Winter Gravel: Setup Guide with Recommendations from Aaron

Winter Gravel: Setup Guide with Recommendations from Aaron

Aaron Johnson CEO Aaron Johnson CEO
6 minute read

Hey there, fellow gravel enthusiasts! I'm excited to share some insights with you, especially for those who, like me, enjoy the thrill of winter gravel biking. With a few decades of gravel riding experience under my belt, I've learned a thing or two about setting up the perfect winter gravel bike. Not only that, but I also conducted winter survival training with the USMC many years ago.  However, this article is less about survival techniques and more about easy things you can do to keep riding in the winter.  So, let's dive into it!

Winter is Here!

Winter is here, and while others are cozying up indoors or putting their road bikes on turbo trainers, I'm gearing up for the most epic conditions of the year. Why? Because I've got my trusty gravel bike, and believe me, it's its time to shine.

Unique Features of a Gravel Bike

The features that make gravel bikes stand out are exactly what you need for winter riding. Disc brakes that handle the wet with ease, frame routing for dynamo-powered lights, and braze-ons for lights and fenders – it's all there. The frame clearance for larger tires, even with fenders, and those chunky tires with impressive traction are a game-changer. They empower me to tackle gravel backroads and levees when the rain is pouring, visibility is low, and the asphalt is treacherous.

Other Bicycles Work Too

Even though I am mostly a gravel rider, this article also includes Mountain Bikes.  Mountain Bikes and Fat Bikes are also excellent equipment you can use with confidence in the winter.  My favorite is a hard tail mountain bicycle with extra large tires to help cushion those hidden rocks underneath the snow.  


Rider having fun in the snow with his mountain bike during a winter gravel ride.

(Mountain bicycles are perfect for some winter gravel fun)


If you're new to winter gravel riding, here are a few tweaks to make to your setup, along with some advice from my years of experience. Don't forget to check out our winter outfitting guide coming soon.

Be Ready for Wet With Fenders

Winter rain and snow can turn roads into a mess. The wide tire patch of your gravel bike may pick up a lot of that nastiness and spray it all over you. Luckily, most gravel bikes come with fender mounts. Fit as wide a fender as your bike allows, and you'll redirect the spray away from yourself and anyone riding behind you. Consider changing to tires with a tread pattern designed for water channeling in extremely wet conditions and, if you haven't already, go tubeless to avoid dealing with frozen tubes on a chilly ride.

I don't have a preference for fenders.  The only criteria for me is the attachment to the seat post or the seat stays.  Usually, I prefer the fender that attaches to the seat post because they are super easy to adjust and very affordable. 

(Attachable Fenders are perfect to hit the wet and muddy trails)

Be Ready for Dark

With shorter days and overcast skies, visibility is key. Invest in reliable lights for both front and rear. Whether rechargeable or dynamo-hub powered, these lights ensure you're visible to others on the road.

Without a doubt, the best light on the market is the niterider lumina.  (Links are only for recommendations and not affiliate)  I have used variations of this light for 10 years now.  Starting way back with the niterider 200.  The charge lasts a very long time, adjustable intensity, and it takes a charge for up to 4 years.  Solid batteries inside these lights that don't die out after a few years. 

image of bicycle light called the niterider.

(The Niterider Lumina is my go-to light for a decade now)


Be Ready for Cold

For those bitter cold days, or if you're hitting the road at dawn, set up your gravel bike for comfort and safety. Pogies on the handlebars keep your hands warm without sacrificing control, and textured bar tape helps maintain grip even in numb fingers or wet conditions.  Or, you can read our article, How To Dress For Winter Riding for more information. 

Really, it is all about layers of clothes.  Sometimes, I would even ride with regular winter jackets.  See, this is where some people make a mistake.  They believe they need to purchase some very expensive cycling clothing for winter riding, and you don't.  If you already have a winter jacket, there you go, job done.  Remember, we are not racing here, we are just getting outside and enjoying nature.  

Be Ready for Mud

Muddy backroads can be a messy delight. Swap to knobby tires for better traction, especially when climbing muddy surfaces. Consider a dropper post for enhanced bike control and safety during descents on sloppy tracks.

image of a dirty mountain bike after a winter gravel ride

(Mud, the giver of fun! I just spray it off with a hose)

One Last Thing

All this preparation requires extra layers, lighting gear, and a dry place to store it. If you haven't already, invest in a good front handlebar bag for your bicycle.. It's a game-changer for winter riding, allowing you to pack essentials and keep them within easy reach.  You can also use a frame bag, but the front handlebar bag from GoGrava is near perfect for these sort of adventures.  

One Last, Last Thing

Have fun with it!  Take out your coffee camping stove or just build a mini fire on the side of the trail.  Sometimes just a few twigs and rocks will do.  Go out later in the afternoon and take a swig of some belly warming spirits.  We are riding slow here, enjoying the empty trails, and getting outside when most people are inside.  Don't worry about how dirty you are getting, just spray the bicycle off with the hose when you get home.  I have never ruined a bicycle or the bearings by spraying it down with water after a dirty ride.  


Here's to many more winter gravel adventures – see you on the trails!

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