3 Tips for Getting your Bike Through the Winter Commuting Season

So you are hardcore enough to brave the elements this winter and ride to work.  Good for you!  It’s so much more difficult to motivate yourself to ride in the morning when you know that Mother Nature is not going to gently embrace you with a thousand warm kisses of the sunrise.  No instead, during these commutes you will be slapped repeatedly across the face and made to feel as if someone is throwing fistfuls of razorblades at you with deadly, ninja-like accuracy.  So if you are powering through, good for you, be proud, you are truly awesome.

Here is the deal though… you need to say thank you to your most loyal of friends, your trusty metal steed for braving the weather with you.  In fact, you may not realize it, but your bicycle is taking almost as much punishment (if not more depending on how well you are at crossing ice patches) as you are.

3 tips for getting your bike through the winter commuting season:

1.  Cleanliness

I’m from the Midwestern United States, and around these parts we use a nasty combination of sand and salt and even an ice melting solution on the roads pretty much all winter.  This stuff wreaks havoc on all sorts of parts of a bicycle.  The chain, the brake pads, the wheels, the frame…left unattended, I’m confident that my bike would slowly melt into a puddle of shiny goo a la Terminator 2 (only without reforming into an evil robot from the future).

Every day you should wipe down your bike after you are done commuting.  If you don’t have a solution to use (I prefer Simple Green) just go with warm water and a little soap.  Wash your rims; wipe down the underside of your frame (if not the entire frame, at least get the parts where there is clear splash back.  It’s pretty much a given that at the end of a long winter you will need to at least invest in a new chain and brake pads (not a guaranty, but a might as well assume so just so you aren’t surprised).  Even though I expect to have to replace it I still give my chain a clean by holding a rag around it and gently spinning it through.  I only apply new lube every other ride…it’s up to you really, because after you clean your chain it could probably use lube every day.  But I’m stingy and my commuter is a beater.

2.  Be Prepared

In the summer I carry a small pump, patch kit, tire wrenches, and a multi-tool.  During winter I carry a lot more.

During winter riding, you can quickly find yourself in situations that could present more problems than just having to walk your bike a bit…you don’t want to be broken down in freezing temperatures with no way to fix something.

Make sure you know how to repair your chain, brake lines and pads, and change flats.  If your chain allows for it, carry a master-link or two for quick repairs. Also consider carrying extra brake pads.  The stuff they put on roads gets all over your rims and then of course your brake pads…the can corrode fast.  For winter, I recommend a self sticking patch kit, as opposed to the standard vulcanized patches I use during warmer months.  I am never confident they will save a tube indefinitely, but they will at least allow me to re-inflate and get to my destination and out of the elements faster than waiting on glue to dry.  I also highly recommend fenders.  When it’s warm, I don’t mind getting wet from rain…in fact I kind of like watching the water spin off my tires, but winter is a different story.  Fenders also help save your frame and components.

3.  Ice is Slick

It’s a common misnomer among drivers as well, fatter tires don’t mean much on ice.  You might be inclined to think a mountain bike is better for a winter commute, and while that may be true sometimes, I feel that most of the time it isn’t.  With less contact surface area on the road, I feel like my road bike slips more than my mountain bike.  My skinny tires can carve through snow and slush like a knife, while my 29er Monster Bike tends to slide from side to side all the time.

However, keep in mind that snow and slush are very different from ice.  It’s darker in the morning during winter, the road is dark, and ice can appear to be just a bit of wetness on the road until…whoops…I fell over.  If it’s below freezing, assume there will be ice on your commute.  Like Wiggo or the Missile, try to hold your line and ride straight as much as possible.  Find a place in the lane where you are comfortable and stay in that spot.  Don’t jerk or swerve or even change lanes if you don’t have to.  It takes a little more self-control in the winter to hold the lane, but it’s more critical than ever, in my opinion.

When you make your turns don’t try to ride like you are racing a kit…leaning into it will typically not go well if you hit even a small patch of ice.  However if you stay upright and turn with your handlebars, you should have a much better chance at staying upright.

Like I said, if you are powering through the nasty cold weather, good for you! It is a little bit of a different ball game to commute in the winter months, but if you can follow these few suggestions you should come out a stronger cyclist in the spring.  Be careful, take care of yourself and your bicycle, and you will be just fine.

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