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 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.
Winter bikes to look out for
We’ve gone into detail about exactly what to look for in a winter bike below. However, if you’re after specific bike suggestions, then you’re in luck.
We’ve teamed up with nine major brands keen to show off their suggested ideal winter bikes – here’s a look at some of the models on the market for this winter…
Cannondale Synapse Disc Tiagra: £999
The Cannondale Synapse, launched in 2006, was one of the first bikes to be designed with sportive riding in mind. The 2018 version incorporates technology used in the CAAD race frames, as well as Cannondal’s SAVE (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination) technology which is all about compliance and comfort.
Find out more about the Cannondale Synapse Tiagra winter road bike here
Cube Nuroad Pro – £1299
The Nuroad is a bike which blurs the lines between ‘winter bike’ and ‘gravel bike’ – it can be ridden on towpaths and gravel tracks as well as broken tarmac. You can fit rubber up to 40mm and the geometry is borrowed from the Cube Attain endurance road bikes.
Find out more about the Cube Nuroad bike here
Orro Terra C 5800 Hydro – £2099.99
This creation from East Sussex based Orro is constructed from carbon, but Orro uses ‘Innegra shielding’ where it’s needed to protect vulnerable areas. There’s space for tyres up to 42mm, or 38mm rubber with mudguards and the geometry is ‘New UK Adventure Geometry’.
Read more about the Orro Terra C 5800 hydro disc brake bike here
Ribble CGR 105 – £1020
CGR stands for ‘cross, road and gravel’ and this model from Preston based brand Ribble was built to be capable of tackling all three. Relaxed geometry creates a stable ride, and you can fit 38mm tyres plus mudguards. As per all Ribble bikes the frame can be built up with any spec using their online bike builder.
Find out more about the Ribble CGR 105 winter road bike here
Whyte Wessex One – £2199
With a strong reputation in the mountain bike world, Whyte has translated this to its mixed terrain capable Wessex One winter road bike. They key differential factor between this and other bikes listed here is the use of a single chainring which caters well for winter conditions and cuts down maintenance.
Find out more about the Whyte Wessex One winter road bike here
Specialized Allez Elite – £990
The Allez is a longstanding model from Specialized, and saw a redesign for 2018. Major adjustments made included the introduction of ‘wide ranging geometry’ and an S-Works worthy fork weighing just 350g. Tyres are 25mm, this is a more road-going model.
Find out more about the Specialized Allez Elite winter road bike here
Boardman CXR9.2 Winter Road Edition – £1849.99
This winter edit from Boardman uses its premium carbon C10 cyclocross frameset, deccing it out with road-ready spec. Wheels are the brand’s own, fitted with 28mm rubber. It’s built up with SKS mudguards, and the mounts are built discretely into the frame and fork, cable routing is fully internal.
Find out more about the Boardman CXR9.2 winter road bike here
Canyon Inflite AL 9.0 S – £1649
Another winter road bike that shares its frame with the brand’s cyclocross bikes, Canyon’s Inflite AL boasts plenty of tyre clearance and a 27.2mm carbon seat post offers plenty of flex for compliance, whilst mudguards were developed by SKS specifically for the Inflite.
Find out more about the Canyon Inflite AL 9.0 S winter road bike here
The Trek Domane is a longstanding model, and the ALR now features the IsoSpeed decoupler seen on high end creations. The Trek Alpha aluminium used features the brand’s invisible weld tech, and there are hidden mudguards plus a ‘Blendr’ stem which allows for the easy fitting of lights and computers.
Find out more about the Trek Domane ALR 4 disc winter road bike here
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.