As the weather has deteriorated during recent weeks, I’ve been thinking more and more about winter bikes – usually when I’m getting covered in muck out on the road. Anyone who’s been visiting this blog will have seen I’ve been out on my normal road bike with some Crud Roadracers fitted.
Last year I used SKS Raceblades which are another popular solution. With all due respect to the makers of these products which are about as good as you can get for a road bike – they’re still pretty poor. Flimsy, poor fitting and not enormously effective but a whole lot better than no guards at all.
On the upside they allow you to keep riding your favourite high performance road bike during the winter months – but if you’ve got a bike with Dura Ace or Super Record – do you really want to be hacking about country lanes and getting all manner of crud through your beautiful groupset? I certainly wouldn’t.
Given the above I decided it was time to properly investigate what other options are available for winter in particular for roadies who like to go fast through all seasons and weathers. In the interest of simplicity I’ve decided to focus it around Kinesis bikes (http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/).
For me Kinesis have a great reputation for making tough, dependable, no nonsense frames that are designed for British conditions. So rain, poor roads and generally adverse conditions through the winter are all at the heart of what Kinesis frames are designed and built for. The bikes I’m going to cover take full guards and racks, are fun and fast to ride but don’t cost the earth. I think they’re frames/bikes that will garner approving nods out on the road or at the winter café stop. Sure there are other options such as Tifosi, Verenti, Surosa, Genesis (http://girodilento.com/the-stunning-genesis-equilibrium-20-2011) or at the higher end Enigma, Sabbath and others but for simplicity I thought I’d write about winter bikes from the perspective of the Kinesis range as I think they do have a strong breadth of choices to consider as you’ll see below and hopefully it makes the logic of choices simpler to follow. Of course if Kinesis isn’t the brand of your choice – hopefully you can use the pros and cons below to choose what style of winter bike would be best for you.
What is a winter bike?
To be clear for the purposes of this post – a Winter bike has a frame with fittings/mounting points at least for full muduards (or fenders as they’re called in some places) and possibly rack mounts too, but I don’t personally consider rack mounts essential. Mudguard mounts absolutely are though.
Frame or bike?
Whilst Kinesis do offer bike builds on some bikes, to be honest I wouldn’t choose any of them so in this post, I’ll talk about what frame, fork and groupset options I’d personally be going for and as usual it’s just my opinion, but I hope it’s interesting food for thought.
As I see it, there are three styles of frame to choose from for a winter bike that takes proper mudguards: (some) Cyclocross frames, classic winter trainer/audax frames and a few higher end frames that still take full guards.
The Cyclocross bike
A cyclocross bike is the do-it-all option. The Kinesis Crosslight FiveT (http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/products/crosslight/five-t) can be raced in cyclocross, ridden on the road with full mudguards and racks and would handle any tow path and probably some light offroading. Here’s an indepth review from Road.cc for more detail (http://road.cc/node/24032)
If you want to do more than just ride on the road – one of these is probably going to be close to perfect for your needs. You may need to consider what fork you choose with it if you want to run full guards though but helpfully the matching Crosslight Pure CX has mudguard eyelets (you can see them in the picture below) – so this makes it a simple and easy combination for a winter bike.
I think of a cross bike as a hybrid for roadies, especially if you’re not going to do any ‘cross-racing – because you typically buy it with multiple uses in mind. What I found though with my own hybrid, is that it sits in my shed for years at a time between rides as I mostly focus around riding on the road – so for me it’s not going to be the best choice – but they are perfect for many, many people, who both use and value their enormous versatility.
- Amazing versatility – you can go virtually anywhere, anytime
- Strong, durable and almost industrial looking
- Still great to ride/fast on the road
- Most likely to handle snow (as it seems to be more and more a part of UK winters)
- Cantilever brakes (can be tricky to get to work well)
- May not be the best choice if you just ride on the road
Which one would I choose?
If I was choosing a cross bike – I would choose the Crosslight FiveT in Tech Blue/Off White with the Crosslight Pure CX fork, a full SRAM Rival compact groupset, some basic but solid 32 spoked wheels, with some Tektro cantilever brakes
The Classic Winter trainer/audax bike
These are bikes that often feature “traditional” geometry frames – i.e. a horizontal top tube and have always seemed to me like the kind of bike your dad would ride. I’m now in my 40’s and I still feel like many of them look like bikes my dad would ride (leaving aside the fact that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him ride a bike).
In practical terms these are bikes designed around riding through the winter in whatever road conditions you may encounter, to be ridden quickly and comfortably over long distances.
Kinesis have their Racelight T2 (http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/products/racelight/t2) and TK3 (http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/products/racelight/tk3) frames in this segment which have modern (compact geometry) and are designed to be lightweight, good and responsive to ride.
The TK3 is the higher spec model with a lighter frame made from Kinesium (which is a lighter alloy)and a tapered front fork for added stiffness/handling but both frames allow larger tyres than summer bikes – at up to 28mm, full guards and racks. Here’s a first look at the TK3 (http://road.cc/content/news/69851-just-kinesis-racelight-tk3)
The Racelight bikes are probably the most focussed around winter road riding in their design of the three types of bike in this post and they are a bit of classic in the category.
Winter trainer Pros:
- Absolutely designed to be the best bike in winter conditions
- Designed for long days in the saddle as comfortably and as dry as possible
- Closer to road bike weight and responsiveness (than a Cross bike)
- Tough, dependable and will shrug off winter muck
- They have a certain “steet-cred” as a proper winter bike – great on club-runs
- Good value
- You won’t be nervous about taking it out on bad days
Winter Trainer Cons:
- Not so good off-road , fine for cycle paths though
- Can be seen as old fashioned or less sophisticated– although I don’t think the Kinesis designs will suffer from that
Which one would I choose?
I would go for a Racelight TK3 in Steel Gray – it’s a lovely paint colour and looks classy in the flesh and I’d partner it with the Kinesis DC07 carbon fork. For the groupset I’d again choose SRAM Rival and again I’d put some strong simple wheels on it.
The higher end winter trainer
These are closest to the bikes you ride/race on in the summer weather – performance geometry, ride, handling and materials that also happen to feature full mudguard and rack mounts.
To me bikes that fit this description as disappointingly rare – but I think it’s a market that is and will continue to grow because of their multi-season versatility on the road. Interestingly this is also feedback I got from Genesis about the Equilibrium, which apparently people buy for the winter but end up riding it for more of the year than they thought they would because it’s fast, fun to ride and versatile across different weather conditions.
There are comparatively expensive frames that take mudguards (think the Enigma Etape or Ethos or the Sabbath September – but to me (and I appreciate it’s very personal) I just think they look old fashioned and a bit boring compared to racier geometries. For example – I love the look of the Enigma Echo and think it would be perfect if it had clearance for 25mm and eyelets for mudguards.
So to me, the Kinesis GranFondo is exactly a high end winter trainer – because in fact it’s more like a good mid-range road bike that just happens to have mudguard and rack mounts and as I said I don’t understand why there aren’t more bikes like this.
It’s made of Scandium which is well known for being a great and relatively rare material for bike frames, it has a carbon fork, carbon seat stays and a carbon seat post for additional stiffness and comfort. The GranFondo has had excellent reviews including this 10/10 at Roadcycling UK (http://www.roadcyclinguk.com/bike-reviews/kinesis-granfondo-tested/3490.html) and here’s an owners report here (http://www.kinesismorvelo.com/road/p83-3/) and here (http://www.velonuts.co.uk/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1281536719) and from Bikeradar here: http://www.bikeradar.com/road/gear/category/frames/road/product/gran-fondo-33976
The geometry is similar to the Racelight series (and the Crosslight for that matter) but it does have a longer headtube (by 2cm) but this is still lower than many “sportive” bikes and is pretty much perfect for many of us.
Higher end winter bike pros:
- Better ride quality and handling than the other choices
- The best option if you only ride on the road
- Higher quality materials
- You’ll probably ride it during more of the year than you think
- You don’t need long drop brakes – you can buy and fit a full road groupset
- This is a winter race bike more than a trainer
Higher end winter bikes cons:
- They cost more – so will be less of a winter “hack”
- You’ll probably feel the urge to put better components on it
- You can only really ride them on the road
- You can’t get larger tyres on with mudguards (e.g. 25mm or bigger)
What would I build?
I’d choose the Granfondo in black and for the groupset, I’d probably choose Ultegra 6700 or SRAM Force, I’d put my existing Easton EA90 SLX wheelset on it and if my Vittoria Pave’s didn’t fit I’d run Continental GP4000s or Four Seasons tyres.
In summary, I think if you ride a lot in Winter or rain, you’re going to be better off on a dedicated winter bike – anything else is simply a compromise.
As for which one you choose, it comes down to what kind of versatility you need and what kind of budget you have. If you ride off road more than occasionally – choose a Cross bike. If you only very occasionally ride on cycle paths rather than off road and want to fit wider tyres or have a moderate budget – a Classic Winter trainer like the Racelight T or TK2 is probably best. If you just ride on the road and want to ride as fast as you do in the summer on something that’s still a bit special – the Granfondo is the bike for you. It’s your racer for the winter (and probably Autumn and Spring too!)
As for me, well I don’t need the versatility of a Cross bike as I will pretty much only ride on the road, so that leaves me with two to choose from. To be honest I’m torn between the TK2 or the Granfondo as I think both make a strong case for themselves. I like the geometry of the Granfondo a little more than the TK2 (longer head tube) but I like the wider tyres for the TK2 (not that I anticipate riding bigger than a 25mm tyre on the road but I would like to be able to do so with full mudguards). I’ve read that the ride quality of the GranFondo is a class above the TK2, which is still a good ride. At the moment I still don’t have a clear winner – but I’m thinking hard about it to choose one. The TK2 is slightly in front simply due to it’s lower price and the fact that I’d also run a cheaper groupset with it – so it would end up being a few hundred pounds cheaper build. If budget wasn’t an issue – the GranFondo definitely wins and I suspect that even if I bought a TK2 I’d be looking to replace it with a GranFondo before too long – so perhaps on that basis alone, for me the GranFondo is my winner.
Thanks for reading.