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As the evenings draw in and you begin to feel that distinctive chill in the air, it’s time to step back, take stock, and make sure you’re prepared for the months ahead. You want to keep cycling through the winter, right? Well read on for some top tips to make sure you keep rolling till you see those snowdrops start to blossom again.
Autumn and winter can be tough times for bikes. Rain, sleet, snow and salt, all combine to take their toll on components. An unloved bike will start to rot away during these dark times, so it’s essential to at least keep on top of a bit of basic maintenance if you want to avoid a hefty repair bill next spring.
In an ideal world we'd all be allowed to keep our bikes inside, but life tends to get in the way, and gets grumpy when you leave tyre marks on the walls... so it's always best if you have a shed or garage to keep your bike out of the elements. This will mean less maintenance in the long run. While you might think leaving a bike locked outside under a tarp would keep it safe, covers like that can actually exacerbate and accelerate corrosion by trapping moisture and condensation. Our advice is to get that bike indoors by hook or by crook.
It is important to keep your chain as fresh as you can through the winter months. Riding through rain, snow, gritted roads, can leave a lot of dirt, salt etc on the chain. Even just leaving this overnight can cause the chain to rust so toughen up and give your chain a once over before you retreat to the enticing warmth of home.
If you have a degreaser, use it now to clean away all that gunk and grime. Give the chain a good rub down with a rag and then lube liberally! Use a good quality wet lube during the rainy season as it will last longer. Give your chain a good spin once the lube is applied, to ensure maximum coverage, then wipe off any excess. Having too much lube can not only lead to unsightly ‘rookie marks’, but will also attract more dirt and grit to get lodged in your chain, leading to worn bushings and quicker wear on your sprocket and chainring.
Rain and grit can have a corrosive effect on your frame and key components like wheel nuts, chainring bolts, brake bolts etc. It’s best to spray something like WD40 on these parts to displace moisture, and wipe clean. (Note!!! Do NOT use WD40 as a lubricant, it is designed to displace water, clean etc. it will wreck your chain if you use it as a lube. You have been warned!!!). Also giving your frame a wipe down with, preferably warm, soapy water, but even just a wipe down with a dry rag, will help to keep the rust at bay.
If you do find some peky rust has managed to find its way onto your bike get some very fine grade steel wool. This works a treat for removing rust and is great for polishing any chrome bits on your steed. Tip: Add lime juice to the steel wool beforehand for extra cleaning power!
Mudguards, or fenders as our American cycling brethren like to call them, do a important job in the winter, of not just keeping you dry, but keeping your bike dry too! Oft neglected for ‘ruining the aesthetic’, or being ‘for pussies’, a good set of mudguards can keep your ass, back, legs and feet dry, and also help to keep your drivetrain from getting covered in gunk! There’s a social aspect to consider as well. If you’ve ever ridden in the rain behind anyone not using a mudguard you know what I’m talking about; dirty road crap being sprayed in your face. Not Cool.
Even if you are ardently against running full length mudguards, at the very least carry around a folding or clip-on rear mudguard to help keep your ass, back, and my face dry.
Wet tyres cut up more easily than dry tyres. Wet tyres also attract more gunk, grit, glass etc. so you are far more likely to have to deal with punctures in the worst of weather. You can avoid this by swapping out your nice, lightweight, summer tyres for something with a bit more puncture protection for the winter. It might be a pain in the ass to do, but it will probably save you some heartache along the way.
It's also worth using slightly wider tyres than you normally would run in summer months. While aquaplaning is virtually impossible on a bicycle it's no harm to have more rubber on the road, and running your tyres at a slightly lower pressure will also give you a bit more grip in wet and icy conditions.
If you have the time check your tyres maybe once a week for any embedded pieces of glass and other small objects and remove them. Even small slivers can eventually make their way through your tyre if not removed.
Simple tip for fixing a puncture in the rain? DON'T! Carry a spare tube with you at all times. Swap out your punctured tube, making sure to check the inside of your tyre for any protruding glass etc. then roll home and patch that tube in front of a roaring fire while sipping on a nice glass of Teelings whiskey (our new neighbours). Top tip for carrying out roadside repairs in the rain: Carry a pair of surgical gloves with you. There's nothing worse than showing up for work or a hot date with filthy oily hands, which will have probably spread all over your face and clothes without you even noticing.
Stopping distances greatly increase in wet weather so it pays to keep a good eye on your brakes and cables through the winter. Most brake pads have a 'wear-line' on them to show when to swap them out. Aside from this you might want to check your pads after every ride on wet or gritted roads. Grit and grime can get trapped in the pads and will begin to wear away the sidewalls of your rims. Wiping down your pads every so often will prevent this. Keep checking your rims for wear as well. If you notice your rim feels very concave, or you notice any splits or cracks, it might be time for a new one. Having a rim explode under you is not an experience you want to have.
If you notice your braking feeling sluggish, it could be time for new cables. The cheapest solution is to remove your cables, clean and oil them, then replace them. If this doesn't cut the mustard replace the cables and housing. It's an inexpensive and simple job which will greatly improve your stopping power.
All the preparation and maintenance in the world can be for nothing if you don't ride sensibly in wet and wintry conditions. If you have't tried riding fixed yet it might be time to learn and see what a difference it can make in bad conditions. Being able to feel your rear wheel move under you and being able to modulate your speed with your legs accordingly makes for one of the safest riding experiences, in our humble opinion. Check our previous blog posts on the merits of singlespeed freewheel and fixed cycling.
Riding fixed or not, make sure your brake/s are in good working order. Look out for patches of wet leaves, manhole covers and drains. Don't ride through large puddles, you never know what's hidden in there! Ride a bit slower, remember it takes longer for everybody to stop in these conditions, so be aware of your surroundings and take your time. It's better to arrive late than not at all.
Don't be selfish; get yourself some decent lights. Urban centres may be well lit up, but on dark, wet evenings it can be very difficult for other road users to see cyclists in their mirrors, no matter how diligent they are. A set of good quality clip on led lights won't set you back much and will make you and everyone around you a lot safer. Think you only need a rear light? Think again! Every time you turn across traffic or pass a junction there's a possibility of collision. It's just not worth the risk.
The main thing to remember is that cycling is not just for spring and summer. With a bit of common sense, some decent winter clothing and a simple maintenance routine, there is no reason you should miss a pedal stroke no matter what the weather.
Keep it funky, and keep it rubber side down.