- Introduction – Choosing the Right Bike
- What are you going to use the bike for?
- Where are you going to use the bike?
- When are you going to use the bike?
- Final Thoughts
When are you going to use the bike?
It’s important to consider whether you intend to be a fair weather cyclist or, at the other extreme, you will be using the bike in all weathers. It’s important to explore this because it can influence your final purchasing decision. The effect the weather has are two fold. On one hand there’s the rider to think about, and on the other there is the bike.
In the UK, it is quite wet. And although it’s possible to dodge the rain by keeping a steady eye on the weather forecast and planning rides around them, the truth is that even when it isn’t raining, the roads can remain quite wet and trails quite muddy for some time since the last downpour. Most the bikes I’ve ever bought have had the ability to take full mudguards – although they don’t look particularly trendy, they do mean that riders stay dry. In order to accommodate full mudguards, frames and forks have to have enough space between the wheels and frame/fork itself to clear the mudguards and the tyres. Additionally the frame and fork need to have eyelets or lugs in the right places to fit traditional mudguards.
If a frame doesn’t have the ability to take full mudguards, which many racing bikes and mountain bikes don’t, there are lots of after-market solutions which offer a degree of protection. A “whale-tail” style mudguard does not look out of place on a mountain bike and will fit almost all types of frame without affecting tyre clearances. “Whale Tails” will stop most of the mud and spray that tends to get thrown up a riders back. Similarly, a crud catcher can deflect most of the mud and spray thrown up by the front wheel.
If you cycle in a group, then full mudguards will stop cyclists behind you getting covered in the spray from your rear wheel. It is also a good consideration if cycling to work on commuter routes popular with other cyclists.
I’ve often gone one step further and supplement the mudguards on my road bikes with mud flaps – usually fabricated from a strip cut out of a plastic milk bottle and then attached and covered with duct tape. This extra measure prevents spray from the lower section of the front wheel from washing detritus onto and lubricant out of the the bikes chain where it goes around the chainring.
That brings us nicely onto the mechanical aspects of all-weathers cycling. The conditions you cycle in can increase the rate of wear on the components of your bike and/or increase the frequency of maintenance. Water ingress into bearings can over time, cause them to seize prematurely. Rain can wash away some lighter lubricants. Dust, grit and sand can stick to some lubricants effectively turning them into a grinding paste that increases the wear on components. Road treatments such as gritting, designed keep roads passable in winter can increase rates of corrosion in some metals.
That sounds like grim reading, but if you intend to cycle in all weathers there are simple steps you can take to help mitigate environmental effects on your trusty steed. Very cheap bikes tend to have poorly sealed bearings and chains, cassettes and chainrings manufactured from steel that corrodes easily. Better components will be made of alternative materials or given a protective plating to stop them from corroding. Some riders choose bikes with hub gears instead of dérailleur gears as the transmission then is internal to the hub of the rear wheel, affording them some protection from water spray, mud and detritus kicked up from the road surface. Hub gears to tend to be quite heavy and slightly less efficient than dérailleur gears, so another alternative is to use a single speed or fixed gear bike. They have fewer moving parts which makes them easier to keep clean. With a hub gear or single speed bike, it is possible to completely enclose the drive train to protect it from the elements.
Some manufacturers produce extra heavy duty components more resilient to environmental factors. Their hubs for instance, often have much better bearings and extra seals to keep water and mud out of them. Conversely, some components are not produced for their longevity. Instead they are designed to give the best performance for competing cyclists. Many racing bikes come with twenty or thirty gears so that the cyclists can always find a perfect gear for optimal and efficient pedalling over the duration of the race. This means using a narrower chain, cassette and chain rings. These narrower components wear out faster than their regular wider counter parts.
If you are intending to cycle off road, than different weather conditions can mean different tyre choices. The manufacturers of mountain bike tyres will offer an array of different tyres in different widths and tread patterns. Generally, the tyres are optimized to perform well in different conditions. Cycling off-road, you encounter a range of different surfaces and their properties can vary significantly when wet. It is best to try and choose tyres that suit the conditions you will be cycling in most of the time, and of course you will need a bike that can accommodate those tyres if they happen to, for instance, very wide with a very chunky tread pattern.
It is even possible to buy studded tyres for bikes which offer a good degree of traction in icy conditions, which means it really is possible to cycle all year around.