Thursday, November 12, 2009

Winter bikes

Winter can be a wet and ugly affair in many places around the country, but why should that keep you from riding year round? Most of us are not made of sugar and will not melt in the rain or sloppy snow. With that in mind, why give up riding simply because things get cold and/ or wet?

Many people have differing thoughts on what makes a great winter bike, but there are several things worth considering when looking at a new winter bike.
  • It's certainly nice to keep your rump a little dryer by using fenders. Looking for a bike either with fenders or with mounts that allow attaching fenders is highly recommended. At minimum, it's recommended to at least find something with enough clearance to use some of the slimmer snap/ strap on fenders.
  • With winter roads often strewn with debris or slippery from snow, ice or rain, a very stable footed bike is beneficial. Bikes with longer wheelbases tend to provide that extra bit of handling security when things are less than favorable.
  • Similar to fender mounts, rack mounts are a nice plus if you're commuting in the winter- being able to attach racks and panniers to the bike is a big plus for carrying dry clothes or extra bad weather gear. Let's face it, sometimes no matter how well prepared you are when you leave the house, the weather can turn ugly and potentially ruin your ride. Having that extra back up and dry storage for extra clothes or precious cargo can be a lifesaver.
  • Another key feature is either the existence of, or ability to add, wider tires- in bad weather, any tire narrower than 25mm is going to be at greater risk of puncturing or slipping in bad conditions. It's best to ride tires at least 25mm wide, but 28's and above are even better if the frame has enough clearance for the wider tire.
Those are just a few basics and some people will place greater importance on on some over others, but they serve as a good baseline as you begin your hunting.

And while you're hunting, why not consider one of the following bikes while you're at it;

Speciale Randonneur- fenders included and rack mounts for bringing along all the fixins'. The retro touring styling provides a nice long wheelbase for stability and balance when carrying the heavy loads.

Speciale Commuter- fixed or free, with a long wheelbase for a stable ride and all the braze-ons for racks and fenders. There are those who say that in the worst of conditions, a fixed gear is the ultimate choice since you are not as dependent on a brake pad for stopping. In extreme cold, especially, some folks feel that traditional rubber brake pads become virtually useless and leg braking with a fixed gear provides substantial "back up".

Speciale CX- with a longer wheelbase than a traditional road bike and tons of room for wide tires, the CX is a great all-weather bike. With the rack and fender mounts, it's a great do-anything bike too.

SoulVille 10- the 10spd drivetrain and elegant, simple fenders create an excellent look and feel for a bad weather bike. The more upright and relaxed riding position creates a very stable feel as well.

SoulVille 7- the internal gearing adds another level of convenience and efficiency for bad weather riding. With the same frame as the 10spd, you maintain the same fenders and rack mounts for all your inclement riding needs.

SoulVille 3- need fewer gears than the 7spd or 10spd? Live in a mostly flat area where you need fewer gears? Then the 3spd is your answer. With all the bells and whistles seen on its big brothers and sisters, the 3spd is also an able icky condition rider.

Caffe Racer Doppio (10spd)- the Caffe Racer series is designed as a quick handling flat bar road/ fitness bike. The longer wheelbase is built into an agile geometry for quick handling. Even with the rack and fender mounts in full use, the bikes remain lively and nimble.

Caffe Racer Solo (9spd)

CXR- designed as a competitive cross race bike, the CXR can easily pull double duty as a rainy/ snowy all-purpose bike. Without rack and fender mounts, there is still plenty of room for streamlined fenders and lots of room for wide tires. The racing geometry makes the CXR super quick and an excellent winter road training bike, as well as a great bike for getting into the mud.


We may be based in rainless southern California, but we know a little bit about how to design bikes for less than perfect weather. So don't let the winter months put an end to your riding bliss- when done right, even riding in less than perfect weather can be a lot of fun.


Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts about disc brakes for a "winter"/rain bike?

I just got a winter bike and decided *not* to get disc brakes, but some folks said I was missing a big opportunity to improve my wet-weather braking and to save my rims from faster wear from winter grit.

Tim Jackson said...

Anon- That's a good point and one that is widely open to debate. However, it is true that disc brakes can potentially extend the life of a rim, by sheer virtue of the fact that the rims are no longer being touched by the brakes.

Some people swear by disc brakes and others claim that they perform no better in cold conditions- especially with hydraulic brakes.

Sorta like pedals or saddles, it's a personal preference and what you are comfortable with.

In the end, to me, it comes down to what you feel will work best for you and your conditions.