To be a bike rider in the current era is to suffer under the weight of options: there is altogether too much choice. And as marketing companies make and mine niches in a bid to move more units, we’re served whole bowls of new brands, bikes and categories we have no room to consume. But while there’s almost certainly nothing new under the sun, there is social media - new wave maker and culprit of our current confusion.
It’s never been so easy to get to market. And although cycling isn’t alone in suffering an onslaught of new product (witness Instagram's Death by a Thousand Ultimate Travel Backpacks), we do seem to be somewhat off-axis. But while the industry suffers an existential crisis, spinning in circles like a compass placed too close to a magnet, there is one bike that remains the same rain and shine: the winter hack.
You can call them gravel, groad, cross or even all-road bikes, but in the UK, they are winter hacks - all-weather off-season brutes, built with finesse and fenders (mudguards, of course). Each year, the hack is dusted down, oiled, tweaked and tutted over. In garden sheds and gas-warmed garages across the land, careful hands trace the dings and scratches from season's past, anticipating the deep plunge to come. Bolts and bearings are checked and re-checked. The air smells somewhat of WD-40.
A winter commuter, grocery shopper and gravel mover, the hack is a specialist in all styles. It can even make a good show on the road when salt has your best bike holed up at home with a cappuccino and a copy of Rouleur. But above all, it’s old reliable, and no niche will ever change it.
For your by-the-fire pleasure, read on for a rundown of our favourite winter hacks. We’ve undoubtedly missed your favourite off the list, so make sure to add a comment at the bottom with your addition.
Condor Fratello Disc
Fast tourer or winter trainer, Condor’s Fratello can do it all. And now it’s available with discs, which makes it better suited to the off-season. A beloved bike made by a beloved London brand, the Fratello is an impeccable all-rounder, built with custom-shaped Columbus Spirit tubing and a carbon fork that boasts neat cable routing. Mudguards and panniers are well-catered for. We built one up on Condor’s site with Tiagra, TRP and Mavic, topped with a Condor-branded cockpit and a Brooks saddle, and the price remained reasonable for such capable performer. A frame-only option is also available.
Head over to Condor’s site to learn more.
Surly Midnight Special
Owned by US behemoth Quality Bicycle Products, with their garage band aesthetic, Surly nevertheless do an excellent job of connecting with their active community of riders, and independent bike dealers around the world. The Midnight Special is a well-crafted ’Road Plus bike designed to provide comfort and speed on those all-day rides that extend well beyond fresh pavement.’ Fitted out with WTB’s 650b 47s hanging off TIG-welded, 4130 CroMoly, double-butted triangles, the Special sports a dependable, if not exciting cockpit and cranks. But what you do get is a go-anywhere, do-anything machine that has Winter Hack / Commuter King written all over it. We only wish it came in darker hues.
Details can be found over on Surly’s website.
Pelago Stavanger Outback
Available in a stunning metallic grey that alone is almost worth the price of admission, the Stavanger by Finnish brand Pelago is a long distance adventure bike, optimised for gravel paths and trekking. Built with flared handlebars (all the better to bikepack with) around a 4130 Cro-Moly frame and a handsome lugged 4130 Cr-Mo fork, the sensible kit list includes 2x10 Tiagra, TRP and notably, Schwalbe’s G-ONE Folding Tyres. An all-weather canvas saddle is a nice touch. With so many bikes kitted out with variations of the same spec competing for the same buyer, good looks are essential; for our money, the Stavanger in grey with black finishing kit could tip the balance.
Brother Cycles Kepler Disc
Real life brothers Will and James may have spent their formative years building and restoring custom vintage bicycles in and around their native London, but the Kepler Disc is a thoroughly modern machine, well-matched for the challenges of commutes, canal paths and cow-time - that which occurs when you cross paths with an uppity herbivore at four in the morning.
Built out with…you guessed it, a 4130 Cr-Mo frame matched to a smart uni-crown fork, the Kepler boasts deep Alex rims laced to Formula sealed bearing hubs - a nice touch considering the Kepler’s daily bread. The ever-popular TRP Spyre brakes stand ready to pull you up at a moment’s notice.
The Aqua colour is tasty.
Find out more over at Brother Cycles.
All-City Gorilla Monsoon
Smoothly fading from tangerine dream to everyday orange, the Gorilla Monsoon by US brand All City is a ‘choose your adventure’ all-road machine that’s as agreeable as French toast. Based on All City’s famed cross bikes, the Monsoon totes a Swiss Army knife feature set that includes front and rear rack and fender mounts, Surly-8 and 24-Pack rack compatibility, stealth dropper post routing, three water bottle mounts (three??) and roomy 27.5 x 2.4” tyre clearance. Packaged with sealed bearing hubs as a complete build, SRAM Apex, a smattering of Salsa and WTB’s excellent Riddler tyre, the Monsoon, like a lot of the bikes here, makes use of 4130 double-butted CroMoly tubes, but distinguishes itself with an attractive lugged fork - very nice!
Shimmy over to All-City to learn more.