WINTER WONDERLAND ONE: BIKE PREP
Michael Stenning's practical guide to keeping bikes cheerful all year round. It’s tempting to some to pop the bike and, indeed, themselves, into hibernation between November and February. However, with some forethought and simple preparation, winter can yield the right sort of excitement.
Dedicated Winter Bike?
Most enthusiasts have at least two bikes; one their pride and joy, the other a daily driver cum workhorse. I am fortunate enough to have a varied fleet including a couple used year round, though these are suitably dressed for December’s murky depths without falling into traditional winter hack territory.
Regardless of genre, winter builds need to be exciting enough to tempt you outside, yet rugged enough to resist the season’s varied wrath. Older framesets with slightly battle-scarred hand-me-down groupsets are the norm - excellent recycling that prevents spares mountains spiralling out of control. However, this breed are a topic all of their own and not everyone, (younger riders in particular) has the money or storage space for multiple machines.
Preventative Prep - Kit 'n’ Caboodle
Prevention is always more convenient (not to mention cheaper) than cure. Many of us will do this throughout the year, so some stages can skipped. However, going the whole hog shouldn’t consume more than 2, possibly 3 hours tops.
Even the best maintained bikes can succumb to failure but the likelihood of having to walk several miles home in the freezing cold; or finding bright paint work ravaged by the salt monster are dramatically reduced with forethought and a little elbow grease. Assuming your bike doesn’t already have them, now would also be the time to fit mudguards. Full-length chrome plastic models with stainless steel fittings and generous mud flaps are ideal. Many sportier framesets cannot accommodate them but thankfully, there is a wealth of slim fit systems designed to overcome the fag paper clearance problems.
My personal favourites are these BBB BFD-22 Slimguard fenders http://bbbcycling.com/accessories/fenders/BFD-22
They are the only set to date, which genuinely work with my 25 year old road bike’s really tight clearances and 25/26mm tyres. Like many of this era, it is essentially a race frameset with mudguard eyelets so they could essentially market the same frame as a trainer.
Predictably, some residual spatter will adorn the fork blades, bottom bracket shell, rear triangle etc but will keep the majority of component chewing, wet, gritty stuff from eating into your morale and your bike’s components. It will also mean the next treatments will last a whole lot longer too.
What you’ll need:
Full set of Allen keys/ ring spanners to fit components on your bike (Pocket tools work fine).
Bike Wash, Bucket, Clean Tepid water, sponge/bike brushes & Polymer based wax or beeswax furniture polish.
Old/Redundant Inner tube (1.95 section mtb butyl is ideal).
Nail Varnish/touch up paint stick.
Semi synthetic Grease.
Internal Frame Preserve or 10w/40 motor oil.
Take bike(s) outside and starting at the handlebars, give them a thorough blow-over with bike wash. While they’re marinating under said sudsy blanket for three minutes or so, add a little neat degreaser to the chain rings, derailleur jockey wheels etc and agitate with a small stiff brush. (Bike specific types (such as Pedro's or Oxford generally work best but retired tooth and nail scrubbers make worthy substitutes).
Rinse everything thoroughly using a soft brush (such as Oxford's Big Softy) and dip/ dunk routine before drying with an old, clean towel.
Inspect frame and forks for hairline cracks, dents or ripples-all indicative of fatigue that can lead to potentially catastrophic failure.
Minor chips and scratches can be retouched using hobby enamels or nail varnish. Tiny dents are similarly annoying but pose little structural concern. More extensive damage/suspected misalignment needs checking on a jig by competent shop mechanics or frame builders.
Apply protective patches/electrical tape/stickers to regions where cables make contact to prevent abrasion. Mummifying top tubes and chainstays under some redundant inner tube is another useful trick-defending against accidental damage, while disguising true identity. Aluminium alloys may not rust but still corrode and magnesium does alarmingly quickly.
Therefore (assuming you haven’t already done so); introduce some frame preserve via drain holes or seat tube. Waxy automotive formulas are medieval and messy to use but relatively cheap (Stodgier 10w/40 motor oil, flushed through with WD40/Teflon based maintenance spray works fairly convincingly too). Plugging those drain-holes with match sticks or blue tack prevents unwanted escape during the curing process but remove afterwards; otherwise moisture can become trapped inside.
Electroplating is very susceptible to tarnish, so apply a thin layer externally or wax regularly. Alternatively skilled “project” finishers can apply a durable lacquer atop, which will look resplendent for many years.
DIY clear coats are superficially cheaper but time consuming to apply and invariably yellow, craze and/or peel.
Can be left in its raw state with scant worries where corrosion is concerned. I still wax frames and components to prevent dirt/grime and indeed finger marks sticking. Introduce other metals with Ti-prep/similar to avoid permanent unions developing unnoticed!
Boutique formulas are nice, though regular bike washes and beeswax furniture polishes work fine. That said; only use dedicated release/assembly pastes (not grease!) on contact points. Minor paint or lacquer damage isn’t worth losing sleep over. However, the raw weave is susceptible to subsequent injury. Crashes/brute force aside, failure tends to afflict mech hangers and bottle mounts. These are repairable by experienced dealers but anything more serious, including refinishing demands specialist expertise, for example at Carbon Bike Repair .
Even the best maintained bikes can suffer after a few harsh winters. Come spring, give your bike(s) another thorough clean and check over. Rinsing salt and other corrosive grot off using cold water after each, salty ride goes a long way to preventing unsightly damage and only takes a few minutes. However, after a few winters, corrosion and damp can sneak behind stone chips. Spring is the ideal opportunity for treating frames to a well deserved makeover.
Prices vary. Expect to pay £65 upwards for a single colour powder coated finish including blasting. Take a look at After the Gritters Went Home. Look for a specialist or project finisher. I’ve been particularly impressed by Maldon Shot Blasting & Powder Coating http://www.ctc-powder-coating.co.uk/ and Lee Cooper Cycles http://leecoopercycles.webs.com/
On a more daily basis, rinse bikes with cold, fresh water following salty, slushy rides. Hot sudsy stuff simply accelerates the corrosive process. Dry with an old towel and take this opportunity to give everything a hard paste waxing. Bike specific pastes, such as Crankalicious Crisp Frame wax, or good quality automotive preps will also remove light oxidisation/tarnish, while leaving a protective barrier behind.
More advanced damage can be removed using an old toothbrush and bargain basement washing powder. Dip the brush into a bucket of hot water, then work some detergent onto the bristles and apply to the affected areas, whipping into a lather. Rinse thoroughly once you’re happy with the results. Now add some wax.
If you forgot to treat steel frames internally with rust busting preserve, blast some heavier duty mineral oil/PTFE spray through the breathe holes, rotating slowly to ensure comprehensive penetration. Green Oil Eco Spray lube is a good alternative to petrochemicals.
Many, mountain bikers in particular, swap over to rigid blades during winter since softer trails don’t merit the added complication. However, not everyone wants the hassle, so ensure bouncers sport rubber boots to prevent grit scratching stanctions and blowing seals. Aftermarket Neoprene versions secured by Velcro are convenient but retain wet/abrasive stuff-remove and wash regularly.
Cast a critical eye over cables, replacing anything kinked, split or frayed, adding cuffs/doughnuts to protect lacquers or livery from being chewed through. Glue, crimp or solder freshly cut inner wires. Hydraulic hoses are generally impervious but pension off anything remotely suspect. Strip disc brake rotors, treat centre locked splines and bolts to a blast of anti-seize. The same applies to cable operated systems-now would also be the time to replace inners/outers. Compressionless cablesets, though not essential, will bring out the very best in your brakes. Whatever your system, inspect pads and replace if in doubt.
Cantilevers and V brakes should be removed from their posts and re-greased annually - six monthly on bikes in hard service. Despite running disc mounts, many framesets still sport these. Cap anything unused to prevent ingress channelling ruinously inside. Pluck embedded grit and other nasties from pads so they don’t cannibalise rim sidewalls.
Drums are powerful and extremely low maintenance. However, Sturmey Archer units can turn spiteful if not occasionally stripped and purged of brake dust - poor modulation or disconcerting on-off stopping being contra indicators. Otherwise, just maintain as per other cable operated systems and grease, never oil hub bearings (doing so risks pad contamination).
Pads and cables aside, dual pivot callipers like their mounting hardware greased twice yearly, springs appreciate fortnightly squirt of PTFE based spray.
Inspect chains, rings and cassettes for wear, tight spots, worn, hooked or indeed missing teeth. While you’re down there… give crank arms and pedals a tug, testing for sloppy bearings. Traditional cup 'n’ cones are decidedly rare nowadays but adjustable; modern cartridges are designed as fit 'n’ forget - replacement is their only cure.
Even with regular lubrication and cleaning, chains and cassettes will wear at a much faster rate. Consider switching to a cheaper model - say Sora or Alivio on a 8 or 9spd build, buy a stock of three and simply replace as they wear. Rings and derailleurs will thank you.
Remove pedals-either with a dedicated 15mm wrench or 8mm Allen key, grease their threads and reinstate. This dissuades galvanic corrosion since most cranks are aluminium alloy, pedal axles, Cro-moly steel. Step in systems can turn temperamental, so check and replace cleats as required. Blast release mechanisms with some PTFE lube fortnightly - more often in muddy, slushy conditions.
Hub gears are pretty well sealed; especially Shimano Alfine, Rohloff and similarly high end models though do require annual servicing and oil changes. Conversely derailleurs are exposed to everything Mother Nature fancies hurling their way.
Remove mounting bolts; apply a little grease annually to rule out galvanic corrosion. Sealed ceramic jockey wheels are good investments on higher end mechs. Add a quick drop of chain lube to their mounting hardware to prevent corrosion taking hold, wiping away the excess. That aside, good, little 'n’ often housekeeping is the only medicine.
Fixed and single speed freewheels are in many respects perfect for winter service in moderate gradients - fun, strong, light and low maintenance, though contrary to editorial belief, I like to alternate between these and variable gears.
Galvanised chains are prudent options for winter, though corrosion can still bite deep once the zinc plating relents on the inner pins, so don’t run ‘em thirsty. I prefer cleaner petrochemical or “self-cleansing” emulsion type lubricants that shed contaminant as it gathers. Wet formulas will certainly stay put and arguably return more miles per application - wipe the chain’s side plates every week mind, or risk it becoming a component gobbling sludge -especially on triples.
Starting at the stem, loosen mounting bolts one at a time, introduce some fresh grease to threads and tighten to their recommended torque settings.
Draw the front brake lever fully home and rock the bike back and forth, checking for any slop in the headset bearings. Then turn the bars left to right - this should be smooth and glitch free. Strip, inspect, repack with grease and, if you must forgo mudguards, remove the forks, cut a section of that old inner tube and slide it over the bottom race.
Quill/converters have become rarer, but are vulnerable to seizure. Remove and slather grease to expander wedge and sections hidden within the steerer tube.
Seat-posts and saddles
Stuck seatposts are one of the most common (though easily avoidable) dramas. Whip a cable tie where the post enters the frame for easy reference, slacken the binder bolt and slide it free.
Carbon posts need specialist grip and mustn’t be greased, whereas metal on metal pairings require a light but even helping. Squirt some corrosion busting brew inside the frame while opportunity presents. Next, cut a 2.5 inch section of scrap inner tube, smear a little grease around the seat collar; roll that rubber into a grot cheating boot before repatriating post and nipping pinch bolt tight.
Saddles, especially traditional leather types get a serious spanking, so feed these using Proofide or similarly every six weeks and cover if left in the open air for any period of time e.g. locking in the street for several hours. Undersides were once left raw, though usually sport some form of woven synthetic layer defending the hide from damaging slurry.
Raw versions should be gently cleansed using leather specific product and soft toothbrush before given a liberal helping of suede protector (reapplied six weekly, more in harsh weather).
Cast a critical eye over handlebar wrap/grips and replace with something suitable as required.
Wheels & Tyres
These get a battering thanks to holes and other surface imperfections that breed prolifically during cold, wet spells. Spin wheels, checking for truth-within 3mm is acceptable, though some tyre tread patterns can give a very misleading impression. Pay close attention to walls, which can wear perilously thin especially at the joins -sudden puncture plagues can also indicate trouble here.
Work around the spokes, squeezing them in pairs to determine even tension, replace any that are bent or damaged, judiciously tighten any rogues (or have a competent wheel builder work their magic if you’re unsure - spoke keys in the wrong hands can be incredibly destructive). Drop a little (preferably middleweight) chain lube into each eyelet, wiping away any excess -this will preserve brass types, stopping nipples seizing solid. Using some car wax here also inhibits corrosion/grime.
Hubs should be smooth and free of play. Even lowlier groupsets use sealed bearings these days but these benefit from a quick precautionary lick of synthetic polymer grease behind their rubber cups. Old school cup 'n’ cones can be bolstered with makeshift seals made by binding string around a grease base.
Quick release skewers are often overlooked, so remove and give their internals/ cam closure a light lick of ceramic/Teflon prep - stodgy wet chain lubes will do in a pinch.
Tyres are our first point of contact with terra firma. I tend to run 700x32/35c and 26x1.5 or 1.75, though 25mm is pretty much the limit on many contemporary road bikes, especially when mudguard clearance is considered. I’ve been particularly impressed by Schwalbe Marathon GT, their Marathon 365 cousins and Continental Contact Plus.
Spiked winter tyres are quite pricy and add a fair bit of rolling resistance but are truly liberating in snow/ice- the last few seasons have seen them a regular feature on my Univega rough stuff tourer, inspiring confidence even in several inches of snow.
Whatever your preference, look for something with decent puncture repellent casings since flints, glass and other sharps often work in unnoticed.
Check every few rides, purge any foreign objects with tweasers and fill small lesions with superglue. Tyre sidewalls mustn’t sport extensive cracks, fraying or bulges-replace immediately.
Tubes are another component so often overlooked until they give trouble. Thicker butyl might add a little extra resistance but tend to last longer. Kenda’s thorn-resistant make good options for broader 700c and 26inch and my preference over goo-filled types. In fairness, these seem very effective when tyre pressures are correctly observed, sealing small holes automatically. No surprise to learn they curry considerable favour with commuters. Alas, blow outs usually mean big sticky messes …
Short haul, utility builds aside, fit two, possibly three bottle cages, since you should still be consuming fluids at summer levels. 1.5 litre PET m odels are a real boon but can present compatibility woes, especially on smaller framesets. Thermos type systems are another boon-a favourite beverage can do wonders for comfort and morale. Prices are upwards of £15 but latte’ partial commuters will recoup this in no time.
Ensure racks, mudguard stays etc. are correctly installed-add a little threadlock if you’re carrying heavy loads. Touring/utility trailer frames should be cleaned and given liberal helpings of that polymer wax to repel the salt monster. Whip quick release skewers from low slung Bob Yak homages, grease liberally and reinstate to counter corrosion/seizure. Check bearings too, since these are another weak spot on the OEM wheels.
Budget chrome plastic mudguards are generally pretty good these days, although stays and mounting hardware can rapidly turn furry. Adding clear coat lacquer or marine primer to cheaper galvanised models preserves their integrity without need for subsequent intervention. Stop lock mechanisms turning arthritic (or seizing completely) by squirting heavier duty PTFE sprays (or something kinder, like Green Oil's Slip) fortnightly on bikes parked outside for longer periods.
Lighter chain lubes make excellent substitutes and last a little longer but steer clear of greases since these are too stodgy, causing mechanisms to gum up.
By contrast, computers (head units & transponders) and battery lighting love a lick of silicone grease on their contacts to optimise connectivity, banishing corroded switches and intermittent faults before they arise. Retro-reflective sticker sets are another boon in winter-apply creatively to mudguards for optimal, eye catching effect. Mudflaps improve protection-especially front mechs, bottom bracket and chainstay regions, not to mention feet.
Commercially available units come in all manner of funky styles but DIY versions are easily made from scrap tyres. Luggage also suffers. Elasticated water repelling covers defend Cordura nylons from salty blasts while impervious types with welded seams, still benefit from regular wipe-overs/ garden hose rinses.
Generally speaking, these remain submissive when greased properly. However, stainless steel versions can be a blessing, especially in coastal climes. Titanium might earn bragging rights but are expensive and should be carefully greased to prevent galvanic corrosion (fusion with other metals).
Fire-Fighting/Keeping Things Sweet
Winter can take us by surprise and there’s no substitute for experience. Sometimes things can turn unexpectedly furry, or seize solid. We took a look at releasing seized contact points and more invasive repair in Divorce Proceedings However, here’s a few basic pointers.
*Rinse bikes with cold, fresh water following salty, slushy rides. Hot sudsy stuff simply accelerates the corrosive process. Dry with an old towel and take this opportunity to give everything a hard paste waxing. Good quality automotive preps will also remove light oxidisation/tarnish while leaving a protective barrier behind.
*More advanced damage can be removed using an old toothbrush and bargain basement washing powder. Dip the brush into a bucket of hot water, then work some detergent onto the bristles and apply to the affected areas, whipping into a lather. Rinse thoroughly once you’re happy with the results. Now add some wax.
If you forgot to treat steel frames internally with rust busting preserve, blast some heavier duty mineral oil/PTFE spray through the breathe holes, rotating slowly to ensure comprehensive penetration. This will chase any existing moisture out, leaving behind a protective, oily film. These blends are perfect for cleat/mechanisms, brass rim eyelets and plated fasteners on stems, seat posts, brakesets, derailleurs etc. GT85 and other, thin formulas are better cures for sticky cables and corroded battery trays on lights/computers.
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2016, UPDATED NOVEMBER 2017
UPDATED DECEMBER 2018