Winter has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and that means shorter days, colder weather, and additional precipitation. It’s also the traditional off-season for road cycling and triathlon racing, which means, somewhat counterintuitively, that it’s the perfect time to firm up your training plans for the coming year, put in some work in the gym, and get in those base miles. And, of course, racing cyclocross is also a great way to stay fit in the wintertime. But for those sticking to the road, here are a few tips to maximize your road or triathlon bike’s ability to handle some big-mile days during the winter season.
Because the days are shorter in the winter, you’ll have fewer hours to ride in bright sunshine. This means that you’ll often find your available riding time extend into the wee morning hours or late afternoon twilight, or even in the dark of night. While we recommend always riding with some type of active light source to maximize your visibility on the road, this is extra important during the winter when low-light conditions are more prevalent. There are countless lighting options available for road and triathlon bikes, but you should first familiarize yourself with your local community’s laws when it comes to lighting sources on your bike. Every jurisdiction is different, so make sure you’re conforming to the legal requirements of your city, state, province, municipality, or region in regards to lights and reflectors. For practicality's sake, a good rule of thumb, however, is to have both a forward-facing headlight and a rearward-facing tail light. Your headlight should have both a blinking/flashing) setting, which can be used in daytime riding to give yourself maximum visibility from the front, along with a solid beam setting that can be used to light up the road in dim conditions or total darkness and allow you to see the road ahead of you. Likewise, a bright tail light is essential for making yourself visible from the rear. Again, look for something with multiple setting options—such as flashing and steady modes—with enough brightness to be seen during the daytime. Look for lights with the proper shape and mounting brackets to conform to your bike’s seatpost, saddle, handlebar, or wherever you aim to mount them.
With winter comes rain, and even snow. The roads will be wetter and dirtier than during the summer months, so you’ll want to give your bike and your body some extra coverage during wintertime. This is where fenders come into play. While they’re a mainstay for regions around the world where precipitation is a constant riding companion throughout the year, cyclists in locales that see only wintertime rain will need to get some fenders when their wet season begins. Fenders cover your bike’s tires in order to prevent water from splashing and spraying up from the road onto your bike’s frame, or even onto your shoes, legs, and back. We recommend investing in a full set of fenders (meaning one for both the front and rear tires)—but if you can buy only one, get yourself a rear fender. There are a wide variety of fenders available in different sizes and materials, and with varying mounting types. Check over your bike and determine what type of fender can best be mounted to it—some frames and forks have dedicated eyelets or screw ports where fenders can be installed. If you have a sleek, carbon fiber racing bike, though, chances are that there are not dedicated fender mounting locations. Have no fear, however, because many fender manufacturers produce versions that can be easily strapped or otherwise affixed to frame tubes, seatposts, and the like. Also, if you plan on riding with a group, make sure you get a rear fender that extends around the rear tire as low to the ground as possible. Otherwise, the fender will end up directing water spray straight into the rider behind you! If you can’t find a suitable fender with such a design, a quick and easy fix is to cut up a section of a plastic bottle or a tin can and use tape to affix it to the end of a shorter fender, thereby extending it closer towards the ground. It’s not the most elegant solution in the world, but it’ll get the job done and keep you pedaling and your riding mates happy.
The additional rain that comes with wintertime will inevitably end up carrying extra dirt and debris onto road surfaces. This means that you’re more likely to encounter flat tire-inducing hazards during the winter months. So if you’re planning to ride throughout the winter, we recommend installing a new set of hearty tires in as big a size as your frame allows. Also note that if you’re running fenders (see previous section), then you’ll need to account for this, as well, when determining your frame and fork’s available clearance for tires. There are plenty of great tire options out there that offer different types and levels of flat protection. These include Kevlar or Vectran liners or inserts, thicker casings, or modified tread patterns. Tubeless tires also offer added flat protection over tube-type tires. Investigate some options that will work best for your bike, as well as the roads and weather conditions you’ll most likely encounter in your area. Utilizing a bigger tire size than you would run in the summer months—say, a 28c tire instead of a 25c tire, for example—will not only help increase your resistance to flats, but the added volume will also provide more traction and a bit of extra comfort, which is perfect for base-mile training rides.
Finally, if you’ll be riding consistently throughout the winter, then all of that extra rain water, snowmelt, dirt, debris, and road gunk can wreak extra havoc on your bike. This means that you should clean your bike after every single ride. But since most of us don’t have the time to give our bike a deep, thorough clean everyday, be prepared to at least wipe down your bike with a clean rag and an appropriate cleaning agent for your bike’s frame material—there are different compounds ideally suited for carbon, aluminum, titanium, and steel frames. Make the process as easy on yourself as possible by setting up a small cleaning station (which could be as simple as a small bucket with some rags, a light-duty brush, and cleaning fluid) near where you park your bike. This way, when you finish your ride, you can easily give it a quick clean. Every little bit helps. If possible, plan on giving your bike a more thorough cleaning once a week. We also recommend using some sort of frame protectant once a week—again, look for a product that is formulated for your bike’s specific frame material. Many are wax-based, which has the same effect as waxing your car in that is helps to prevent dirt and grime from adhering to your frame while you’re riding. Cleaning and protecting your bike will go a long way towards extending the life of your frame and all of your components. Plus, a clean bike is always more inviting to ride than a dirty one, so it’ll give you a nice mental boost to keep churning out those winter training miles.
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