Winter Projects

Winter Projects

At this time of year, we plan our rides for the summer. There are so many places we want to explore! We pore over roads and look at event calendars. And we think about changes to our bikes. Some of the changes are intended to make our bikes better suited to our riding styles. Other changes take advantage of what we have learned. Some changes are the result of new products becoming available.
Now is the time to make those changes to our bikes. That way, we can fine-tune everything during the long winter “base mile” rides. Our bodies get used to the new setup, and when the season starts, our bikes will feel like extensions of our bodies, rather than foreign objects. We want the next riding season to be even more enjoyable than the last.
If you are thinking about changes to your bike, here are a few things to consider for the new season:
One of the most important factors influencing the comfort on long rides are your handlebars. Many modern bikes are equipped with “compact” bars that feature a very short reach and shallow drop. This allows a more upright position, while keeping the handlebars fashionably low. The drawback is that your hands are locked into three positions, all very similar as far as the angle of your back is concerned. On long rides, this can lead to numb hands, as well as shoulder and back pains.
Experienced long-distance riders generally prefer classic handlebar shapes from the 1940s and 1950s. Back then, even racers spent many hours in the saddle. The old-style bars feature more generous curves and give your hands more room to roam.
As you ride more and as your core and back muscles become stronger, you can use a more inclined position that allows you to put out more power. Switching to handlebars with more reach is an easy way to achieve that, while preserving the upright “on the tops” position for slower rides. Read more about handlebars here.
Did you find yourself shifting between front chainrings a lot last year? The reason usually is that your big chainring is too large; instead of shifting a few cogs on the rear for a minor hill, you need to change to the small ring and then compensate on the back cassette. These multiple shifts break your rhythm. A smart gearing choice starts with your base gear, which should be on the big ring and in the middle of your rear cassette. Read more about gearing in this post.
New gearing usually requires new chainrings, and in some cases, new cranks. If you still ride on old-style “racing” gearing (53/39), you will be surprised how much difference a “compact” crankset or, even better, custom-designed gearing will make to your riding enjoyment.
If you did not get a huge number of flats last year, consider changing to more supple tires that offer more comfort and speed. Nothing will transform your bike and increase your riding enjoyment as much as a great set of tires. If you have sufficient clearance, running wider tires will not only improve your comfort further, but also reduce the risk of flats. Read more about tires.

If you want to try a new saddle, now is the time to put one on your bike and “break it in” during the winter training rides. A good leather saddle needs a few hundred miles until it becomes truly comfortable. A modern plastic saddle also will conform better to your anatomy over time. Making the switch now will make sure that you have a comfortable saddle during your summer cycling adventures.
If you are considering a new pedal system, the long winter rides are a great opportunity to try it out and “learn” the different release. Then you will feel secure when you ride in events with unknown riders, where you may have to stop suddenly.
Are you still waiting for the rain to end so you can start your cycling season? Maybe this is the year to install nice fenders on your “go-fast” bike? That way, you won’t curse the afternoon thunderstorm during that great mountain ride in July! Read more about fenders here.
If you plan to ride long events (or simply are tired of replacing batteries), consider upgrading to a generator hub system. This requires a new front wheel, so it is a bit of an investment, but most people only regret not having made the switch sooner. Read more about lighting systems here.
Have you become hot during a ride, but were unable to remove layers because there was no place to put them? (Don’t sling a long-sleeve jersey or tights around your waist, as they are likely to get caught on the rear tire or in the spokes, causing you to crash.) Think about a new luggage system for your bike. Easiest is adding a large under-seat bag like a Carradice.
For convenience and excellent handling, it is hard to beat a good handlebar bag, mounted to a rack and attached to the stem with a decaleur – provided  your bike’s front-end geometry is suitable for front-loading.
Handlebar bags aren’t just great for clothes. They keep your food, your camera, your wallet, and other things easily accessible without dismounting the bike. Having your route sheet on top of the bag, visible at all times, greatly reduces the difficulty of navigating during organized rides. Read more about racks and bags.
What other changes are you making to your bike this year?

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Comments (16)

  • Paul Wesley Knopp

    All this is fantastic knowledge, Jan.

    February 9, 2013 at 9:18 am
  • Doug Peterson

    I’m planning on acquiring one of the newer production “rando” bikes. Low trail, wider 700c tires, and fenders with a large front bag. I’m very excited about it. I’m pretty satisfied with my components and fit, so the frame is he only change I’m making.

    February 9, 2013 at 12:07 pm
  • Daniel

    After a large number of early AM rides in the dark last year, I am getting a wheel built up with a generator hub and a good headlight. I will continue to use the battery powered light as an occasional supplement. Every other piece on both bikes are as good as I can afford and quite nice. I started using fenders 5 years ago.
    I will upgrade my utility bike with wider tires (700×32 now) to 700×35-40) and new VO fenders to accommodate them. But I have at least a year’s miles left on my current tires.

    February 9, 2013 at 12:39 pm
  • Tom

    Will you (have you and I missed it?) talk a bit more about your switch from randonneur-curved bars back to Maes bend style?

    February 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Handlebars are a personal choice. I used to love the Randonneur bars. I put them on my new Herse and did PBP and the Raid Pyreneen with them, plus a tour half-way across France. That is the most I’ve ever ridden in three weeks, and I had absolutely no hand problems.
      Almost a year later, after last year’s 600 km brevet, my hands were slightly numb for the first time in many years. At first I put it down to rough pavement, and it did go away quickly. But afterward, even a 10-mile ride hurt my hands on the bikes that had Randonneur handlebars, whereas my Singer with its 1970s Philippe bars was fine. The day before the Cascade 1200, I decided not to risk permanent damage, so I switched the bars to the Maes Parallel, which are a copy of the 1940s Philippe “Professionel.” No hand problems at all on the 1200 km ride. My urban bike still has the Randonneur bars, and it’s fine now. I may switch back some day, but for now, I really like the slightly lower position of the Philippes.
      I think this shows that a) handlebars are a very personal choice and b) that your body is unpredictable, and what works for years suddenly may no longer do so. If you have several bikes, it may be a good idea to have slightly different positions and bars to prevent injuries.

      February 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm
  • Nick Skaggs

    This year, I plan on upgrading my Mercian King of Mercia with:
    1. Honjo fenders to replace the miserable Planet Bike fenders I have.
    2. A SON dynamo hub to replace my Shimano LX hub.
    3. Ambrosio white vinyl handlebar tape. It’s comfy, sleek, and stays clean!

    February 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm
  • Restituto Refuerzo

    At 61 years and one who rides outdoors only during weekends, week days I skip rope and ride the trainer and also lift weights, I’m sold on 44/32/22 cranks and 12-25 8-speed cassettes. Live in a mountainous area.

    February 9, 2013 at 4:38 pm
  • Robert

    For my winter projects (it’s been below freezing and snowy here for two and half months!) I did the following: I replaced a very nice Stronglight competition headset on my 70s Follis with a Stronglight needle bearing model. This on Jan’s suggestion for combating shimmy. I never felt shimmy until I added a decaleur and handlebar bag, but when I tried to ride with no hands there it was. I’m eager to see if this will fix it. On my winter bike I put in a dynohub and dedicated light for the first time. I’m on a budget for all this, so I found an older model used Schmidt hub on and a corresponding E6 light on Ebay US–all for less than $150. I then built the wheel myself from a spare rim and have been enjoying it through the winter–on days when it’s been above +2 Celsius, my threshold for outdoor riding. On my summer bikes (all vintage steel), every bearing has been regreased, every cable checked, every nut and bolt retightened. Will March ever arrive? Very tired of the indoor trainer.

    February 10, 2013 at 6:26 am
  • marmotte27

    My winter projects? Back Country skiing.
    What, you were asking abour bikes? Acquiring a 650B randonneur, fenders, dynohub, handlebar-bag, the whole hog.

    February 10, 2013 at 7:14 am
  • Bill Gobie

    I want to get rims better suited to Compass 26×1.75 tires. The tires have significantly improved the ride quality of my recumbent with no loss of speed. However, the bike is squirrelly in corners probably because the tires are unstable on 16 mm rims. How wide should I go? I want to be able to use a narrower spare tire, maybe 32 or 35 mm, as well as not have trouble finding a tire that will fit if I have to buy one at Walmart or such.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:29 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’d pick rims that are well-suited to the tires you run. In an emergency, you can use almost any tire, as long as the tire is at least 10% wider than the rim. But I doubt you’ll run a 32 mm rim anyhow…

      February 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm
  • Ian Frens

    Hi Jan,
    Just switched from a Compact handlebar to the Grand bois randonneur on my “randonneuse”.
    After only a few hundred kilometers I can say that these Handlebars are really great !
    Lots of different positions and heights/reach. Also very good position on the drops which I almost never used before. With the Compact I felt like being stuck behind the ramps as no other position was comfortable for me. Also they look really great. I am really satisfied with this change. Thanks for your advice.

    February 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm
  • wilbur

    10 speed Ultegra 6700 integrated shifters and rear derailleur. Already have a CX70 front derailleur.

    February 10, 2013 at 1:06 pm
  • Tony

    Just finished rebuilding my 1982 Merckx. A fast, but comfortable and well mannered frame for short brevets with enough clearance for 28mm tires. It lacks only drop-out eylets for fenders, so it’s my fair weather bike.

    February 12, 2013 at 6:57 am
  • msrw

    Jan, to touch back on a recent blog post of yours on the advantages of high end bikes, I’m not intending to do anything with equipment over the winter. When assembling my bikes I used simple, well-built frames and components that were beyond proof of concept (especially to me). Nothing needs to be tweaked or changed. Which is one of the pleasures of bicycles over almost any other type of mechanical device.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm
  • TimJ

    Other winter projects:
    Recable your bike, it will feel like new when you get back out on the road. Maybe consider a different color of housing just for fun.
    Rebuild all of the bearings on your bike. These days this is mostly just wheels, but bottom brackets and headsets might also have rebuildable bearings.
    Replace the stock inner tubes that came with your bike (if they are still there!) with lighter weight tubes. Rotating weight can be reduced by up to a 100 grams per wheel, for very little cost. This is the best “bang for the buck” weight savings in my view.
    Replace your handlebar tape. If you are really ambitious, try a “weave” of two different colors as shown here:

    February 15, 2013 at 4:11 am

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