Best winter road bikes | What to look for in a winter bike

Our pick of the bikes, frames, components and accessories you need for successful winter riding

Bontrager NCS front mudguard

Are you thinking about building or buying a road bike specifically for winter riding? 

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BikeRadar’s experts have immense combined experience of winter riding and in this guide we’ll discuss some different approaches to choosing a winter road bike, and which components and accessories matter the most.

Whether you’re looking to buy a whole new bike, revive an old one, or adapt your current machine, this is the guide for you.

Before we go on, I’m sure comments are already brewing to the effect of “that wouldn’t work for my winter”, and that’s fair enough. We’re talking here about a UK-style winter where the main obstacles to riding for most of us are relentless wet weather, cold, darkness and road salt. 

It’s fair to say that in many parts of the world (and indeed more northern parts of the UK), conditions are far more extreme and riding through the winter is a completely different proposition.

Here’s our pick of winter road bikes we’ve tested and below this is our buyer’s guide to winter road bikes, what to look out for and the different approaches you might take to winter riding.

Best winter road bikes as rated by our testers

Kinesis Tripster AT

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Kinesis Tripster AT gravel/road bike
The AT stands for all-terrain in the Kinesis Tripster AT.
Robert Smith / Immediate Media
  • £1,850  
  • Great protection from extra-long mudguards
  • Robust but sprightly

Kinesis adds big mudguards to big gravel tyres for a go-anywhere winter build for its versatile alloy bike. There’s clearance for 45mm tyres and bolting points for luggage, extra bottles and a rack too and you can alter the steering geometry to change the handling to suit your riding style.

At 11kg and with a frame that weighs 1.9kg, the Tripster AT is built tough, but it doesn’t feel that way to ride, thanks to its stiffness, which gives a responsive ride feel, and quality wheels and tyres which provide comfort along with a lively ride.

We rated the Apex 1 drivetrain and the Fend-Off Wide mudguards highlights for a winter bike – the latter amazed us with how clean they kept both us and following riders.

Ribble Endurance Ti Disc

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Ribble Endurance Ti road bike
The Endurance Ti Disc is available in three models: The ‘Pro’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Enthusiast’
Robert Smith / Immediate Media
  • £3,299 / $4,568 / €3,843
  • Quality, corrosion-proof titanium frameset
  • Good component spec for all-weather riding 

Ribble’s titanium mile muncher has discreet mudguard mounts, letting you spec guards via Ribble’s bike builder. It’s really well finished and the full internal cable routing makes for easier cleaning.

We liked the slightly racy ride position and the backsweep of the Level bars, as well as the well-built wheels and wide Continental Grand Prix GT tyres.The Ultegra groupset is an asset too. 

The Endurance Ti Disc handles poor surfaces well and is built to last whatever the weather. The flaps on Ribble’s mudguards are a little short to keep your shoes clean though.

Condor Fratello Disc

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Pack shot of the Condor Fratello Disc road bike
The Condor Fratello Disc is an accomplished all-weather ride where the frameset is the star.
Robert Smith / Immediate Media
  • £2,500 
  • Steel frame gives a lively ride feel
  • Quality spec, but the mechanical disc brakes aren’t the match of hydraulic

Condor has been a fixture of London cycling for over 70 years, so it knows steel frames, with the Fratello made of custom shaped, triple butted Columbus Spirit tubing. With flat mount disc brakes and 12mm thru-axles, it’s up with modern trends, while the carbon fork has internal routing for the brake hose and for a dynamo lighting cable.

We loved the flowing feel over rough surfaces and the well balanced ride position. We drooled over the shifting quality of the Campagnolo Centaur groupset too, although the TRP Spyre cable operated disc brakes don’t quite match up to hydraulic options.

Also consider

Tifosi CK7 Centaur

3.5 out of 5 star rating
Tifosi CK7 Centaur
Robert Smith / Immediate Media
  • £1,099 
  • Alloy frame is quite stiff and gives a low position
  • Rim brakes aren’t the match of discs in the wet 

The CK7 alloy bike is a modern take on a British winter training bike, with a substantial build that gives lots of lateral rigidity. That also leads to rather a firm ride and the position is quite sporty.

The mudguards and flaps are effective, but the Tektro rim brakes don’t match discs, even cable operated, for wet weather stopping. 

Kitted out with Campagnolo Centaur and wide range gearing, you can take on long miles and steep climbs with ease, while the 28mm tyres give some protection from bumpy roads, although they’re not as grippy as better known brands. 

Buyer’s guide to winter road bikes

Different approaches

There are a number of approaches to getting a bike that’s equipped for winter conditions. Which works for you will depend on your resources and how keen you are to continue your riding into poorer conditions.

The premium option: a dedicated, purpose-built bike

Best winter road bike
There’s something pleasing about a bike properly specced for the task at hand.
David Caudery / Immediate Media

The platonic ideal of a winter road bike is one built from the ground up with poor-weather riding in mind. 

For many years, the archetypal winter bike was a cheap aluminium-framed road bike with a low- to mid-range groupset, skinny tyres, rim brakes and full-length mudguards – something like the Ribble 7005 Winter or the Dolan Preffisio

Best winter road bike
Once upon a time, the Dolan Preffisio and UK winter went together like bacon and eggs.
Jesse Wild / Immediate Media

These were sturdy, unpretentious machines that made up for their lack of glamour by being incredibly cheap and very functional.

This breed of machine has all but disappeared in an age of disc brakes and big tyre clearances, but the principle remains valid. 

Best winter road bike
These days disc brakes are the default for winter, and frames have evolved somewhat.
David Caudery / Immediate Media

Their closest modern equivalent would be bikes such as the Trek Domane AL, Ribble CGR AL and Kinesis R1.

We’ll get into component specifics below, but if you have the space and the budget, a dedicated poor-weather bike with thoughtfully chosen components is the gold standard.

These days, it’s well worth considering a gravel bike for winter because these often have useful mounts for mudguards and accessories, and can adapt to both road riding and rougher stuff with minor spec adjustments.

Examples would be the Canyon Grail AL, the Fuji Jari 1.3 and the Pinnacle Arkose Dirt D3. The line between gravel bikes and fatter-tyred endurance bikes is very blurry in any case, with the differences sometimes being more about spec than the underlaying frame.

There’s also considerable overlap with more traditional touring bikes and it’s worth considering one of these, particularly if you’re interested in carrying lots of stuff.

The budget approach: an old hack

Best winter road bike
Reviving an older bike can be deeply satisfying.
Mildred Locke / Immediate Media

If you don’t want to subject your ‘best’ bike to the indignities of winter riding, you can of course use any old clunker you have lying around, or cobble something together from parts. 

The downside to this approach is there will inevitably be compromises – old road frames typically have limited tyre clearance, for instance, and many won’t accept full-length mudguards. 

You’ll also likely be stuck with rim brakes, which can be perfectly adequate but, as we’ll discuss later, aren’t ideal for the purpose. On the other hand, there’s great satisfaction to be found in repurposing old things or assembling a unique parts-bin special.

The non-conformist: a fixed gear

Best winter road bike
Fixies are enormous fun and do have some practical advantages, along with their quirks.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Legend holds it that, in days of yore, road cyclists would flip their rear wheels around and fit a fixed gear sprocket for the winter, citing various probably-mythical advantages. 

Despite our scepticism, we’re big fans of fixies here at BikeRadar and there are valid reasons for choosing to ride one. They’re ultra low-maintenance compared to geared bikes and consumable drivetrain parts (chains, cogs, chainrings) are comparatively affordable.

They’re also loads of fun, but most of us wouldn’t choose to ride one full-time because having just one gear does have drawbacks, and of course it deprives you of the pleasure of freewheeling. 

If the simplicity of fixed gear appeals but you don’t want to pedal ceaselessly, a singlespeed with a freewheel is also an option, one that offers similar advantages from a maintenance perspective.

But I can’t afford/don’t have space for another bike!

Plenty of us ride our one and only road bike through the winter, and that’s a valid approach too, particularly if you can easily fit mudguards (more on these below).

If you’re fond of your bike, the challenge will be protecting it from the onslaught of muck and salt that winter brings. That means staying on top of cleaning and lubrication

It’s also worth considering if there are specific components you might want to change…

Key components and accessories for winter bikes

Mudguards/fenders

Best winter road bike
Proper mudguards (or fenders) with good coverage and mud flaps make winter riding infinitely more pleasant.
Oli Woodman / Immediate Media

In many parts of the world, the roads don’t really dry out for long stretches in the winter, and that means there’s a continuous spray of moisture coming off your tyres even when it’s not actually raining. 

As a result, mudguards (or fenders for North Americans) are an essential for winter riding, and full-length mudguards with mud-flaps both front and rear are the ideal because these will reduce spray to a minimum both for you and anyone riding behind you, and also help protect your bike’s components.

For a frame to accept standard full-length mudguards, it needs to have mounting bosses or eyelets to bolt on to, and sufficient clearances that the ‘guards won’t catch on the tyres, get in the way of the brakes (on rim brake bikes), or cause toe-overlap issues.

Most rear mudguards require one boss at each dropout (or on the seatstays), one at the front of the chainstays, and a seatstay bridge of some sort to anchor the top of the ‘guard (this will also be a brake mount on rim brake bikes).

Front mudguards need a mount at each fork dropout (or part-way up each fork leg), and either a brake bolt or a dedicated mount at the fork crown to attach to.

If your bike has clearances but no mounts, it’s possible to get creative with P-clips or aftermarket accessories such as Axiom’s Axle Runners.

If your bike won’t accept full-length mudguards full stop, there are various alternatives, with long clip-ons being the next best thing. Head to our buyer’s guide to mudguards for more. 

Drivetrain

Best winter road bike
Entry-level or mid-range groupsets offer almost all the performance of the high-end stuff, but consumables are much cheaper.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Winter is hard on components, and so there’s a good case to be made for running cheaper kit that you won’t mind wearing out relatively quickly.

That might mean opting for a more affordable groupset such as Shimano Sora, Tiagra or 105, SRAM Apex or Rival, or Campagnolo Centaur, rather than Ultegra, Dura-Ace, Force, Record etc.

Even if you choose higher-end components, consider whether you need the wear items to be groupset-matching. For example, if you have Shimano Ultegra, there’s nothing to stop you fitting a cheaper 105 cassette and chain, both are 11-speed. 

You might also choose to go with third-party parts to save money, such as a chain from KMC.

Brakes

Best winter road bike
Disc brakes aren’t essential by any means, but they are certainly an advantage for winter riding.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

There’s no question that disc brakes are the better overall choice for winter riding, although that does come with some caveats.

Disc brakes typically go hand-in-hand with larger tyre clearances, they offer consistent performance whatever the weather, and they’re easy to operate safely even if your hands get cold. 

Disc brakes also have the advantage that they don’t chew through rims – traditional rim brakes wear rims out rapidly when you throw abrasive filth into the mix.

If there’s a downside to discs (aside from extra weight and upfront cost), it’s that they can be noisy and irritating at times, and also liable to suffer pad contamination. 

In wet, gritty conditions you may experience continuous low-level noise as muck finds its way between the rotors and pads, and some brakes are also prone to howling when wet. 

Best winter road bike
The best rim brakes are fantastic, but you do have to accept accelerated rim wear if you use them in gritty conditions.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

Most annoyingly, disc brake pads can become contaminated by oily substances from the road surface, rendering them far less effective (if not useless). 

If this happens, the best cure is to clean your rotors thoroughly with brake cleaner and fit new pads, although some riders advocate baking the pads in the oven (or on the hob) to burn off contaminants. This isn’t a practice any manufacturer would endorse and BikeRadar staffers have experienced mixed results, so proceed with caution. 

Nevertheless, if you’re starting from scratch, discs are unquestionably the preferred option for winter riding, and hydraulic discs in particular are ideal because, unlike their mechanical counterparts, they don’t need frequent adjustment to account for pad wear.

Wheels

Best winter road bike
Ultra-light components are best kept for fair-weather usage unless you have deep pockets.
AX-Lightness

You can ride any wheelset in the winter, but some will take the abuse better than others. 

With rim brakes, accelerated rim wear is an issue in the winter and so you may not want to be riding your expensive Sunday best wheels. The effectiveness of rim brakes also suffers dramatically in wet conditions. It’s not too bad on aluminium rims, but even the best carbon braking surfaces are typically less effective than discs in rainy conditions. 

There are other reasons not to use more performance-oriented wheels. 

Racy wheelsets often save weight by using hubs with small, minimally-sealed bearings. These will quickly wear out if water and grit find their way inside, and then you’ll need to buy new bearings and potentially pay someone to fit them. 

Best winter road bike
Aluminium (or ‘alloy’) nipples are nice and light, but tend to suffer from corrosion when there’s salt on the roads.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

Lightweight wheels also frequently feature aluminium spoke nipples, which are more susceptible to corrosion. Given the option, brass nipples are the better choice for winter. 

If you’ve got disc brakes, rim wear isn’t a particular issue, but much of the above still applies.

If you’re shopping for winter wheels, now might be the time to consider if you want to try road tubeless, which brings us on to…

Tyres

Best winter road bike
It’s worth fitting tougher tyres to reduce the risk of punctures in winter.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

With more debris on the roads, punctures are more of a problem in the winter, and also more of a pain – no one wants to be wrestling with tyres when they’ve got stiff, cold hands or it’s raining. 

That means it’s a good idea to choose more puncture-resistant tyres for winter riding – head to our winter tyres guide for some options. 

If you’re shopping for new rubber, this might be the moment to consider trying something new. Would you, for example, enjoy the comfort benefit of fitting slightly larger tyres? (Check you have the necessary clearances before committing.) 

If your wheels are suitable, it’s well worth considering road tubeless for winter riding because the risk of punctures is reduced by the sealant, and you can run lower pressures for added grip on greasy roads.

Lights

Best winter road bike
Good lights are essential in the winter.
Russel Burton / Immediate Media

Lights are an absolute essential in the winter, even if you’re technically riding in daylight, where the sun will be low in the sky and overall light levels will be reduced. 

There are endless options for lights and your choices will depend on budget and specifics, such as whether you need lights solely to be seen, or also to see with (if you’re riding on unlit roads in the dark). 

Best winter road bike
A dynamo hub is a viable alternative to battery-powered lights.
Hunt Bike Wheels

The Rolls Royce option for a dedicated winter bike is permanent fixed lights powered by a dynamo. These give you the advantage of never being without a light as a result of flat batteries. 

The downside is cost and, in the case of a dyno hub, the need for a specially-built wheel. 

In any case, it’s always best to have some redundancy in your lights – we’d advise running at least two fronts and two rears so you have a backup for each in case one dies unexpectedly.

Spares and other accessories

Best winter road bike
It’s worth thinking hard about what spares to carry, and how you’re going to carry them.
Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

In cold weather, getting stranded by a mechanical failure comes with more serious consequences and so we’d recommend taking a more belt-and-braces approach to spares. 

You want to be in a position where punctures won’t leave you high and dry, so it’s worth carrying a couple of inner tubes and/or a tyre repair kit if you’re running tubeless. 

Mini pumps can make fixing punctures hard work, so some riders opt for something a little bigger (a frame pump or a longer ‘mini’ pump) and mount it to the frame. 

A multi-tool with a chain tool on it (plus a quick link for rejoining) is a good idea too, as is extra clothing for unanticipated changes in the weather. 

All this means it’s worth thinking about on-bike storage when you’re speccing a winter bike. Do you want mounts for a bento box top tube bag? Or rack bosses? Will you be running a bar bag (for maximum trendy points)? 

Best winter road bike
Unusually, some Specialized bikes offer in-frame storage – a great idea.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Specialized’s SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) system deserves a mention here – bikes such as the Diverge offer generous in-frame storage, so you don’t necessarily need lots of luggage. 

It’s not (just) about the bike

Best winter road bike
Riding in poor weather is partly about the equipment, and partly a matter of attitude.
Reuben Bakker-Dyos / Immediate Media

Enjoying your winter riding isn’t just about the bike, it’s about mindset too, and also having the right kit. 

We’ve got useful inspiration to get you going, and some great advice on general winter riding and riding in the rain

If you’re taking your training seriously, have a read of elite cyclist Tom Bell’s advice and watch Jack Luke and Joe Norledge talk through some of their favourite winter kit.

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Can’t face any of it? Maybe indoor training is for you. Our guide to the best smart trainers is here