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How to Build a Late-Winter Bike Rig: Liberate Yourself from the Trainer

You wouldn’t like me when I haven’t been riding. Surely, you’ve personally experienced this, but without the calming rhythm of spinning my legs out, minor inconveniences seem somehow inexcusable. The reason for this is simple: being a bike rider is, or so I’m told, akin to being a pseudo-junkie. You spend too much money, and the pounds melt off your body. The people closest to you start to worry about your health, and you don’t care, because it makes you feel so damn good. When we can’t get what we need, irrational feelings kick in and there’re only two solutions — you need your fix, or you have to quit. It’s really that simple.

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If you count yourself as a full-blown fiend, winter is nothing short of brutal. Riding rollers and streaming movies are only quick fixes that fail to stave off your addiction. Sure, the worst symptoms of your withdrawals subside, but it just isn’t the real thing and you know it. This is why the European hardmen of cycling have been bundling up to face down winter since the dawn of two wheels. You don’t need a dedicated bike, just a handful of tools that’ll make even the worst days in the saddle far more bearable.

The Bike

There’s no reason that you can’t ride your electronic-equipped carbon race bike in the winter, but one has to wonder if it’s actually worth it. Winter riding is extremely rough on equipment, and accordingly, if you have a backup bike, now is the time to use it. Make sure that you clean it thoroughly after every ride, because salt and sand will wreak havoc on every moving part. And while you’re at it, make sure to replace chains more often than you otherwise would. Road salt will increase wear on the chain’s bushings, which increases wear on the drivetrain. End result? Broken chains. Using a chain breaker in below-freezing temps will give you a whole new understanding of the phrase “seeing red,” so save yourself the hassle and replace your chain regularly.

Fenders

You have a handful of options, but first and foremost, you need something that’ll mount close to the tire in order to minimize road-spray. As you’re aware, most road bikes have minimal tire clearance, which will make a full fender, at best, a tight squeeze. We’ve found the SKS Race Blade fenders to be our favorite option for bikes with limited clearance.

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Admittedly, they lack the full coverage of some of the more permanent fender styles, but they do an excellent job of keeping your legs and core dry, without being overly complicated. Just keep in mind that the reduced coverage means that you’ll want a set of waterproof shoe covers. Correct fender fitment takes a bit of tinkering, so make sure that you have a rock solid mount to keep them from shifting or making noise during your ride. And for a hot tip — make sure to use protective tape anywhere that the fender contacts your frame. This way, you’ll prevent any scratching or knicks into the carbon.

Tires

This will be a surprise to no one, but in areas that get snow, roads get worse during the winter. Between debris, frost heaves, and potholes, your tires are going to take a beating. And if you’ve ever tried to operate tire levers with near-frostbitten fingers, you know just how painful and frustrating it can be. That’s where an ample tire that’s built to handle winter conditions comes in handy. In our experience, nothing matches the Continental GP4000 4 Season‘s combination of durability, grip, and ride.

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By combining the famously grippy rubber compound of the GP4000 with a flat-resistant casing, and a tread pattern that channels water away from the centerline, Continental has built a tire that’s tailor-made for wet conditions and deteriorating road surfaces. Sure, there are tires that err more on the side of out-and-out indestructability, but who wants a tire that rides like a brick and weighs just as much?

Lights

During the winter, the sun sets earlier than the rest of the year. Shocking, right? And while we’re on the topic of the painfully obvious, when it gets dark, you need lights so that drivers can see you. Jeff Stewart penned an excellent article on choosing the correct light, but the short version is that for winter road riding, your primary concern is being seen, so you don’t need to go for the brightest light on the market. Something handlebar mounted will do the trick, and you’ll want a taillight as well. For most riders, a light in the 500-lumen range, like the Light and Motion Urban 550, will offer more than enough brightness to get you through the winter. Naturally, if you’re riding in the country, you’ll need a brighter headlight, like the Light and Motion Taz 1200.

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And while the maximum output setting will be overkill for more densely populated areas, if you have to see upcoming wildlife, and don’t have the benefit of streetlights, the extra illumination will be welcomed. And for the taillight, you’ll want something bright with a wide spread, like the Light and Motion Viz 180.

Riding in the winter doesn’t have to be terrible. If you’re well prepared, it’s actually pretty fun. And even at its worst, it’s a whole hell of a lot better than moping around your house. Your rollers aren’t going anywhere, even though they might get jealous. Save yourself from going stir-crazy and go for an actual bike ride instead.

Photos: Ian Matteson