Did you know a winter bike could save you money and make off-season riding even more fun?
Mountain bikes and road bikes are familiar with rain, good pals with mud, and firm acquaintances with cold, but when you get all three together, these friends can quickly become enemies.
Extra debris washed onto trails and roads from cold season rains are given a boost of corrosive power by ice, wind, and wet, when they meet your componentry and vulnerable bits, leaving many riders with a decision.
Do you ride through it and worry about it later, not ride at all, or rest your bespoke-build speed machine during the winter and replace it with a ‘hack bike’.
Replacing your main ride with a rough and tumble winter bike is a great way to preserve your prized parts and could save you some serious cash in the long run.
It also means you keep riding in the worst conditions and care not a jot as you plough through the mud, blast through the slush, or hammer it over the compacted snow.
Your ‘hack bike’ or winter warrior can really be anything but most experienced riders tend to go for bikes with few moving parts – which means full suspension bikes are out.
Aim for simple, light, and reactive frames. Robust triple-butting will protect against bangs and cracks, while compact geometries keep the bike manoeuvrable, should you need to think fast in an unexpected skid.
Your components need to be good enough to be useful in bad conditions, but they don’t have to be race-ready, carbon fibre either. Try to find a balance between versatile and tough. If you haven’t gone 1X already, winter may be the time.
The hardtail mountain bike lives for off-season sessions, with its responsiveness and predictability perfect for diving into the chaos of a winter trail. Plus, with no exposed linkages to worry about, you’ve a lot less set-up to deal with and less chance of grit finding its way into where it shouldn’t.
A Glyn O’Brien discusses in the video above, punctures can be an issue, so give yourself the best chance with some sturdy winter-ready rubber (see Winter-Proofing Additions for your Bike below).
Just because a bike is cheap doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, fast, and fully functional. The Vitus Nucleus is all these things to all men and women, which is why it was rated best mountain bike for under £500 by MBR magazine. The Nucleus is a beast of a bike with bang for you buck and is the perfect winter ride. It comes with a dependable Shimano Altus gruppo, hydraulic disc brakes, and large volume WTB tyres on wide rims for awesome grip in the winter sludge.
The Nukeproof Scout is a stripped down, raw machine that loves being thrown around a winter trail. A low bottom bracket provides a deep centre of gravity for leaning into those berms, while a slack head angle and stiff frame ensure tight, responsive handling for whenever the conditions get a little sketchy. Shimano’s robust SLX M700 11-speed groupset, meanwhile, adds a little finesse to this all-weather bruiser.
The Sentier by Vitus is the big brother of the Nucleus, providing a pocket-pleasing price with pulmonary pumping performance. What’s especially exciting about the Sentier is it provides an excellent base for upgrading and bike build projects. Equipped with ISCG 05 chainguide mounts, dropper post routing, tyre clearance for up to 2.8” tyres, and a Boost 148mm bolt through rear axle, you can strip it back for the winter and build it back up for the summer.
While the hardtail is reactive and fast through the winter trail, it’s not ideal for long sections of road. That’s where the gravel bike has the advantage. Capable of cruising along any road or trail, and tough enough for mud, sleet, or snow, these versatile bikes give you the freedom to go anywhere in all conditions.
When the sun shies from view, this is where the fun begins. the Nukeproof Digger Comp is a whole lot of bike for the price tag. Armed with SRAM’s 1X Apex 11-Speed, the Digger is a simple machine built for anything. Flared handlebars provide unique levels of control in slippery conditions, while big tyre clearance, carbon forks, and capacity for a dropper seatpost, ensures the Digger is whatever you need it to be.
The Orro Terra offers a light and reactive frame that’s designed for riding through tough conditions. Featuring Shimano’s legendary 105 groupset and carbon forks, this bike is perfect for someone likely to spend more time on the road but doesn’t want to rule anything out.
Once you’ve found your personal winter wanderer, tack on a few weather-resistant add-ons and the cold will fear you, not the other way around.
Here are some of our top picks for adding weather-resistant power to your bike:
Strapping on a couple of mudguards, front and back, should be top of your priorities for winter cycling. You only have to go riding once through the winter mud without them to understand why. They’re also relatively cheap and a carefully chosen set can look pretty cool, despite what people say, particularly dirty people.
Lights are an especially important consideration for those on a gravel bike taking to the road for the first time after spending months or years primarily on the trails. For winter off-road adventures, ensure you’ve got a powerful front light, while those likely to hit the roads should ensure they’ve a good rear light too.
Winter tyres can have a big impact on traction and durability, giving your riding a experience a significant boost.
Without the right clothing, your winter rides will be short and painful. Make sure you’re just as ready to tackle the elements as your bike with our guide to winter layers.