Growing up in the west of Scotland, the weather was generally mild enough to ride year round – you just wouldn’t want to do it on the “good” bike. Every keen cyclist I knew had “the winter bike.” Usually it was older and had cheaper components, and mudguards (fenders) were basically obligatory. Woe betide the rider who showed up on a wet ride with no mudguards and proceeded to spray those behind him with road filth! Once the racing season ended – usually mid October, bar a few hill climbs – the good bike was retired and the winter machine bought out for the long slogs down the coast to Largs or around the Three Lochs (Loch Lomond, Loch Long, and the Gareloch). These were the days when the old maxim of putting in the long winter miles still held true.
My first decent bike was a 24” red Holdsworth. I bought it in 1981 I think, as that’s when I joined the Johnstone Wheelers. Then, when I bought my (team colors) Raleigh in 82, the Holdsworth became the winter bike. When the Raleigh died in a collision with a car in 1984, I bought a gash steel frame (ruby red, “Frontiera” brand) and built it up until I got my Colnago in late 1984. The Frontiera then became the winter bike and remained so until a crack appeared in the right-hand chainstay; it wasn’t worth repairing and it was duly replaced by a green Brian Rourke time trial frame (bought from Malky Little, I believe) which was built up for winter use. Bizarrely, when my parents moved house in 1993 (I was in the US by then) the Rourke went “missing” in the move. – along with my good racing wheels and tool kit. I’m still not sure I’ve ever gotten over this . . .
Living in Wisconsin means two things: usually late spring, summer and fall can be lovely – and winters can be nasty. This year winter arrived in early November. Out came the winter bike. It’s a pretty standard aluminum frame, microshift brifters, Nashbar gears and brakes and odds and sods for everything else. It has some pretty great pink Vittoria tires I picked up on sale a few years ago – good tires, nice tpi and so what if they’re pink – they’re on the winter bike! And, of course, it has mudguards. Ironically, it’s probably just as good as my #1 bike in the 80s. The frame is good, the brifters work great, there are some carbon bits and the wheels are definitely decent.
The winter bike is #4 in my road bike stable and it sees action from November through March. I’ve always called it my “winter bike,” never, ever does it get called a “beater” bike as such a moniker seems disrespectful: if it gets dirty it doesn’t complain and my conscience rests easy if it becomes so; it gets its fair share of maintenance. Over the summer it sits waiting quietly for the weather to turn and I forget just how nice a ride it is. It’s not super light or responsive – just a sweet, smooth ride which is just what you want when you’re going out when most folks would twitch the curtains and open a beer.
And in Wisconsin we have a lot of beer.