As sure as that swanky roll neck jumper is dug from the wardrobe, a fresh coat of dubbin is rubbed into those clarks classic boots, and Michael Buble is put on slow defrost just in time for Christmas, most cyclists top flight summer bicycles are now laid up for the winter or strapped to the turbo trainer. The seasons have changed and it’s time for the hardcore cyclists to carry out their next ritual and dig out their winter bikes.
I’ve just flicked the mothballs off mine, and oh how I love it. In fact I’d say I have more emotional attachment to this bike than any bike I’ve ever had. Wow thats a big statement. It’s old, but it would take a lot to make me ride anything else in winter. Get ready for a love in.
Here its is then, my Charge Bikes Plug Racer. I picked this bike up 5 years ago for £100 to save my Ribble R872 from getting trashed, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Look at it, isn’t it pretty…..
Now to why this bikes a winner.
First lets go with the frame, the Charge is solid. But its not lifeless, its Tange tubing, it’s not the lightest out there but it does mean its weathered well (theres a little surface rust but noting I can’t sort with a strip down…. Spray.Bike paint job is maybe in the works!). The forgiving nature of steel makes for the perfect winter bike, the roads are rougher and are generally covered in more detritus in the winter, it’s smooth and reduces your rate of fatigue. Its got great tyre clearance and can easily fit 32c tyres, although I’m currently only running 25s, so hey you could even get gravely with it if you wanted. It runs a standard seat post, seat clamp, and a BSA bottom bracket. These in a world of proprietary seat posts and press fit bottom brackets is a welcome antidote. If it breaks…. its cheap and easy to replace.
Next is the wheels. I put together what I thought would be the ultimate uk single speed winter wheel. Profile Racing 32 hole hubs built with Sapim Laser stainless spokes onto Mavic Open Pro UST Tubeless rims shod with Hutchinson Fusion5 11 Storm All Season tyres. #HOWMANYNAMESDROPPED. But seriously what better combo for a winter bike can you have? Thats some of the strongest most reliable hubs, the lightest spokes, and the best tubeless aluminium rims on the market. Profile hubs just work, they are easily serviceable, build super strong wheels, and look stunning. They are also mounted with bolt through axles, a must for any bike with track ends. Oh and if you haven’t switched to Hutchinson tyres yet, you should do. The inventors of the tubeless tyre (about 14 years ago I think?) absolutely nail this technology, these tyres blew up and held pressure without any sealant and have lasted two winters now without punctures.
The choice of single speed is ideal for winter in the New Forest. I don’t ride with a club so my pace is my own. It’s also the simplicity, both in operation and maintenance. Winter can be awful for bikes in the uk, road spray, salt, rain, excessive use of lubes, grit from verges, and general detritus mixed with continual washing. With a single speed most of these stop presenting issues. No mechs and no cables to clog up or seize, less chain to clean, so less to leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Yes you have a reduction in gear range but I’ve happily covered 60 miles plus even in the Purbecks on a single speed. I’ve opted for a 42×16 gear ratio, using an absolute black oval chainring. Oval chainring on a single speed? Does that work? In a word, yes. The chainrings still have the same number of teeth, and the chain covers almost the same distance over the oval chainring meaning chain tension is kept pretty constant. The design and timing of the chainrings ovality gives extra length to that one gear, ramping it up at the strongest part of the pedal stroke and reducing it at the weakest (like changing gears up and down a tooth without having to shift). And as far as wear goes, I’ve had the halo clickster, chain, and chainring fitted for over a year now and all are showing very little wear. Then even when your chain and freewheel are eventually knackered, £40 and you have a brand new setup.
The bikes finishing kit is all there to make it comfortable or bullet proof. The Fizik Aliante VSX Kium is like a sofa, it has wads of padding, and atop a carbon post theres little road vibration. Bars have a great shape and tape is thicker than standard. Mmmmm smooth…. The brakes have solid cables to stop water ingress and are fitted with Ultegra 6800 rim blocks for all winter performance (the best aluminium rim brake pads I think you can buy). Fit and forget.
So yes I’m dead happy with the way this bike rides, it climbs well, is comfy, and nips along fast enough on the flat. I love the way its always ready to go, tyres up and ride. I’m not precious about how clean it is, and even if I am feeling flush it’s just a simple spray down. I’m sticking my neck out now but I have never had a puncture on this bike (bar hitting a pot hole hidden in a puddle that ruined a tyre), and I have never had a single component fail in 5 years. I’ve now just cursed myself.
Now for a bit more on the reason I bought it in the first place. In one winter on my Ribble I went through a complete gear and brake cable set, two tyres, multiple tubes, a chain and cassette, bar tape, and a set of rear wheel bearings. Add that all up with relatively high end components and you have a bill for around £300. Yes I have upgraded and spent nearly that on the bike I bought for £100, but the potential for 5 more winters at £300 a pop because I was insistent on trying to run summer tyres, lightweight tubes, and an 11 speed groupset (those chains and cassettes wear fast in winter!) in bad weather was not going to be an option. Especially seeing as cleaning a bike to the depth required after each ride is something I just don’t have time for.
Winter bikes are a great way to keep that expensive carbon, finely fettled, wonder bike in great shape. Single speed bikes are also a great way to enhance fitness. There’s no hiding on the hills, you just gotta grind out that gear! and on the flat your cadence control and aerobic fitness is tuned. Pleased to say that I’m working on a winter single speed build for a friend at the moment, I hope he enjoys riding his as much as I do mine.
So there you go, a self indulgent post about my winter bike. I wholeheartedly recommend buying one to keep your summer bike fresh, your fitness topped up, and your bad weather riding hassle free. Don’t just be a slave to the turbo trainer! get a winter bike!