Winter Bicycle Fears

As a recent transplant from the South, I’m attempting to embrace this whole "riding bicycles in the rain" thing. It hasn’t been too bad, it’s also been awful, and I think I’m learning a lot about what makes it endurable for me – with the help of things like a hat and glasses! However, my poor bicycle is taking a hit.

When I arrived here in June, I had recently gone through a very emotional downgrading of my bicycle stable from six bikes to two. Gone are my BMX bike, my vintage cruiser, my cross bike and my commuter bike. I crossed the country with my road bike and my mountain bike, and have been converting my road bike into something more commute-friendly. Additions have included a decent front light, a bell, and fenders, oh my god, fenders.

I took a look at my road bike this weekend as it sat in my living room, and felt this creeping fear sneak under my skin. There’s bright orange surface rust on my chain. There’s so much grit caked around my bottom bracket it looks like it’s foaming at the mouth. Tiny bits of leaves and dirt are so plentiful you can’t read the once beautiful LeMond decals on my frame. And my rims and tires are a disgusting milky grey from who knows what. This is my deepest fear; my bike is sick and it might die this winter if I continue like this.

Do you share this fear? I know at its core my bike is just a combination of steel tubes and a few moving parts but I like it best when it functions and makes me feel like I’m flying. I want to keep my bike happy so it can keep me happy. So here is my winter intervention! I’ve asked around for tips to help my bike (and thus myself) survive winter riding in this great rainy city! This is definitely not an exhaustive list, so help fill in the gaps by adding your tips in the comments!

1. Apply Herbicide – if you live in an apartment type place like me then you don’t have a hose and maybe you also perform all of your bicycle maintenance in your bathtub. A good way to get some of the excess grit off in this situation is by using one of those herbicide applicators filled with water. Squirt down your bike outside before dirt dries on. Just mind any area where excessive pressure could end up sending water inside your frame.

2. Keep it Simple – cleaners like Simple Green are great at removing some of the dried gunk. A wet sponge will help get your frame clean with minimal damage your bike’s beautiful paint job.

Not recommended: cleaning your bike in the shower. Water gets everywhere and the debris clogs the drain.

3. Baby Teeth– a baby tooth brush, the smallest you can find, can get in some of the small crevasses around the bottom bracket, etc.

4.  Chain Lube – I hear this is key and very different from WD40, but it won’t save you if you’re not removing all the buildup before reapplying!

5. Hauling – At some point a good overhaul is in order. Take everything apart, clean it real well and put it back. Or take your bike to your local bike shop and have it done professionally. Nothing like a job done right from top to bottom.

Also, for good measure, here are a few things that have not worked well for me:

-Washing my bike in the bathtub – water gets everywhere and the debris clogs the drain.
-Shaking my bike really hard before bringing it inside my building – this does nothing but loosen my fenders.
-Using a hair dryer to dry my bike – might have been better if there wasn’t so much heat involved.
-Using cardboard to get grease buildup out of my cassette – I end up with soggy cereal box shrapnel in between the gears. It was a bad idea.

Do you have some experience in successful winter bicycle preventative maintenance? What's worked? What has left you thinking, "I shouldn't have done that."

Share! Let’s keep the bicycles alive and spinning this winter!

Let’s give our bikes some TLC to keep them alive and spinning this winter!

Ellison Fidler's picture
Ellison Fidler