Caring For Your Bike During Winter Riding

For many riders snow doesn’t mean an end to the riding season. Whether you ride in the white stuff for recreation or commute on sloppy roads and sidewalks; your bike is going to need some extra care to survive the winter. The combination of cold, moisture (or ice), and worst of all salt can wreak havoc on virtually every part of your bike. Here are some tips to help your bike survive winter.

Spencer Bike

Reduce Your “Exposure”
One strategy to beat winter conditions is to use simple (more affordable) components on your bike. Suspension parts are particularly vulnerable and particularly expensive. For most winter riding they are unnecessary. Swapping your nice suspension parts for a rigid setup is common practice and can save you significant bucks.

Another area to consider is your brakes. Disc brakes tend to perform better than rim brakes in adverse conditions. This is because the rim is down in the muck while the disc is much higher. Mechanical disc brakes can be a great option for the winter as some hydraulic brakes perform poorly in the cold. Also, mechanical disc brakes are generally more affordable to purchase and maintain.

Your drivetrain is the area that suffers the most during the winter.  We’ll tell you how to protect it later, but even with the best care these parts are going to get worked. If you have a high-end drivetrain like Shimano’s XTR or Sram’s XX1 consider putting more affordable parts on for the winter. It may sound crazy to buy new parts just for the winter but could be a smart investment. Those top-level parts are around $1000 and more modest offerings are around $300, you can do the math.

greaseGrease (and lube) is Cheap
A very good bike mechanic once told me “grease is cheap” in response to how much I should use on my bottom bracket. His philosophy was to apply liberally and wipe off any extra, better to have too much than too little. While this isn’t always true, it certainly is in the winter. Here are some lubricating tips to keep your bike moving.

  • In the summer a light coating of lube on the chain is ideal; in the winter you shouldn’t be afraid to slather it. The extra lubricant will help protect your chain from rusting. Also, the extra moisture your bike is facing in the winter tends to wash the lube off more rapidly. Consider using a heavier wax based lube if you don’t want to lube as often.
  • A teflon lubricant like Tri-Flow, Finish Line, or Liquid Silk should be applied to your cables and housings regularly during winter. Also, premium (coated) cables and housings make a big difference.
  • A healthy coating of grease should be applied to all bearings and interfaces (headset, bottom bracket, hubs, etc.). Even sealed bearings deserve a layer of grease to act as additional protection from water penetration and to keep them from seizing into your frame.
  • A fresh coat of grease on your seatpost at the start of winter can prevent your post from being seized in your frame next spring.

Thaw it Out or Leave it on Ice
This is the great debate, to thaw or not to thaw. Thawing allows you to get all the snow off your bike and ideally dries out any moisture trapped in housings or other parts of the bike. The drawback to this thaw happens when your bike does not completely dry out. The trapped moisture will freeze next time you ride causing problems.

The benefit to leaving your bike cold (but sheltered) is that the ice and snow on your bike stays frozen and does not seep inside. By keeping your bike cold it stays in the same state instead of going through a freeze thaw cycle. Regardless of which method you use it is a good idea to give your bike regular maintenance in the winter.

Plan on a Spring Overhaul
No matter how rigorous your winter maintenance is you will want to do an overhaul of your bike in the spring. This overhaul will make sure that all the salt and grime are removed from your bike, an essential step to preventing further corrosion.  All your components will be cleaned, properly re-lubricated, and adjusted. Do it yourself, or leave it to us, just don’t skip it.


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