Prepping And Caring For Your Bike In Winter

This is the third in a four part series on riding a bike to work in winter. Previous articles covered why you should bike in winter, and how you should prepare yourself for winter riding. Today’s post is on how to prepare and take care of your bike.

Picture of riding a bike in the snow
Biking in the winter is the new normal … at least for the next few months.
Photo by Carlos Felipe Pardo.

As I write this post, there is a discussion taking place on one of the Linked In bicycle commuting forums about making winter commuting “normal.” One commenter pointed out that changing with the seasons is normal, and it’s true. Getting ready to ride your bike in the winter is similar to getting ready to drive your car in winter…only it is easier and a lot less expensive!

Winter Preparation

Sensible people spend time and money winterizing their cars: install snow tires; check antifreeze, windshield washer, wiper blades, and battery; apply a coat of wax; find the ice scraper, etc. A little preparation for your bike is called for as well.

It’s well worth your time to drop your bike off at your local bike shop for a tune up. They can check to make sure you’re  in tip top shape and adjusted for winter; they can also make sensible recommendations for equipment based on your climate and general winter conditions. If you’ve gone through a long dry summer without fenders, have them installed now — they are a must have item for slushy days.

If you have been riding with toe straps or clipless pedals, now is the time to consider whether you should swap them out for a pair of mountain bike pedals. You will likely encounter ice and struggling to unclip while you are sliding can make a disconcerting experience (slipping) dangerous (falling).

You should also make sure your bike is outfitted with working lights and reflectors. It will be dark, it may be snowing, and drivers may have partially fogged windows. Park your bike by the road at night with lights on and look at it from a block away. If you have any trouble seeing your bike, get more lights and more reflectors.

Winter Cleaning and Maintenance

Everytime the weather clears up for a few days here in Salt Lake City, the carwashes are bumper to bumper with people removing the salt and grime from their cars. Cleaning your bike is easier, but no less important.

In winter, slush can deposit a surprising amount of dirt and salt on your chain and sprockets. This grit can wear out your spockets and rust can make links of your chain seize up, causing you to work harder, make more noise, and even make your chain fall off. It pays to regularly clean, degrease, and lube your drive train. Use a brush and warm soapy water to get into the teeth, links, and deraileur to remove grime (the cleaner Simple Green is also a good degreaser), then wipe clean and apply lubricant to the chain and shift through the gears.

Road grit is especially hard on your rims and brake pads. While your wheels are likely made of aluminum and not subject to rust, you will want to clean them often (not with anything greasy!). Leaving road grit on your brake pads is like rubbing them with sandpaper and it will weaken your wheels.

Stocking Up for Winter

Sensible people emergency supplies in their car: a blanket, shovel, sand, road flares, chocolate bars, brandy, etc. Bicycle preparation is not so involved, but you may want to throw some extra batteries, and a lighter (to unfreeze your bike lock) in your bag. I always start winter with a check that I have bus tokens, just in case I get stuck.

Riding in winter is not an extreme sport. Basic, normal preparations can help you have a pleasant and safe commute whatever the season.

Question: What preparations you you make when the season changes? 

2 thoughts on “Prepping And Caring For Your Bike In Winter

    1. I’ve heard good things about studded tires from people who ride in icy places or on packed snow. Salt Lake streets get cleared well, so I’ve never used them myself. I suggest asking winter commuters in your area; your local bike shop should be able to point you to some local bike advocates or clubs.

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