Winter Gear Review

Hey folks.  In this time of year, the cold has swept many of us indoors to polish up our bikes or put them into trainers.  However, even as we mutter to ourselves small encouragement that the warmth will return, we can definitely ride in super cold temps and conditions and feel quite epic as the miles get logged.  It’s a completely different ballgame than warm weather riding and requires both adjustments to wardrobe and bike tuning.  In this first part, I am going to go over some tips and technique for “winterizing your bike.”  It will keep the trusty steed happy and healthy.

One area that I covered before in a prior post was the bottom bracket.  One good trick is to wrap Teflon tape around the BB cups.  This provides added protection when the rain, snow, and muck come calling.  It’s like having a nice new seal that not only keeps the BB quieter from creaks and clicks, but also is added protection for the BB itself and the inside of your frame.  While aluminum and carbon won’t rust like steel, I have plenty or horror stories of disintegrated BB cups and literal cups of water hanging out inside the frame.  Below is a photo of a roll of Teflon tape and a photo of what the BB looks like when left unchecked.

Secondly, under the BB area of the bike is usually a cable guide that attaches to the frame with a small screw or plug.  If your cables are routed this way, it’s a great idea to install small plastic tubes through the guide for your cable to run through.  These plastic tubes are easily attainable at your LBS and most of the time, they’ll just give you them for free.  As an added protector, I add grease inside these tubes as it will not melt away or dry like oil or Tri-Flow will eventually.  It keeps the cable running smoothly, which keeps your gear running smoothly.  Replacing a broken or frayed cable in sub-freezing temperature is a nightmare, even for a mechanic.  Another great shield for cables is to buy an actual cable kit rather than stock cables.  Many of these kits are only marginally more expensive and provide tubing for each point on the frame where the cable is exposed.  It will stop grime and dirt from sneaking into the cable housing as quickly.  The ultimate in these systems is the Gore RideOn cable sets that are completely sealed in Teflon tubing from end to end.  Unfortunately, due to some untold reason, they are discontinuing the product.  It is head over heels more expensive (about $140-160 for the whole brake and derailleur set), but I’ve seen daily commuters ride these without flaw for years at a time through some of the worst conditions this area sees.  Below is a photo of the cable tubing and a photo of a bottom bracket cable guide.

Another tip that you can do at home very easily is wipe down your tires after every couple rides.  Some Windex or Simple Green works great and you’ll have many more miles of riding on each set.  Also, take a “pokey tool” (something pointy and sharp) and carefully pop little pieces of glass and rock that get imbedded in the surface rubber of the tire.  Once the tires are wiped down, these are easy to spot and will prevent them from working deeper and causing a flat tube.  You’ll also be much more aware of any defects or larger cuts before discovering them by a flat tube on the trail.  My all-time favorite winter riding tire is the Specialized All-Condition Armadillo Elite 700×25.  With a Kevlar lining built into the tire, I can ride over hill and dale with confidence that sticks and glass and potholes won’t be able to puncture.  They can last several thousand miles and the folding version of the tire has a great feel on the trail.

A synthetic or leather bar tape (for road bikes) will also be an advantage to your cold weather trips as it doesn’t tear or wear nearly as fast as basic cork and gel tapes.  Fizik makes a great “suede” tape that will last and last through winter riding and also keeps my hands a bit warmer.

For the cyclists with enough time on their hands, I highly recommend waxing your frame once or twice a year.  Just like the beautiful shine looks on your car, your bike will both look great and water and dirt will have far less chance to stay stuck on the frame.  You can also wax the components.  The crank, in particular shines up well and I’ve noticed mine stays clean for far longer with less maintenance than without it.  Considering some bicycle cranks range in price from $100-1000, I like to keep that investment as long as possible.  However, I do not recommend using wax-based lubricants during the winter.  Teflon lubricants will work just as well (if not better) and come in a variety of “thicknesses.”  Rock and Roll Gold has been a stalwart protector of my chain for years and it keeps it both lubricated and clean.  With wax-based lubricants, the chain stays lubricated for longer, but has a better chance of spreading the wax all over the bike (which is difficult to clean and can corrode some anodized parts) and trapping dirt. This is a highly debated topic, as some cyclists will claim the opposite.  Out of all the bikes I have worked on (many many many), the bikes with wax-based lubes require much more time to clean and maintain while regular application of Teflon lube on bikes is quick, easy, and very clean.

A little more labor intensive care that will reap large benefits is taking fine steel wool to the metal braking surface of your wheels every two weeks of riding.  In addition to removing grime and brake dust buildup, it gives the pads a better “bite” on the rim, stopping you more effectively and without squealing.  Wiping brake pads as well will aid this and a small piece of fine sandpaper can revamp the surface of the pad and remove small bits of rock and metal that get imbedded in the pad just like I mentioned with tires.  Those little metal pieces wear away at the rim and cause poor braking, squealing, and fine grooves in the rim metal.  If you ride often during the winter season, salmon colored pads are made to aid in these conditions and are a specialized compound.  KoolStop makes a great pair of thin line pads that will allow mud and dirt to shed more effectively and feature the salmon colored compound.

Last but not least, if you’re planning on hauling your bike on a car rack in poor weather, I highly recommend a product called a Chain Johnny. It’s a great invention that covers and protects the drive-train of your bike.  Even though it’s from a company that makes wax-based lubes, I think it’s one of the smartest investments to keep your parts from corroding with all of the salt VDOT piles on the roads before and after snowstorms.

If you know of any other useful “winterizing” bike tips, feel free to contact me or post a comment and I will try to include it in the article or expand upon it.  Thanks for reading.  Next stop, “winterizing” yourself for riding.