16th January 2017. For the cyclist, winter presents many challenges ? some of them are good, and yet some of them not quite so fun! Pushing yourself to keep cycling your usual distance even when it's cold out can help you to build up toughness and endurance you would miss out on otherwise. It's also a good time of year to work on improvements in your fitness, rather than succumbing to the desire to stay indoors. However, on the days when you decide to take your bike out instead of hitting the spin machine, there's no telling just what kind of conditions you'll face. While it's important for you to prepare yourself physically for winter biking, your bicycle is going to need some TLC as well. Why? Throughout most of the year, the most maintenance you probably need to worry about is changing your chain every once in a while. Perhaps you might need a new tyre, or to patch an old one. However, the outdoor conditions during the winter place a much different kind of strain on many parts of your bicycle. If you want to emerge during the spring thaw on a bike that's still in excellent shape for a new year of riding, you'll need to know how to take good care of its components. Let's dig into some of the essential tips and tricks for winter bicycle care and alert you to maintenance you might potentially need.
What to do before the winter begins
If you take some simple first steps before the mercury starts its downward slide, you can make your life much easier later in the winter. Firstly, invest in a pair of mudguards for your bicycle. They should fit your model snugly; while they may not be the most aesthetically pleasing addition, they'll dramatically reduce road spray. When you're trying to stay warm and dry out on your ride, that's an essential feature. Swap out your summertime tyres for some which are thicker and better suited to the rigours of winter cycling. You're likely to encounter more debris and grit under the snow, so preventing punctures if possible is the preferable choice. While you're modifying your bike for winter, check to make sure you have proper lighting. Because winter often means spending time cycling in the dark of the early morning, you'll want to ensure you're highly visible to anyone else on the road. Consider keeping your saddlebag prepped with the tools you might need to patch a hole in your tyre or perform some other basic maintenance on the road. Sometimes a breakdown can occur even when you take precautions, and no one wants to be stuck walking their bike back home in the cold. Finally, before the winter begins, do a quick look over all the main components of your bike. Do you see any rust or damage that could worsen over the winter? If so, you'll want to fix that with a tune up now instead of later. Now, what should you concern yourself with during the actual winter season? If you live where it snows ? well, there's your answer! Slushy ice and snow are going to be your main adversary throughout the colder months.
Slush and salt: the enemy of every bike
No matter how much or how little it snows, the roads are always going to end up as a wet, slushy mess. Especially if you live in an area where they use salt for de-icing roads in the winter, you'll need to change up your cycling routine to include a significant amount of cleaning. While those mudguards you added will help, you're still going to pick up a lot of slush. As it gets caked into your spokes, sprockets, and chains, it begins to melt ? leaving behind all the dirt, grit, and other abrasive particles it picked up along the way. Combined with the salt from the road and you have a recipe not just for rust but for serious damage to your drivetrain. Therefore, the number one thing you should be doing at the end of every run is cleaning off your bicycle. Using warm water and a mild soap can help you to clean the grit out after snow deposits it on your bike. After each ride, though, try to scrape away as much of the slush as possible. The more you remove now, the less you'll have to worry about later. Do you use a multi-speed bicycle? Pay extra special attention to your gears. The more speeds you have, the tinier nooks and crannies damaging grit can enter. Therefore, some pros suggest switching to single speed cycles in the winter; they're easier to ride in winter conditions, and they require less disassembly and cleaning.
Proper lubrication prevents problematic breakdowns
Cleaning out the gritty residue left over from melting slush isn't the only thing you need to do during the winter, though. If you just clean it but don't re-lubricate all the moving parts, the friction is going to wear down something important eventually. That's how you find yourself miles from home with an unexpectedly snapped chain or sprockets that refuse to engage. Therefore, it's important to invest in quality lubricants for these parts. After cleaning, ensure you lubricate thoroughly and then test for freedom of movement. If possible, avoid storing your bike outside; that allows you to maintain some control over the conditions it faces. Of course, wear can still happen. Having a tool such as a chain inspector so you can check to see whether or not it's in need of replacement, is a good idea. Pay close attention to your brakes in the winter as well. This is another place where damaging elements can sneak in under your notice. Overall, you should be doing a deep cleanse and lube job every few weeks during the winter. If you find that you're still suffering ill effects, try going up to every week ? or visit your local bicycle shop for aid in diagnosing the issue.
Take care to examine every part of your bike at winter's end
While it might sound simple at first ? clean your bike, avoid letting slush and ice accumulate, lube your parts ? it adds up to a lot of maintenance over the entire winter. As mentioned, though, it can save you from a hefty repair bill in the spring. Even so, no one is perfect; there's always the chance that you'll miss a spot or that a problem will develop without noticing. Therefore, it's just as important to give your bike a thorough once-over when winter is ending as it is during the start of the season. Before you reach that point, though, consider the value of giving your bike a thorough scrub-down indoors once or twice a month in winter. This extra maintenance will get it away from the cold temps and allow you to use plenty of light to see where you need to clean. If you avoid letting anything build up for too long, your bicycle should be OK. Don't be afraid to strip it down for an overhaul when things warm up, though. Taking apart your drivetrain and inspecting your sprockets and cassette will let you spot any signs of real winter damage. Believe it or not, winter could catch up with you in the summer if you aren't careful! It can take months for the damage accrued in winter to reach the point of causing an equipment failure. However, vigilance and smart cleaning habits can mitigate that risk and keep you riding safely and in style.
Be vigilant, brave the cold, and enjoy winter riding!
While winter bicycle care can turn out to be a lot of work ? especially if you ride a multi-speed cycle ? the result is worth your time. When the spring comes, you won't be facing a hefty repair or overhaul bill down at your local bike shop. Instead, with hopefully just a little extra elbow grease and perhaps a replacement chain, you can resume your regular riding schedule without worry. By the time the temperatures warm back up, we're sure you'll be glad you won't need to scrape slush out of your spokes anymore. Follow these tips, keep a close eye on your bike, and enjoy the challenge of riding in the cold. The snow won't be slowing you down! Follow @SportNessUK