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How to Choose a Bike for Winter

By Christopher Ashley

Take a look at your carbon bike. Now, look at your steel frame. Now look at the BMX you built 3 years ago but have never ridden. Now look at me – you don’t want to ride any of these through the winter. Here’s how to choose your new winter bike, so you can embrace the freeze together.


Regardless of whether you go for a mountain bike, BMX, or roadie, a winter bike should be simple. A fixie sounds good on paper – slow acceleration and measured deceleration should mitigate the risk of skidding in icy conditions. But do you really want to be huffing and puffing and stiff-of-limb before you’ve even left your street? Consider the SRAM Automatix hub:

So, don’t get too simple a bike. Lower number of gears, and quick release wheels. Nothing that means spending too long in the freezing cold trying to fix. A bike with an internal hub means lower maintenance, especially if it features an automatic gear shift.

Gear Ratio

If a range of gears is a must on your winter routes, then opt for a higher ratio of gears. The lowest gear in even a 3-gear hub will allow you to spin quicker than a fixie, but a low gear on an 11-speed cassette could be dangerous on ice – unless you opt for a high ratio.

It’s the same principle in a car or van – setting off in slick conditions works better in 2nd gear. It reduces the risk of wheelspin. I’ve spun the wheel of a road bike in 8th gear pulling away from a cyclist I was overtaking. Also, higher gears will train you up nicely for springtime.

Choose an aluminium frame

There’s nothing to stop you riding a carbon frame in winter – you won’t notice any drop in the performance of your fair-weather whip. And the same is true of your steel-framed steed – but save it for the Easter Tweed-Parade. There are compelling reasons to choose an aluminium frame.

Aluminium is cheap, rugged, light, and can take a few knocks, and while steel can withstand some punishment, do you want to knock and scratch your beautifully restored lugged frame? Because after your 12-mile commute churning up salt on it’s underside, with your face and fingers frozen rigid, you’re going to dump it against a wall quicker than Trump can say, “fancy a round of golf?”

Brakes & Gears

If you’re cycling in -15°c weather, you may want to avoid hydraulic systems with mineral oils – opt for DOT brakes instead. This is due to the better performance of the seal materials used in DOT systems, rather than any difference in the performance of the liquids. It’s a subtle but important distinction – just make sure you know how to service your brakes:

However, if you leave a bike with a mineral-oil system in a mild to warm back hallway, and your journeys are short, the difference in performance is unnoticeable.  But if you fancy a 4 hour tear up a mountain trail – DOT will match your enthusiasm for the cold.  Pick the winter bike that suits your needs.