larger than my summer shoes with a cold weather insole, two pairs of thin wool socks and toe covers over the shoes. This setup keeps my feet warm and dry. Too many socks or tight shoes restricts circulation and causes your toes to get cold. On really cold days (less than 20F) I will also use a chemical foot warmer shaped like an insole.

  7. I use the Vittoria open pave 25 all year,
    Also when temps are below freezing with wet roads no sense risking a nasty fall with black ice, wait till the sun comes out in the afternoon, and yes fenders always! Great article Reid.

  8. Good tips for the bike. The rider needs to be winterized too. Layer up with polypro undergarments that readily transfer moisture and a long sleeve jersey. Knee warmers or leg warmers below 60°. If you don’t like a jacket, get a wind-stopper jersey or vest. Keep your extremities warm and your core stays warmer. Good gloves, a skull cap, and booties with wool socks are the ticket. Wool will maintain most of its insulating properties when wet. Why do you think it was such a popular choice for jersey material in the early days of cycling?

  9. I’ve always hated the look of fenders as well but recently used them for the first time on my fat bike and loved how they kept the mud out of my face and off my backside!

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