Dial in Your Winter Bike Setup

Sponsored by Wheel Sport Bicycles

This time of year, it’s easy to want to put the bike in hibernation until springtime. But the payoffs to biking through the winter are enormous. Come spring, your conditioning will be miles ahead of your couch-dwelling cycling buddies. But more immediately, you’ll get all the benefits of biking while outpacing the winter blues.

Make no mistake, it’s harder to get out the door for a ride this time of year when even the walk to the garage is cold, damp and dark. Make it easy by having a dialed-in winter setup so there are fewer hurdles to getting out the door. And if you’re new to winter riding, start slow and short. This is unlikely to be the season of Strava PRs. But even a short spin through the neighborhood is better than nothing. And remember: in the winter, every ride is an adventure. Check out our winter riding tips below to make sure it’s an enjoyable and safe one too.

Winter Bikes

Between the increased exposure to bike-eating elements and the usually more casual nature of winter riding, the “off” season is a great time to simplify your bike. Think of your winter rig as the bicycle equivalent to rock skis. Some riders opt for a dedicated winter rig, while others choose to go all-in on a fat bike. (Wheel Sport carries a great selection from Salsa and Otso.)

Whatever you choose, keep the following in mind:

  1. Cold weather can affect suspension performance, so you may need to adjust your settings accordingly and more often. Or consider a hardtail or a fully rigid ride.
  2. E-bike batteries can drain more quickly in cold temperatures, so minimize the amount of non-riding time the bike spends outdoors. Better yet, bring the battery inside to a heated room when not in use.

Layering for Winter Riding

The principles of cold-weather clothing that govern all outdoor activities apply to cycling, with the added consideration that you may be frequently alternating between short, sweat-generating climbs and fast, chill-inducing descents. That means layering is even more important.

  1. Choose wool or wicking synthetics that provide insulation even when wet.
  2. As hard as it might be to remove that puffy at the beginning of a ride, it’s better to start cool and add a layer rather than sweat out your gear.
  3. The generally higher speeds of road biking may require extra insulation to cut down on rider-generated wind chill.
  4. Hands and feet bleed heat easily; wind- and waterproof gloves and overshoes will provide insulation.
  5. Clear- or lightly-tinted glasses will keep any mud and debris that slip by your mudguard of your eyes.

Bike and Rider Lights

Bike lights have come a long way. Today’s lightweight, bright, USB-rechargeable LED lights make night riding easier and safer than ever. Preferences vary, but a good starting point is 1,000 lumens for handlebar-mounted lights. Many riders wear a helmet-mounted light at a lower power too; they are particularly useful on sweeping singletrack switchbacks, where your bike and body may be pointed different directions. Whatever the power number, the important thing is that it’s a light you can easily pack. On the road, a flashing rear light—ideally one each on your bike and body—will alert drivers to your presence.


This one’s a no-brainer: It’ll take only one ride of blinking grit out of your eyes to see the light. Generally, a front mudguard is sufficient for mountain biking, while commuters and road riders might prefer front and rear coverage to avoid the dreaded wet streak up their back.

Cold-weather Bike Maintenance

Make sure your bike stays as protected from the elements as you are. Even more than during dry season, a regular cleaning and maintenance regimen is important; the last place you want to have a mechanical is in the dark or snow. Rain and mud are the usual winter cleaning culprits, but road salts can wreak havoc on your drivetrain and ice and snow can make short work of your lube.

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