Our January 2013 issue celebrates winter in all its empty trailed, muddy tyred glory. We’ve given our rundown of the top ten winter rides, tested a selection of clothes designed to keep you warm and dry whilst out on the trails along with a selection of the best tyres for winter conditions. We’ve also given our tips for setting up your suspension and improving your technique over mud and puddles. Last but not least – we made our very own winter hacker bike, because who wants their pride and joy getting trashed on sloppy trails?
You see dozens of hack bikes on the trails in the winter: aging hardtails fitted with recycled components. They’re cheap, simple, and it doesn’t matter if they get trashed. But is it really worth stopping riding your best bike? After all, a winter on your pride and joy may only cost you a few quid in spares come the spring. To see if the hack bike is a viable option, we tried one for ourselves and picked up a second-hand bike on eBay, made some winter modifications and put it to the test — all for under £200.
There were literally hundreds of mountain bikes for sale on eBay but we had a specific need: it had to be cheap. £100 cheap. We’d have liked a known brand but any decent, comfy frame would do. We’d also have liked disc brakes, a suspension fork, an Aheadset and a good set of wheels. And we didn’t want to drive to Manchester to get it.
What we got was a 15-year-old Marin Muirwoods. It cost £52 from a man in Worthing. Being steel, it wasn’t light, but hopefully it’d tick the compliance and comfort boxes. It had a seven-speed drivetrain, V-brakes and an old RockShox Judy XC suspension fork plugged into the head tube, which wasn’t original. To winterise it, we fitted mud tyres, a mudguard and a 1×7 drivetrain with a Race Face 32-tooth ring and Superstar BB-mounted chain guide. We serviced the headset and fitted a new chain and cassette. The latter were only £21 from Chain Reaction; seven-speed parts are cheap! We found an old bar and stem in the workshop and fitted a pair of Superstar grips.
The Muirwoods had a forgiving and compliant ride, though not the most immediate, due to the square tapered bottom bracket and flexy wheels. The shorter, more upright stem and deep riser bar took the edge off the steering, giving good control on slippery trails.
However, it wasn’t all good news. We’d negotiated a price for the original rigid fork and wished we’d fitted it, because the Judy XC didn’t offer the performance we’d hoped. In fact, it turned out to be really bad, with hardly any damping. The hubs were also shot and the brakes’ return springs had lost their stiffness. These problems could have been fixed with a bit more cash, but in hindsight we should have spent a bit more initially, simply because disc brakes (or at least mounts front and rear to fit them) are essential. You definitely also need a set of wheels that haven’t been totally trashed. They’re so expensive to replace otherwise.
Was it worth it?
If you put in the miles on your best trail bike in the winter, you’ll probably have to replace the chain, cassette and at least two pairs of pads. The fork or shock will need a service by the time the dry weather arrives too. Ten-speed groupset and top-end disc brakes could easily add up to more than the price of our winter hacker, although you could do a shock and fork seal service pretty cheaply and use budget brake pads.
The key difference between your good bike and our eBayer is the ride quality but, as we found out, a lot of that is down to the quality of the original purchase. We’d definitely up our initial budget, which might mean we’d have to spend less on upgrades — but we’d never be sure of that until we got the thing out on the trail. One point, though: there are plenty of hardtails with disc brakes on eBay for about £150.
Only you can decide whether taking a hit on ride quality is worth it. If you do go down the eBay route, you’ll have the winter hacker at the end of it. Stick with your best bike and you’ll knacker the cassette, chain and brake pads. Who knows… if you make some improvements, you could turn a profit when the hacker goes back on eBay.
What we added to our £52 bike:
Specialized Storm Control tyres £60 pair
Not as affordable as they used to be but they’re still the best mud tyres on the market.
Superstar chain device £12.99
Budget chain retention that works. It clamps under the bottom bracket, so is compatible with our aging frame and those similar.
Race Face 32-tooth chainring £36.95
A major expense, but there’s nothing stopping you recycling the middle ring. You may need to add some spacers to optimise the chainring/chain guide alignment.
Superstar Lock On grips £7.99
Brings this Nineties throwback into the 21st century.
SRAM 7-speed chain £9.99
You’re paying all that money for extra gears. Do you really need them?
SRAM 7-speed cassette £10.99