By Jim Langley
In my Tech Talk, I provided five tips for winterizing your bicycle. Our knowledgeable RBR readers have also chimed in, adding their own valuable tips.
Thanks for sharing your expertise. Let’s look at your recommendations and I’ll add a few related winterizing stories and tips.
Build a fixie for winter riding
To begin with maybe the most outside-the-box suggestion, “fixieguy” wrote, “I recommend converting an old bike to fixed gear. Automatically, one eliminates potential problems with shifters, derailleurs, cables, etc. Also, with a fixie, on snowy roads, you can modulate your speed by pressing backwards on the pedals, which is less likely to cause a skid than applying brakes.
I also recommend, on any type of bike, using the widest tires that the bike can accommodate. I prefer cross tires. Wide tires will provide more road contact and take less air pressure, which should help resist punctures. Cross tires offer a little tread that can provide some helpful traction if you suddenly find yourself in a minor snow squall. The ultimate winter beast is probably a fat tire bike, but converting an old mountain bike to fixed gear and using 2-inch+ knobbies is a good second choice.”
I actually tried fixieguy’s recommendation one winter in Vermont and found that a lot of what he says is true. From that experience, I can add that because on a fixed-gear bicycle, you cannot coast – and also your average speed is lower – riding fixed is a way to stay a bit warmer when riding in the winter, too.
Another vote for a dedicated winter bike
Like fixieguy, Tim Potter recommends a different bike for the winter. “I’m in Michigan, where our road agencies love salt. I highly recommend to our shop customers that they use a different bike for their winter riding to save their nice bike from an early, rusty death. I highly recommend making sure all of the holes in your frame (like unused water bottle bosses, vent holes from the manufacturing process in hard-to-see areas) are plugged to prevent water from getting inside your frame.
“Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but using Frame Saver (or other anti-corrosion liquids) inside an older frame where corrosion has likely already taken hold won’t make much difference. I believe use of those products is really only effective on new frames or ones that have been thoroughly cleaned inside and out (sandblasted/repainted).
“I’d also add the topic of the right tires and pressure for winter riding, with wider and lower tire pressures giving better traction if studded tires are out of your budget.”
I’m not sure whether Frame Saver works on an already corroded frame, Tim, but keep reading for another idea for that.
Rust Check recommendation
“Not sure about Frame Saver,” writes reader Mark Beaver, “but I’ve been using Rust Check inside my steel frames for years; and Rust Check does stop rust from getting worse. I Rust Check all my steel bikes every few years and my winter commuter gets it (almost) every autumn. It’s almost 25 years old now and has survived over 20 winters. Rust Check works.”
Thanks for the recommendation, Mark! I have never heard of Rust Check so I looked it up. Here’s the link: http://www.rustcheck.com/
Monitor brake pads to save your rims
Next, Steve in Portland, Oregon, shared the following great tips:
“Rim-brake shoes become embedded with abrasive crud off wet roads and will dig troughs in your rims if neglected. I reluctantly suffer the hassle of pulling the shoes off after wet rides, digging tiny metal debris out and sanding them flat (if needed)with a sheet of 320 wet/dry sandpaper. I also check rims for tiny irregularities that may need attention.”
I’ll add that if you don’t monitor your brake pads like Steve recommends, it’s likely that the pads will eventually wear right through your rims. This is because as the pads pick up little bits of road grit and aluminum from the rim, the pads essentially become little grinding blocks and over the miles they’ll grind straight through the rims.
You shouldn’t need to remove the pads from the brakes, though. With a pointed tool, like an awl, it’s easy to pick the grit and aluminum debris from the pads while they’re still installed on the bike.
However, brake pads wear much more quickly in the winter, so if they’re worn out, you may need to replace them. Maybe consider going to pads specifically made for winter use, which usually last a little longer and brake better, too.
Tip: You can tell when pads are worn out by checking for deep grooves. If the grooves are worn flat, it’s time for new shoes. Another telltale signs is when the pads are so thin that the metal brake pad holders are almost hitting the rim when you brake.
Chain lube tough enough for Boston winters
Then we heard from Gregory in Boston, writing about his favorite lube: “I switch my chain oil from Pro-Link to Phil Wood Tenacious Oil. It’s the only one I have found that will stand up to salt on the roads at all.
“Also, being that I am riding in the dark on the way home, in addition to my high power lights on the bike (front and rear) I also use a helmet light for additional visibility. And just as important, if I have a breakdown going home at night in the dark I have light to see by to repair the issue. Another article of clothing to add is finger glove inserts so that if you do have to fix something that requires taking the lobster gloves off, your hands aren’t completely exposed to the cold.”
I’ve heard that Phil’s Tenacious Oil is popular with cyclocross racers, too, Greg.
Beware aluminum corrosion
Lastly, Kerry Irons wrote to warn that aluminum parts are affected by winter, too. “Aluminum corrodes, just like steel rusts. The white powder we’ve all seen on aluminum parts is aluminum oxide, just like the red rust we see on steel components is iron oxide. My decades-old Cannondale H-400 that I used for year-round commuting in Michigan (see: road salt) has numerous areas of frame corrosion; the paint has bubbled and the white powder is coming out from under it.
Many aluminum components are anodized or clear-coated, which protects them just like paint protects steel but make no doubt: aluminum corrodes.”
I had a recent aluminum-corrosion episode I can share that surprised me. After months of sweaty trainer rides, my indoor bike’s handlebar tape was unraveling. As I stripped it from the 3T aluminum bars, I saw that they were covered in white powder – the aluminum oxide Kerry speaks of.
I cleaned off the powder and tried wire-brushing the bars to get down to the bare aluminum and found that the tubing was so badly pitted, the bars were destroyed. Apparently, the salty sweat had gotten beneath the bar tape and every trainer ride gave it a new dose. Over time the salt was able to eat the handlebars.
The moral of the story is to make sure aluminum parts are protected. And, for ones that are exposed to salt, be sure to clean the salt off immediately.
Tip: If you ride in the winter, don’t assume your components are safe. The only way to find out if things are rusting and/or corroding is to keep checking the components. Depending on the materials your bike and components are made of, you may need to disassemble the parts to spot corrosion issues and deal with them before they do any real damage.
Kerry Irons says
A little bit off topic, but still on the aluminum corrosion topic, I too have had the corroded handlebars problem, and I had to regularly replace aluminum bars that looked exactly like what Jim describes. This was not much of an issue back in the day when bars were clear anodized, but whatever (black) coating they have these days does not seem to protect them.
I don’t buy into the “carbon bars greatly reduce road vibration” belief but I switched to carbon bars to eliminate the salt corrosion problem. As an aside, I used to ride with a guy whose sweat must have been something special: every aluminum part on his bike corroded at an astounding rate. It’s personal – some people have no problems and others experience lots of corrosion.
“I’ll add that if you don’t monitor your brake pads like Steve recommends, it’s likely that the pads will eventually wear right through your rims. This is because as the pads pick up little bits of road grit and aluminum from the rim, the pads essentially become little grinding blocks and over the miles they’ll grind straight through the rims.”
–true but the rims eventually wear out even without road grit..
–technically you should measure the wear areas with calipers and compare to a min-thickness number..
Dave Minden says
The ‘Rust Check’ recommendation needs more info, please! The site has many products; which do you use for the inside of a used frame? And, aerosol or liquid? Pour it in?
Steve Weeks says
I agree: rims wear if they have braking surfaces. My experience is that the rear rim wears faster than the front. I am not sure why, but I suspect it’s from abrasives kicked up by the front tire. Also, smaller rims seem to wear faster, because of their smaller circumference.
Many rims are equipped with “minimum thickness” features; these are usually either single grooves in the center of the braking surfaces, or a single dot near the valve hole. When the groove or dot are no longer visible, it is time to change the rim.
Don’t forget studded tires! If you don’t want to fall, consider these. I have a dedicated winter bike (a folder), which is equipped with Schwalbe “Marathon Winter” tires. Yes, they are heavier than regular tires, they are not cheap and they don’t last indefinitely (I usually get three seasons out of a pair), but IMO the freedom from fear of black ice outweighs the negatives.