Looking for a bike which can withstand winter conditions? We explain what to look for and highlight some key models on the market
The idea of having a ‘winter bike’ may seems like a luxury to some, but for anyone who has moved into second bike terrain it’s a sensible choice which allows you to keep your best bike pristine, ready for the rides where you want an injection of speed.
What is a winter road bike?
A winter bike is a steed that’s specced to cater for the demands of off-season weather: rain, grit, and the corrosive powers or salt scattered on the roads to counter ice.
The professional road cycling calendar sees the racing season kick off in spring, finishing around September. Traditionally the winter months are used for building up endurance via long, slow ‘base miles’. Amateurs tend to copy this pattern – therefore winter bikes often have a more relaxed geometry – typically seen on sportive or endurance bikes.
The gearing may also see a tweak – with smaller, compact chainsets and wide-ratio cassettes suited to ample climbing and high mileage slipping onto the spec sheet.
What’s the difference between a winter bike and an adventure or gravel bike?
The adventure and gravel bike genre has grown dramatically in recent years. These bikes are designed to allow riders to choose between tarmac and off-road sections.
Features include wide tyres, disc brakes, more stable and relaxed geometry – all conventions you’d expect to see on winter bikes too. A key differential would be that on a gravel bike the bottom bracket will often be higher, too – to cater for rocks and roots.
Adventure and gravel bikes carry many of the same features as good winter bikes. The differences can be presented on a sliding scale – with race bikes on the left, winter bikes in the middle and adventure bikes on the right.
Adventure bikes will have even wider tyres, sometimes knobbly, and often even more relaxed geometry when compared to winter bikes. Some brands even choose to use the same frame for winter and ‘cross bikes, with altered gearing and tyres.
An adventure bike or gravel bike will certainly cope well with winter riding – but if you want a ride that feels quicker and more nimble on the road, a winter orientated road bike or sportive bike may be more suited to your riding style.
The best winter bikes 2019
Many gravel/adventure bikes make good winter bikes if you want a sturdy machine that can cope with the very worst roads, and a bit of off-road. If you’re staying firmly on the tarmac, you’ll likely want an endurance bike with space for wide tyres, disc brakes and mudguard compatibility. We’ve included a few of each category.
With each bike you’ll find a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
B’Twin Triban RC 520 disc brake road bike – £729
B’Twin bikes have always been tremendously well reviewed at Cycling Weekly, with the Ultra 920 AF earning itself a place in the 2018 Editor’s Choice Awards.
Whilst the Ultra AF does offer an endurance focused geo and great spec for the price, for winter we’d put forward the disc brake Triban RC 520.
For £729, you’ll get an aluminium frame kitted out with Shimano 105 shifting and TRP hydraulic disc brakes.
The frame is still designed to offer a comfortable ride, and the fork comes with carbon blades to drop the weight and dampen road buzz. There’s mounts for mudguards, though many styles can now be fitted without them.
If you want to spend a bit less, there’s a Shimano Sora equipped model for £529.
Specialized Allez Elite – £1,050
The Specialized Allez is a huge seller, and whilst it’s one of the most popular first road bikes, it also make a great winter bike for someone seeking a machine that doesn’t feel too dramatically different to their summer bike.
The newer Allez uses ‘Wide Ranging Geometry’ – so you can slam it to ride like a fast race bike, or stack it for a more endurance focused ride. It comes with a full carbon fork that offers expert handling and the aluminium frame uses hydroforming to keep the weight down (our 52cm was 8.65kg)
There’s mounts for mudguards – but it is worth noting that this is one of few rim brake bikes we’d suggest as a winter rig, and these won’t offer the rapid stopping of discs.
The groupset is Shimano 105, with DTR460 wheels and Espoir Sport 25c tyres which will be resilient to punctures and corner well in the wet.
Canyon Grail AL 6.0 – £1,100
The Canyon Grail is an adventure bike, and at the top end of the ladder you’ll get ‘Hover System’ dual bar, which provides flex on the tops and rigidity on the drops. That will tick lots of boxes off-road, but if you mostly want a capable bike with tyre clearance for comfy rubber and disc brakes then the AL model at £1,100 could suit you well.
The Schwalbe G-Bite One tyres were developed with Canyon for the bike, and they’re ‘Tubeless Easy’ – designed for quick set up with the DT Swiss hoops.
This model comes with a Shimano Tiagra groupset, and a compact 50/34 chainset plus wide space 11-34 cassette so you’ll have loads of gear options on the hills.
There’s women’s models which come with narrower bars and women’s saddle, so the bike should feel good out the box for everyone.
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Tiagra – £1,800
Cannondale’s Synapse earned a place in our Editor’s Choice awards in 2017, thanks to its brand new carbon layup which dropped the weight right down, to 1100g. Each size has its own carbon layup, frame diameters and geometry, too.
It’s a bike for the rider who wants to still feel nimble in winter, whilst enjoying the all-day comfort of a relaxed geometry, the secure stopping of hydraulic disc brakes and wide 28c tyres.
Though this is a comfy ride, in part thanks to the SAVE’ micro-suspension in the frame, fork and seatpost keeps vibrations at bay, Cannondale still promises you’ll get the stiffness of some of its WorldTour level bikes.
If you want to spend less, there are aluminium models available, and those with bigger budgets can look further up the spec ladder.
You can pick up a men’s Synapse, or a women’s model with narrower handlebars and women’s saddle.
Specialized Diverge Comp – £2,600
The Diverge is a capable adventure bike that’s suitable for light off-road adventures, but still rides well on the road – hence it earned itself a place in the prestigeous 2018 Editor’s Choice awards.
Key features include the Future Shock spring at the front end, which offers 20mm of progressive travel to protect the rider from fatigue over bumpy terrain.
There’s also the Specialized CG-R seat post, which soaks up buzz at the rear end, too, plus cushioned 38mm Trigger Pro tyres which will feel great on winter roads and can be swapped for something narrower if you want a more tarmac-going spec.
The gearing is designed for hilly terrain, with a 48/32 sub-compact plus an 11-32 cassette at the rear – and this comp model comes in at £2,600 with Shimano 105 and hydraulic brakes.
Specialized offer this bike with men’s or women’s components fitted, to ensure everyone gets a good fit.
Isen All Season – £1,850 (frameset only)
If you’re after a real keeper, get in touch with Isen and have them build you up a customised steel machine.
The ‘All Season’ is exactly that – a bike you can ride in comfort all year. And since each bike is a one-off, you can spec it however you like.
Described as a bike for anything from a ‘gruelling audax’ to a ‘bike packing escapade’, we tested it when riding on and off-road along the North Downs Way.
This machine boasts dynamo and internal cable routing, 12mm bolt thru ready fork, and can be built around 650b wheels for smaller riders or those who want really wide tyres. There’s mounts for racks and mudguards, too.
There’s some great touches of style, like the ISEN asymmetric seatstay bridge, hand formed ISEN solid brass headbadge and you can get it painted in one of five great ‘sikcandyfadez’ paint jobs.
What should you expect on a winter bike?
A winter bike is any bike which you feel comfortable riding during the months between October and March.
It’s quite common for riders purchasing a new bike to retire their old bike to ‘winter bike’ duties. Going down this route, you just needs to do the best you can to transform the old chassis into a wet weather mile muncher – fitting new tyres and mudguards, for example.
However, if you’ve got the luxury of buying a dedicated winter bike, you can be a bit more specific.
In recent years, the standard width for a road bike tyre has progressed from 23mm to 25mm. Wider tyres run at a lower pressure allow for a larger contact patch with the ground, offering greater grip and on uneven roads better rolling resistance as they depress over bumps instead of skitting along the surface.
This better grip and ability to run lower pressures (without increasing the risk of punctures) becomes even more important over winter where roads are often wet and more slippery. As a result, a winter bike needs capacity to manage at least 25mm tyres. Some come with clearance for tyres over 30mm.
The tyres themselves need to be designed to deflect sharp objects, with a high quality puncture proof belt, and a compound which is sticky and grippy. However – tyres are a consumable item designed to be replaced on an annual basis. The important feature here is that the chassis itself must promise clearance for at least 25mm, ideally 28mm+ tyres.
Where once, disc brakes were reserved for mountain bikes, these days it’s common to see them specced on road bikes. They’re especially helpful on winter bikes.
Disc brakes do not rely upon the wheel rim or provide adequate braking. This means that braking speed is not affected by rims becoming wet, and braking can be reliable in all conditions.
It also means that debris does not get swept up from the road, and stuck in the interface between the brake pad and rim – causing premature rim wear. Finally, disc brakes mean that it’s easier to run carbon rims that still allow for quick braking in any condition, and the rims can be lighter as they don’t need to cater for braking forces.
Mechanical disc brakes are the cheaper variety, whilst hydraulic disc brakes are more expensive and more reliable. Hydraulic disc brakes do require a little more maintenance. They’re fully sealed, so nothing nasty can get in, but air can collect which means they need bleeding (Shimano disc brake bleeding explained here, SRAM disc brake bleeding here) – in reality this only needs doing at most once a year, or if you feel the braking has become ‘spongy’.
Mudguards and luggage
Not all road cyclists like to use mudguards – but doing so prevents grit and dirt from being thrown up from the road and into the drivetrain. Mudguards also stop the roads from painting a wet and muddy strip on your bum and lower back.
Plus, mudguards save the face of the person behind you from the splatter so they’re advised (and indeed enforced) on many group rides.
Dedicated winter bikes will come with eyelets for mudguards, and enough clearance to cater for them – or even with mudguards fitted. The latter greatly reduces the risk of discovering that your new mudguards save your bum from getting wet, but rub on the tyres with every revolution.
You can fit mudguards to a bike without eyelets, but they’re rarely as effective or conclusive and often tyre clearance is not great enough, resulting in rubbing.
Some winter bikes also come with pannier rack mounts, in case you fancy shooting off on some sort of all-day epic.
The geometry of a winter bike often mirrors that of a sportive or endurance bike.
Expect to find a taller head tube, and shorter reach. This will put you in a more upright position. The wheelbase will likely be longer in relation to the top tube when compared with a race bike, and the head angle slacker – closer to 70 than 73. This provides a greater degree of stability – something many riders like when tackling wet and potentially icy conditions.
However – not all riders will want a massive geometry change between summer and winter bikes. If you’re planning on racing in summer, it’s understandable that you want to train in a similar position – so bear this in mind and don’t buy a bike that differs drastically to your race bike if this is an issue for you.
Of course, your own body dimensions remain the same – so saddle height and fore/aft position should not change between your bikes – big changes here can result in injuries.