Thursday, November 16, 2006

Winter Cycling - Conclusion

Equipment and Maintenance

Winter tires should have more aggressive tread because it's more likely they'll be used on wet roads. Also, it's a good idea to run larger tires, partly because they're a little more resistant to flats and because they have a larger contact patch when they're run at lower pressures. The front tire should be the better of the two. The contact patch under it is roughly the size of a thumbprint (for a road bike), and it provides nearly all your steering and braking. I'm assuming you know how to brake hard and can do a quick stop maneuver on dry pavement.

Inspect your tires carefully before every ride. This cannot be emphasized enough. Having a flat is annoying but when it’s cold and wet, a flat tire can be a real pain-in-the-ass. Fixing one with numbed fingers is difficult. So check your tires!

We teach the “ABC Quick Check” in Road1. A is for air. See that your tires are properly inflated. Before a winter ride, give them a spin to look for worn spots, bulges, or anything else that could force you to walk home. B is for brakes. See that there’s at least a thumb’s width of clearance between the lever and the handlebar. C is for cranks and chains. Check to see that your pedals are threaded all the way into the crankarm, and that the crank itself doesn’t exhibit any looseness. See that the chain is on the cogs and chainring. Finally, ‘Quick’ means to check that your quick releases are properly closed.

Carry a plastic bag to cover your saddle if it's exposed to the weather. There's nothing that compares to the discomfort of sitting on a cold, wet saddle at the end of the day, especially when the body parts that come in contact with it aren't really accustomed to being cold and wet.

Fenders keep the grunge factor down and really improve riding on wet pavement. You still get wet, but at least you don't get filthy too. Without fenders, your own tires throw up quite a lot of road grime.

Be aware that exposed cables can allow grit to enter the cable housing. It's almost impossible to stop without going to fully-enclosed cable runs, like on a cyclocross bike. You'll probably have to remove and lubricate your cables in the spring, but then again, it's a good practice to replace them regularly too. Take that as an opportunity.

My normal commuter bikes have steel frames, and as we all know, steel will rust. Worse, it will rust from the inside out. Rain and condensation can get inside a frame and destroy it. So if you ride steel bikes, consider applying a rust proofing material like Frame Saver, Amzoil MPHD, or even used motor oil to the inside of your frame. Additionally, I've drilled small weep holes at the low point of the bottom bracket, allowing condensation to escape.

Having a second or ‘beater’ bike for winter riding is a good practice. If it’s ridden in bad weather, it will still require regular maintenance just like any other bike. The difference is that a beater bike can be less expensive to maintain. My ‘good’ bike has top-quality components that will last a long time, especially if I avoid subjecting them to winter road grime. My beater bike has a cheap coaster bike chain that I’ll throw away in the spring. In fact, most of the components like brake pads, cables, and tires are expendable. I don’t expect them to last more than a year.

Keep your chain, cassette, and chainrings clean and lubricated. I won’t go into a long, boring discussion of chain lubricants. Suffice it to say that keeping it clean and lubed will make it last far longer, as well as make for rides free of annoying squeaks. Clean and lube after the bike has been ridden in the rain, or after a good cleaning. There have been times my beater bike is so grungy I’ve taken it to the car wash for cleaning. That requires immediate chain maintenance afterward.


Just like summer riding, winter cycling is an activity that requires some time for your body to adapt. If you’ve never tried it, limit your first rides to short distances so if you have a problem with equipment or weather, you won’t be caught somewhere in the boonies.

One cold winter morning, I arrived at work and two co-workers asked about cold weather commuting. They thought I was slightly crazed for riding in the cold, but minutes later they were discussing their upcoming ski trip to Colorado. To my way of thinking, both skiing and winter cycling are enjoyable cold weather activities, but the big difference is that I don’t have to stand in lift lines. And ANY kind of outside activity is better than sitting on the couch watching sports on television.

So get out there! Have some fun, and be a stronger, faster, more confident cyclist when spring arrives.


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