Bad weather, grime, and grit can grind down your bike and your patience – unless you're prepared. Here's how to get your bike ready.
1. Fit mudguards
If your bike will accommodate frame-fitting, full-length mudguards such as SKS Chromoplastics, there's no reason not to have them on your commuter bike year-round. They'll stop dirty water spraying over you and your bike, reducing laundry bills and bike maintenance. If you've got a road bike or fixie that doesn't have clearance or frame fittings for normal mudguards, SKS Raceblades or Crud Roadracers are the next best options. If you can't or don't want to fit full guards to your mountain bike, partial splash protection is much better than nothing. There are lots that fit to the seatpost, seatstays, down tube or fork crown from the likes of Mudhugger, Crud (Racepac), Mucky Nutz, Topeak (Defender), and more.
2. Change your tyres
Punctures are more common in winter. There are more potholes and more detritus on the roads. If your bike has relatively lightweight, racy tyres switch to something tougher. Tyres with a springy rubber sub-tread such as Schwalbe Marathon Plus are toughest, but a layer of Kevlar or other synthetic under the tread can be effective enough; you'll find that in Continental Gatorskins and many others. There's nothing to stop you using tougher tyres year round, incidentally. Another option is to make your tyres self-sealing. You can do that by fitting Slime innertubes or converting to tubeless tyres with a kit from, for example, Stan's NoTubes. Going tubeless requires tubeless-ready tyres and may require new tubeless-compatible wheel rims. Whatever tyres you choose, it's worth fitting wider ones if you're currently on 25mm or less and have room for something bigger. Wider tyres can be inflated to a lower pressure, putting more rubber on the road and increasing grip on wet roads. They're also less likely to pinch-puncture.
3. Check your toolkit
It's bad enough having fix your bike in the roadside cold without discovering that you've forgotten your spare innertube or finding that your pump has seized solid. Make sure you've got: one or preferably two spare innertubes; tyre levers; a functioning pump with a connector that matches your valves; a multitool; either a puncture repair kit with glue and patches or some sealant spray; and a quick-link that matches your chain. Pack some latex or nitrile gloves too. They'll keep your hands clean and less cold when you're fixing your bike, and they can be used as glove-liners (or emergency gloves) if your hands become too cold when riding. Make sure the tool kit can't be left at home by accident. It should live in your commuter bag or be attached to your bike in a seatpack or bottle cage container.
4. Be visible
Front and rear lights are a practical and legal necessity when cycling between dusk and dawn. You'll need them more in the longer nights of winter, so make sure they're charged. Take your lights with you even if you don't expect to be out in the dark. Winter days can be dismal, and in such conditions daytime running lights can help draw attention to you. Keep the lenses clean to maximise conspicuity. The same goes for reflectors. You're obliged to show a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors at night. They'll help other road users see you if your lights (and backup lights?) fade or fail.
5. Keep it clean
Cleaning your bike doesn't just prevent your hands from getting dirty if you have to fix it, it stops problems developing in the first place. If you've got rim brakes, dirt and grit can act like sandpaper on the rims. On the chain, dirt mixes with oil to form a grinding paste that wears the whole drivetrain. Salt from gritted roads can rapidly corrode steel components – especially the chain. Paint-chipped frames are also vulnerable. Periodically, and after any ride on gritted roads, rinse your bike down and lubricate it (see below). If you want to keep your frame looking smart, frame protector spray or car wax can help dirt adhering in the first place.
6. Lubricate regularly
When your bike gets, wet oil is washed off. This can leave pivot points and chain links stiff. After any properly wet ride (or washing), apply a water displacer such as WD40 or GT85 to each link of the chain as you pedal it backwards by hand. Use newspaper or a rag to protect the ground/rims/disc rotors. Light lubes like this are good for pivot points on derailleurs or brakes – but take care to protect braking surfaces! They can also be squirted into cable outers to keep cables moving smoothly, and on clipless pedal mechanisms. They're NOT a substitute for chain oil as they're not tenacious enough. After spraying the chain with a light lube, wipe off any excess, apply a good quality wet lube, then wipe of the excess again. Spending more cash and time on lubrication will mean big savings on components.
7. Check for wear and tear
Each weekend, check the tyres for bits of embedded grit, glass or thorns and remove them. If left in place, they can work inwards through the tread and into the innertube. Inspect the brake pads whenever you clean the bike, or immediately you hear a rasping noise. Sometimes grit gets caught in rim brake pads, and both rim and disc brake pads will eventually wear down to their metal backing plates. Fit new pads as needed. At least once a month, check the chain for wear. Replace as necessary. If your bike has rim brakes, keep an eye on the rim-wear indicator – a groove or dimple in the rim. Eventually (usually after years and thousands of miles) rims with a braking surface need replacing.
8. Buy another bike for winter
If you can't bear to subject the shiny components of your best bike to winter weather, leave it hanging in your garage and use another, cheaper bike instead. You can get another one through Cyclescheme. How about a budget hybrid or a singlespeed?
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