Winterizing Your Bike:
The first time I encountered the need to winterize my bike was when I went
for a ride at 10 below(F) and noticed my chain would sag when I stopped pedaling. I
removed my feet from the pedals and they just kept going around, driven by the chain. The
freewheel would not free-wheel due to the stiff grease in the bearings.
Subsequently I have looked for lighter grease and finding none, I ended up
using Phil Wood's Tenacious oil in my freewheel bodies. (Freewheels only run on their
bearings when not under load, when coasting, so I wasn't worried about imposing any wear
on the bearings). This worked great in the coldest weather. The next summer I took the
bike to Iowa (95 degrees and 95 percent humidity). The stuff just ran
out of the freewheel. The oil was way to light for high temps.
Then someone pointed out All Weather Sports notes about low
temperature grease. Lupriplate Mag 1 is a low temperature grease made by the Lubriplate company.
This grease is cold tested down to -60°F./-51°C. MAG-1 is an extreme
pressure lubricant, normally used for industrial and construction use.
Repacacking my freewheel with this grease solved the problem. In addition
to the Lubriplate Mag-1, I have successfully used Lubriplate Type A, which is made
for marine use and is designed to withstand full immersion. Great for rain biking.
Brake / Shift Cable Freeze-ups
One of the rudest awakenings can happen when you set off on your ride on a very cold
winter day and upon rolling up to the first stop sign after a half hour ride you find that
your brake lever feels like it is welded in place and you have no brakes what so ever.
After you improvise a stop, you will find that your brake cables are frozen in the
cable guides by rain or melt water that has seeped in. Not only the brake cable
guides, but also the scuff guard tubing along your top tube can catch water and hold it
there for some really cold day.
Should this happen to you, you can generally break your brake cables free by
considerable force on the brake levers (long hard pulls, not sudden jerks), drag your
feet, or intentionally "park" in the nearest snow bank.
You can prevent this by blowing light oil (such as WD40) through the cable guides as
this will displace the water. Apply the same treatment to your shift cables too while you
are at it. Use that little red tube that came with the spray oil to direct it into the
guides, tilting the bike as necessary. This will also prevent rust from ruining your
Some folks prefer grease in this situation instead of WD40. If so, make sure it
is Lubriplate Mag-1 or you will have sluggish breaking and shifting in very cold weather.
Gore-Tex brake and shifter cables also work well in winter.
Another school of thought is to never bring a cold bike into a warm place unless you
can leave it there till it is thoroughly dry. As snow and ice melt off of the bike
they run into all the wrong places and the opportunity for rust is enhances at the warmer
temperatures. Leaving your trusty steed outdoors means you will have to remove battery and
computer and water bottle, or risk freeze damage to these.
Ice on Rims
Occasionally, (actually surprisingly seldom) you will get Ice build up on your rims and
brake pads that drastically reduce your stopping power. This only happens right around
freezing, where you rim may be colder than the water on the ground. Solution:
drag your brakes occasionally. Just pull the brake lever till you feel slight braking
occur, if that happens you will have melted any ice that was present.
Ice in Drive-Train
More annoying, at around freezing, your chain will pick up water splashed from your
tires and carry it into your cog-set where it will freeze causing all sorts of chain skip.
If you can stop and clean it out, it might help, or it might just build up again. Get in a
Big-Big gear combination to take up most of the slack chain and pedal hard (perhaps
holding the brake slightly) to put a great deal of pressure on the chain, this will melt
the ice enough for you to get where you are going.
ICEBIKES are often used on the roads, where sand, salt, and all manor of other nasty
things are used to supply traction or melt ice. All of this crud seems magically attracted
to your bike, and your chain in particular. If you could get by cleaning your chain once a
month in summer prepare for once a week in winter.
My personal preference is to have a Craig Superlink on all of my bikes. This means I
can take the chain off in 10 seconds flat with no tools. Once the chain is off I can do a
proper job of cleaning it. You can do a mediocre job at best of cleaning a chain on the
bike and you make more mess when you try.
The down side of Superlinks is that they do not last all that long. After a few
hundred miles you will hear a (feel more than hear) a thunk noise as the superlink comes
to the top of the rear cog. As the link ahead of the superlink comes off the cog,
the superlink picks up the load of your pedaling force. Superlinks
"stretch" quicker than normal links, and the thunk sound is the chain jumping
ahead to take up the slack provided by the longer superlink. Solution: replace the
I have one each of all the popular chain cleaning gizmos, and I gave them all up for two
coffee cans. The 2 pound can has holes punched in the bottom of it and it
sits inside of the 3 pound can which has a few inches of some safe solvent. Drop the chain
in the inner can, fiddle with the rest of your bike maintenance chores, and then swish the
chain around a little, pull it out, dry it, and re-lube it and re-install it, again, no
tools needed. Save the lid of the coffee cans, and replace it and store the solvent for
repeated use. All the sediment will be settle to the bottom. After a few months take it to
the filling station for proper disposal and start fresh.
Chain Wax? Not in Winter!
Lots of folks that live in dry places sing the praises of various wax products
(Whitelightening and similar products) for chain lube, mostly due to the claim that it
picks up less grit than does oil. I haven't tried all of them, but the two that I did try
worked "OK" in summer and really made a mess in winter.
They would harden on a cold chain before they had flowed into the pins, and the wax
would build up on my derailer pulleys to the point they had to be cleaned. Wax has
to be applied on a warm chain. If you intend to continue to use wax in winter, bring
the bike inside and let it warm up before applying the wax.
Wax does not flow back into a crevice it was squeezed out of when it is cold. I wore
out one chain out in under 400 winter miles using wax, even though I applied it twice a
Oil typically only needs application once a week, less often if it is cold and dry
because cold and dry weather presents a cleaner environment for the chain than does wet or
Wax? You Bet!
Oh oh, "he's lost it" you're thinking. Two adjacent topics with opposite
viewpoints. Not Quite.
Here I would like to recommend waxing the bike, with regular car wax.
This makes the frame much easier to clean after a winter ride covers the entire bike with
gunk, grit, and salt. The wax makes it difficult for stuff to cling and easier to wash or
brush it off.
Speaking of cleaning, hosing down a bike in winter is not the best idea. First you have
to have a hose somewhere where it will not freeze. Most households take hoses inside for
the winter. You could ride the car wash and use a hose there, but they will charge you and
the pressures some of these systems operate at may well drive water into your
Since I do wax the bike, I have taken to letting the crud dry over night. That coat of
wax protects the paint from the corrosive elements in the accumulated mess on the frame.
Then in the morning, before I set out, I brush the dry sand and grit from the bike with a
long bristled brush. Any small whisk broom will do, you will
probably find a dozen different models at the supermarket.
This is actually easier on the paint than is trying to wipe off the grit when it is
wet, because when wet, some amount of it is bound to imbed in the rag and act like
sandpaper on your paint. You will also find that the brush will get into places you can't
reach with a rag.
Remember, Car Wax is the key to making this work well. Wax everything except your rims.
I keep another brush around
for cleaning chains between major chain maintenance. It takes off grit clinging to the
chain without removing most of the chain lube. Holding the brush right on the derailer
pulley as you back pedal the cranks will clean the chain and the pulley. Then just move to
the back side and crank some more. (Holding the brush at the pulley also keeps you from
derailing the chain. I use a short stiff bristled brush for this, and have not had any
problems with the bristles getting caught in the pulley.)
Because of the above mentioned grit, ICEBIKERS living where there is a lot of winter
sanding of roads (especially in hilly terrain) will find excessive rim wear due to
braking. Sand gets picked up by the rims, and the brakes grind it into the rim each time
your attempt to slow down.
If used daily, you can expect to replace your rims in under 5000 miles if you ride in
the grit zone. There is really not a lot you can do about this, except brush off the rims
after every ride. Rims, like tires, are consumables.
Once it gets well below freezing, be prepared for anything that can break to break at
the most inopportune moment. Toe clips will break when you are pulling up the big hill,
computer mounts will break, fenders will fall off and water bottle cages will break (and
not just the plastic ones).
Most of these are not critical problems. The exception can be the front fender.
If it breaks and gets jamed in the wheel, you are probably going down. If
your fender stays (the wires that hold the fender edge away from wheel) get bent or
damaged, its best to remove the fender till you get it fixed or replaced.
Bikes on Ice! What a crazy concept.!