Winterizing your Bike

author : Mark Sunderland
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The no-excuses guide to riding outdoors in snow, wind, ice and darkness. Bring it on!

Cycling in winter:
Riding comfortably outdoors in the winter is just a matter of proper bike maintenance and gear.

by Mark Sunderland
Winter is here, so get out and ride! We are all very good at using the weather as an excuse not to ride, but who wants to ride the trainer all the time? If you want to improve and put some distance between you and your competitors, you have to do more than they do, and do it smarter than they do! The 'off-season' is the perfect time to gain the advantage!

But let's be realistic, most of us live in areas that subject us to the full bore of old man winter, and a lot of us really love our trusty steed and will do anything to protect her from harm (no, I'm not talking about your Blackberry - I'm talking about your bike!). Winterizing your bike will help protect your baby as well as allow for relatively comfortable and safe riding throughout these dark, cold months.

Biking in the snow, ice, and rain can be rough on your bike. Mother Nature’s elements can damage a frame and components. Here are some tips to prepare your ride for the cold weather and keep you riding safely through the winter:


Do NOT use WD-40 on your components! It breaks down oils and creates a very sticky coating that loves to attract dirt, sand, gravel, etc. Find a good synthetic chain lube: Tri-Flow, White Lightning, Pedro's, and Pro Link are some popular lubes. Clean your chain at least once a week with a good chain cleaner, then apply the chain lube and allow it to 'set' for a bit and then wipe off the residue with a cloth. Each time you lube your chain squirt a few drops on the front and rear derailleur pivot points. An occasional squirt at each end of the brake and derailleur cables, followed by working the brake and gear mechanisms back and forth to get the lubricant set in the housings will help keep your cables working well throughout the winter. 

If you are in a really harsh environment with a lot of snow/rain and below freezing temperatures, squirt some lubricant in all drainage holes in your frame as well as the seat post to help prevent water from freezing inside your frame.


Fat tires have better traction. Understanding the conditions you will be riding in will help determine what tires will be best. If you try to ride with skinny tires, having them slightly under-inflated in wet conditions will allow for better traction. If you’ll be riding in snow, ice, and roads with a lot of debris, consider wider tires with deeper treads. This will help alleviate flat tires, because changing a flat tire in cold weather is not fun!


There's no real need to buy rims just for your winter riding. Selecting the proper tires will help protect your rims. However, wipe down your rims regularly to remove any buildup of grime and other damaging debris.


Inspect your brake pads regularly! Wipe them down after each ride, especially when riding on messy/wet roads. Grime and other debris may build up on them and scratch your rims. 


Wipe your frame down regularly! Salt is very bad for your frame so make sure you do a quick wipe down after each ride that takes you over salted roads. 


If you will be riding through wet conditions regularly, consider investing in some fenders. The plastic ones are inexpensive and light and are the best option to keep you dry and your office chair clean. 


The winter and its conditions can drastically limit a driver's visibility so if you're going to skimp on spending money winterizing your bike, don't skimp here! Use a powerful front light and a good flashing taillight (make sure this tail light is visible and not hidden by your jackets and/or gear bags). You can find very capable lights that are not going to break the bank. One of the big differences in the lights by price are in their battery life - so if you can remember to re-charge yours each night (and even in the office), you may be able to get away with a more inexpensive model. 


This could be a whole article in and of itself! Just make sure you are prepared for the elements. You want to ensure your clothing enhances your visibility so wear something bright and with reflective strips. Layering is best to ensure you have enough warmth but still makes it easy to dress down for that lunchtime ride. Consider a scarf, neck warmer, or balaclava to protect your head and neck but make sure you can breathe comfortably. Eyewear is extremely important. Consider clear lenses for the dark rides. Just because the sun is not up doesn’t mean you don’t need eye protection from the wind and from debris flying off cars. Good windproof and/or waterproof gloves and something to protect your feet will keep you walking and typing throughout the day. 


And last but not least, if you have the luxury of owning more than just one bike (or you have a very understanding significant other and can buy one), using a mountain bike or a cyclocross bike would be ideal, as they are naturally built to handle more rough conditions. 

Ride with the conditions - ride slower, more steadily, and smoother and be aware of your surroundings. Know the angle of the sun and how it affects drivers and your visibility to them. Be cautious of black ice, snow banks, potholes, etc. Wet conditions mean reduced stopping power and extended braking distances.

Now you have NO EXCUSES! Get out there, train smart, and have fun all winter long!

Mark Sunderland and John Lapehn are USAT Certified Coaches. If you have questions on this article or if you would like to talk to them about coaching, please contact them at

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date: January 27, 2011

Mark Sunderland

Triathlon, Ultrarunning, Ultracycling, BEER!

avatarMark Sunderland

Triathlon, Ultrarunning, Ultracycling, BEER!

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