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 of salt scattered on the roads to counter ice.
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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.
Winter vs gravel vs endurance 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. But gravel/adventure bikes will generally be more extreme, and the bottom bracket will often be higher, too – to cater for rocks and roots.
Endurance bikes are road going, but offer a more relaxed geometry and generally wider tyres than you’d see on a race bike, to offer stability in a range of conditions.
The differences can be presented on a sliding scale – with race bikes on the left, endurance bikes next, winter bikes in the middle and adventure bikes on the right.
An adventure bike or gravel bike will certainly cope well with winter riding, but will often lack the nimble ride feel of a bike built for the road. Endurance bikes usually have that in spades, but may not come with mudguard and rack mounts and prices usually exceed the recommended spend for a “winter hack”.
Below, we’ve listed winter ready road bikes – for gravel bikes, see our dedicated guide. Similarly, if you’re after something with a relaxed geometry that’s still light and fast, take a look at our endurance bikes guide.
The best winter bikes 2020
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.
Kinesis RTD (frameset only)
- RRP: £850 (frameset) Review Score: 8/10
- Groupset: NA Weight: 1400g (51cm frameset)
- Pros: Versatility, capable off-road, rolls well on road Cons: Weight
When we reviewed the Kinesis RTD, it was its versatility which impressed us.
A common approach to the winter bike conundrum us to buy a relatively inexpensive frame, and build it up with assorted components lifted from your collection (or purchased second hand from club mates). The Kinesis RTD comes as a frameset only and is ideal for those keen to build their own.
The distance ready frame was inspired by the events such as the Transcontinental, which Kinesis is a long term supporter of. It’s comfortable, disc brake ready, with clearance for tyres up to 34c or 30c with mudguards.
Ribble CGR AL 105
- RRP: £1,400 Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: Shimano 105 Weight: 9.72kg (size large)
- Pros: Looks, versatility, robustness, handling Cons: Handlebar shape
Ribble’s CGR platform has seen a massive revamp, with clearances and geometry to suit ‘Cross, Gravel and Road riding throughout the winter. Although this model is aluminium, steel and titanium versions are available—if ride quality or longevity are more important to you than price.
The slim seatstays do a lot to adsorb vibrations, as does the carbon fork which comes with plenty of steerer on show, allowing a for a more relaxed riding position. Although not race bike fast, the CGR still offered an impressive turn of speed. It also played well mixing it up on some singletrack, so there’s plenty of scope for less traditional winter riding.
Ribble’s bike builder software allows for many combinations of how the CGR can be specced. You can go more budget friendly with Shimano Tiagra or a paired down 1x drivetrain with SRAM Apex or Rival. One recommendation we would certainly make is change the handlebars, as the stock ones have far too much reach and are the one component that lets this bike down.
Decathlon Triban RC 520 disc brake road bike
- RRP: £729.99 Review Score: NA
- Groupset: Shimano 105 shifting, TRP brakes Weight: 10.4kg
Decathlon’s 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. Though we’ve yet to review the bike in full, its spec is impressive for the price.
For £729.99, 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.
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Tiagra
- RRP: £1699 Review Score: 9/10 (higher spec model reviewed)
- Groupset: Tiagra Weight: Not specified, top end SRAM Red eTap model 6.92kg
- Pros: Handling Cons: Limited adjustability at front end
Cannondale’s Synapse is a bike designed 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. At this price point, you get a Shimano Tiagra hydraulic disc brake groupset.
You can pick up a men’s Synapse, or a women’s model with narrower handlebars and women’s saddle.
Want something a little more gravel capable? Check out our review of the Cannondale Topstone…
Racer Rosa custom aluminium frame (frameset only)
- RRP: £800 (frameset, our build £2500) Review Score: 10/10
- Groupset: NA, our build Shimano Ultegra Weight: full bike for us came in at 7.8kg
- Pros: Made to measure, handbuilt in Italy, great ride Cons: Nothing!
At his bike shop in Walthamstow, Diego Lombardi offers a unique experience. He flies WorldTour bike fitter Giuseppe Giannecchini in to London once a month, where customers can be fitted up for a custom machine – which is hand built at a near unbeatable price.
Frames are available in steel, carbon or aluminium – but for winter we opted for aluminum and were not disappointed.
We thought the ride was excellent, and concluded in our review that “there can’t be a more cost-effective way to get a made-to-measure Italian frame.”
Isen All Season – £1950 (frameset only)
- RRP: £1950 (frameset) Review Score: 9/10
- Groupset: NA Weight: TBC
- Pros: Ride quality, paint job Cons: Fiddly cable routing
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, then onwards from 25mm to 28mm for many riders.
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.