Forget the Six Nations and spare us Ski Sunday - if you’re into cycling, February is about preparing yourself for one thing - the Spring Classics.
Marking the moment the cycling season gets into full swing, the Spring Classics are historic, hard, and mostly horrible to ride. Taking place chiefly in Belgium, these one day races are as fierce as they are inspiring, often convincing cyclists of all sorts to head out in search of cobbled climbs, cold winds and, on occasion, a chill beer as reward for their efforts.
Whilst we wait eagerly for the racing to kick off - it’s also time that we reflect on what you need to tackle these races, and how to prepare your bike to take on your own one day winter epic.
1. Kick The Tyres
Sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how many problems start from bad tyre choices. When you’re bouncing over the cold hard cobbles laid for horses rather than half-wheelers, getting as much comfort in the form of quality and correctly sized tyres is a good start.
For a start, that means go wider if you can. The days of 23mm tyres are reserved for retro-riders - ideally you’ll pick something around the 32mm mark, as it’s the width and sidewall that plays the most significant part in dampening bumps and improving your comfort. Then comes the question of pressure - which you might change depending on your answer to the next question...
2. Thought About Going Tubeless?
It’s not just about width, but what’s in your tyres. Going larger width with a tubeless set up allows you to run lower pressures, further boosting your comfort, and crucially giving you the self-healing properties of a good sealant.
If you’ve endured the annoyance of a pinch puncture, you’ll be eager not to endure another. There’s nothing worse than fiddling with tyre levers when temperature is in the single digits. , and going tubeless will also remove that issue, as they typically occur when your inner tube gets ‘pinched’ between your rim and your tyre - remove the tube and you’ve solved the problem.
You never know - you might even be able to pick up a deal here at Cycle Exchange - our warehouse is full of new old stock.
Okay - after a new bike, new part tape is one of the simplest and most joyous upgrades. In the old days, riders would swear on wrapping inner tubes around their bars under their handlebars to help “absorb” vibrations from the rough winter roads. These days, a bit of quality and thick gel bar tape will do much the same thing, cushioning your hands in whatever way possible from the bumps, while giving you enough purchase to handle your bike when you need to.
3. Fresh Bar Tape.
A big part of the Classics is pointing your bike up short and stabbing inclines. Double digit gradients in single digit weather. Obviously, unless you get everything ticking over nicely and indexed to perfection, you’re going to be grinding hopelessly up that hill, or, worse, dropping a chain at the bottom. Either way, a bit of TLC for your gearing and a savvy selection of cassette will often save you the embarrassment of oily hands on your new bar tape.
Well - This isn’t a given for the pros, but, really, we couldn’t countenance setting off for an epic self-supported without a bit of basic tooling. Bring that pump, pack a multi tool, sneak a spare tube into your saddle pack just in case. Nothing is less epic than ringing your nearest and dearest for help getting home because you forgot to bring tyre levers.
Again - The WorldTour riders are never going to turn up to race with the latest SKS mudguards, but if you’re headed out in winter, you’ll stand a better chance of bringing some friends along for your one-day epic if you make sure you’re not going to be giving them a Belgian shower of topsoil and spray. Be popular, be practical, be a mudguard person.
7. Consider A Service.
Perhaps it's time for the Spring Clean approach? Bikes sat up in sheds and un-loved since their last ride have a habit of developing niggles to let you know how much they disapprove of you neglecting them. Also - well loved bikes need a little TLC after taking you through the pitted roads and salted splendour of January.
Maybe, think about straightening the wheels before pointing the handlebars to the horizon!
So - got those ticked off? Hopefully you can think about getting your bike out into the inclement weather for a brutal and Belgian inspired bike ride. All that’s left is for you to plot a route and plough your way into that headwind for 300km. Enjoy!