Prolonging the life of your bicycle requires ongoing maintenance, but it also involves spending some extra time getting it ready for the cold, wet and slippery road conditions. We offer some helpful tips below.
It’s important that you check your bicycle before taking it out for a ride. This is even more important during the winter. The League of American Bicyclists offers a helpful ABC Quick Check checklist to ensure your bike is ready for action. In short, the “A’ is for “air;” “B” is for “brakes,” and “C” is for “cranks, chain and cassette.”
Winterproof the bike
Adding mudguards to your bike is a helpful step, especially if you’re bicycling in a wet area that kicks up a lot of muck. I’ve used mudguards for years and can’t imagine bicycling without them in the winter (although they come off in the summer). They will minimize that nasty streak of dirt that forms on the back of your jacket and protect your bike’s chain and gears, which will wear out quickly if not kept clean.
Mudguards & Tires
You can find some well-priced front mudguards at Amazon. If you’re looking for front and back, SKS makes an excellent rear mudguard that you can purchase at Amazon. If you put on serious miles during the winter, you should also consider purchasing winter tires. Lowering your tire pressure (just like fat tire bike riders do) can also help improve your grip in wet conditions. We recommend Continental Top Contact Winter II tires for urban/street bicycles and the Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires. Schwalbe also makes a solid winter tire for mountain bikes. Make sure you check your rim size before purchasing tires. Keep in mind that you typically don’t need studded or special winter tires if you’re dealing with wet conditions. Special winter tires are best for areas where you expect to ride on fresh snow or icy conditions. The video below offers some helpful suggestions regarding winter cycling tires.
What type of lights should you choose? And “yes,” you should have multiple lights that provide visibility on the front, back, and side of your bicycle. In short, you need to be visible to those around you and you also need to be able to see what’s in front of you. For most urban situations, you should assume that on a rainy night, most drivers will not see you easily even with a conventional front or back bicycle light. Bicycle New England offers numerous bicycle light suggestions if you’re in the market for bicycle lights, but our rule of thumb is that you can never be visible enough. Do your best to think of yourself more like a Christmas tree on two wheels: You can never be too obnoxious in terms of how bright, flashy and multi-colored you rely on. Over the years, I’ve been particularly enamored with neon rope lights that I wrap around my bicycle frame.
Taking care of your bike is always important, but there are some things you should do to minimize the wear and tear on your bike during the winter.
- Check tires for cuts, inflation and tread wear
- After each ride out in snowy, salty conditions, wipe down your bike, making sure to get slush and snow off your rims, spokes, chain rings, cogset, chain, brake cables, cranks and frame to prevent rusting.
- Ensure your chain and gears are clean and well lubricated
- Check that your gears are moving smoothly and do not skip when pedaling
- Ensure the brakes work effectively and if you have brake pads, make sure they aren’t worn.
The more often you clean your bike, the easier and quicker the job will be. Every week or two, clean the chain, gears, cranks and wheel rims to remove built-up grease and grime. If you live in a particularly wet location, clean and lubricate your chain every few days. If you’re consistent with your weekly maintenance, you’ll reduce your long-term costs by minimizing repairs and replacements.
Some Helpful Bike Maintenance Equipment
- Q-tips for hard-to-reach areas
- Shop rags and a toothbrush
- White Lightning Degreaser
- Bicycle chain cleaner. We like this Park Tool chain cleaner the most. Park Took also makes a highly-reviewed solvent or chain cleaner as well. If you are a high mile cyclists and don’t mind paying more for your chain lubricant, you should purchase the Bike Medicine Purple Extreme lubricant.
- Always clean your chain before greasing it. The White Lightning Chain Lubricant works well, but the Park Tool solvent also works well. Scrub the solvent over your chain with a cleaning tool or toothbrush or soak the whole chain in solvent. Use Q-tips to remove stubborn clumps of grease and to get dirt and grime out of corners and holes. Drop lubricant onto each link of your chain, or run a line by spinning the chain as you pour out the oil. Use a toothbrush or cleaning tool to get the lubricant into each link and rub into areas showing signs of rust. Wipe away excess oil with a rag while spinning the chain.
- Grease. Finish Line makes a phenomenal bicycle grease product that you can use to on head sets, hubs, brackets, seat posts, etc.
Moisture will eventually damage your bicycle, especially if your roads are salted. Even though cleaning your bicycle is typically the last thing you want to do at the end of a winter ride, you should pay particular attention to the drive train (gears and chain), wheel rims and brakes. Of these, we recommend you prioritize chain care since it doesn’t take a lot to rust and subsequently destroy your chain. If you do nothing else, take a few minutes to wipe your wheel rims to remove any grit and dirt and wipe your chain off with a shop rag. Every few days, if you’re cycling in a wet area, we recommend applying the White Lightning Extreme Weather Chain Lube. This product excels in wet conditions and will help repel dirt and rain when you hit the road. Don’t forget to put a towel underneath your bike when you apply this as it will typically drip off.
Other Winter Resources
Now that you have your maintenance plan and gear in focus, don’t forget to stock up on winter cycling socks. Bicycle New England offers it’s favorite cycling socks in a “best of” list as well as some tips about how to buy the best waterproof cycling pants. As a New Englander, I would be remiss if I didn’t end a winter bicycle post with a video of winter fat biking in Maine. The video below offers some great shots of fat bike huts and trail system trip.