Take Care of Your Winter Bike, Sucka

Nah, Don’t Pamper It.

But, by all means, please take good care of it.

If you are brave enough to take on the streets during winter time on your bicycle, you will absolutely be brave enough to take the steps to make sure your bike keeps on working and doesn’t get lost in the excuse-not-to-ride shuffle.

Most cities, Denver included, spray stuff on the roads to make them less icy. While this is a great thing for your tires sticking, it is awful for your chain.

1. Wipe off your chain consistently. After it gets wet and/or salty, wipe it down. After it is dry, you can assess whether you need to add more lube. Lube is only needed when it is gone. It is only gone when your “dry” chain no longer looks “sweaty”.

Wet and Snowy Bike

2. Wipe off your bike, too. To emphasize the chain being wiped off, we will mention it again. Wipe off the whole bike, including your chain. This doesn’t need to be a crazy cleaning, but dry it off a bit. This will also increase your pride in ownership.

Fully pumped up tires are great because they minimize rolling resistance so you can get where you are going quickly. Checking your tire pressure on your bike (at the very least) weekly for fat tire bikes and (at the very least) every second ride on your skinny tired bike will help you get your money’s worth out of your tires. But, during the sloppy cold nasty days, we recommend:

3. Don’t pump your tires all the way to max PSI when it is gross out. The lower pressure will give you a slightly better footprint and will help with slippage. By lower pressure we mean no more than 20% under your normal preferred pressure. (Example: your Continental Travel Contacts that go to 80psi, will be pumped up to 64psi)

And lastly, we like to have a place to make our gross selves at home. Maybe the garage, maybe the sun room, maybe your kitchen. Regardless:

4. Go ahead and make a place you can leave your nasty bike. We recommend old carpet pieces. One under each wheel and one underneath your crankset. Or you could just go ahead and get one long piece. It will get gross, but at least it isn’t your floor. Thinking ahead will lead to less frustration later, we think.

Please comment your favorite tips, so that we can steal them and add them onto our list. Okay… okay… we’ll give you credit.

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6 Responses to “Take Care of Your Winter Bike, Sucka”

  1. lonefrontranger says:

    1) a light coating of cooking spray or plain vegetable / olive oil applied to the frame, cranks, pedals, fenders, etc… can do 2 things; it will help keep slush, ice and road crud from sticking to and building up on the frame, and it will act as a protectant / barrier against the salt and mag chloride on the streets. You will have to wipe down your bike more frequently if you do this, but then (as the main article stated above) you should be doing this anyway.

    2) Get (or homebrew) yourself some studded tires. Nothing works 100% of the time on black ice, but with my studded bike I’ve ridden safely on stuff like frozen ramps, slopes, hills, etc… that cars and pedestrians were having trouble with. If you are a fixie rider and your fixie has clearance to accept studs, then lower your gearing and run fixed-with-studs. It’s like traction control, and you’ll always have reliable braking; with fixed you never have to worry about rim or disc brakes icing over. That said, I run a full set of canti brakes on my winter fixie in addition to the gear, so be safe! The rim brakes add power and the gear brake adds traction & modulation.

    3) Carhartts, a parka, ski goggles and winter boots with platforms trumps every expensive piece of Gore-tex ever made. Just because you can’t afford winter cycling gear, don’t think you can’t ride. Properly rigged ski / backcountry gear is actually the best winter riding gear in my experience, and often more affordable especially from a secondhand sporting goods place here in the Front Range. Especially gloves; most cycling gloves no matter how expensive, are neither reliably waterproof nor seam-sealed. Ski gloves are.

  2. gck says:

    If you already have fenders, but no mudflaps… get mudflaps! Even if they’re “temporary” ones made out of old tires or soda bottles zip-tied to the frame. The extra six inches will not only keep you (and that guy behind you) disproportionately more clean, it will keep snow, salt, and crud from accumulating under the downtube and bottom bracket. Also, your toes will be drier and warmer after you plow through that unavoidable puddle.

    On the other hand, if you don’t already have fenders on your winter bike, I’ve got nothing to say. Except maybe, “don’t ride right in front of me.”

  3. Jonathon Finch says:

    +1 on the snow tires. Winter riding goes from squirrely to fun. The lower-end Nokians are nice. I don’t think Denver ever gets bad enough for the tires with more studs.
    Also, I’ll agree that fixies are better for winter. Don’t fool around with a freewheel with only a front brake. You absolutely need control over your back wheel, and when your rims are chunked with ice you won’t be able to slow down otherwise.

    Watch out for anything that looks like patches of sand on top of snow. Your tires will not grip that awful mess. Ice is easier to ride on than that garbage.

    If you’re going to go out in temperatures under 10F, get yourself a nice warm mask, like a PolarWrap mask. They’re cheap if you look around (less than $10), although I don’t know anyone in town that carries them.
    Those cheap balaclavas sold at Target will just get wet and sloppy and then they’ll get cold. The PolarWraps get damp after a while, but they’re always warm.

    If you have anything but cotton, wear ANYTHING but cotton. You will sweat and it will get wet and it will suck.

    If you like toe clips, invest in a pair of Powergrips or something similar. You can wear your boots with them and your toes won’t freeze off!

    Always ALWAYS carry some hand/feet warmers around. If you forgot your wool socks (don’t forget your wool socks), these will save you a lot of pain.
    Also carry around an extra nice glove, or better, a pair of nice gloves. You’re going to lose one at some point.

  4. Scott T. says:

    I also like a full faced helmet for warmth and further intimidation of cars.

  5. Allen says:

    Wool on torso, wool on toes. Once you warm up the inside with 2-3 min of spirited pedaling, you stay toasty–often overly so. I arrived at work yesterday literally covered in ice, but I was warm and comfy. I’ve chickened out on a few single digit temps this year, so I don’t know how low I can really go, but so far this year cold has not been a factor. Ice buildup on my rims yesterday made things interesting, however.
    I haven’t found any winter bike gloves that I like, but I’m now riding (sub-30 degrees) with snowboard mittens (nice ones). I thought they would be too cumbersome, but so far they’re working great.
    Swrve milwaukee jacket is amazing. Seemed expensive when I bought it, but it’s still like half the price of a good ski shell–and bike specific. Excellent investment, wouldn’t trade it for a carhardt!

  6. the_andy_special says:

    What has already been said is valuable, but i’d like to add a few things based on the experiences of a wyoming winter:

    1) Deflating your tires will be helpful, but by all means invest in a pair of “winter” tires like a set of Michelin Mud 2 or WTB Allterrainasaurus (sp?). I can’t express this enough. You don’t need studs if you have a good tread and know your bike. (spoken by a guy who rolls through 8″ drifts and black ice regularly)

    2) If you don’t know how to fix your bike yourself get a tune-up every other month and request that your crank be cleaned and your rims be tuned. Wet and cold conditions will take their toll on your hardware, don’t be afraid to learn or drop your hard earned cash on keeping your bike rolling.

    3) Wearing winter clothes is obvious, but don’t be afraid to get yourself a winter helmet. Berm and other brands make a variety of products to keep your dome cozy, but there is also the option of getting a cheap ski helmet. Remember, your odds of having a spill in the winter are higher, so be sure to find a helmet that accomodates.

    4) Always carry a plastic grocery sack in your bag. Nothing says “I just pissed my pants” like sitting on a wet seat (or pissing your pants).

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