Monday, October 6, 2008

The Ice Man Cometh or Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Winter Riding But Were Afraid To Ask

Willis here to drop a bit of science as to how to keep your ride happy during those sloppy, salty months ahead.
First off there's a lot to go over but I'll try to keep it quick and dirty for you and stick to mechanical and set up stuff, we can pad your sartorial resume later.
The big evil that you are going to run into is salt, it's EVERYWHERE in the winter and will eat your bike alive. "But wait Will" you say, "MY bike is made of aluminum", it's a valid point and good thinking but your axles, chain, cogs, and most of the pivots and fasteners are still going to be steel and will be devoured by the ravenous monster unleashed by the DOT every year. Luckily for you and your bike there are quite a few ways around this.
First off, bring that bike inside. This will give your ride a chance to shed the days accumulation of crud and dramatically decreases the likelihood of this. It's best to toss some cardboard on the floor to catch the lovely mixture of salt, snow and exhaust soot that will drip off of her. If you feel really frisky, toss your bike in the shower for a minute and let the fresh water rinse the salt and slush off.
A good, if labor intensive, steel bike solution is frame saver which requires stripping the bike down to the bare frame and then spraying down the inside of all the tubes and then stopping them up with rags, rotating the frame every now and again to ensure an even coat. You'll have to let the frame cure overnight so plan ahead for this one.
Next up comes the drivetrain. My personal preference for winter riding is the fixed gear but single-speeds in general have a huge advantage over multi geared bikes for snowy, mucky, salty riding. There's just less to get mucked up, fewer moving parts and generally less parts that you'll have to replace if you don't get all the salt out of 'em. I don't change my gearing for the winter, some folks gear down a bit but regardless of your set-up the choice of lube is vital. NEVER use parrafin based lube in the winter, ever. I don't care how awesome white lightning has been for you during summer cruising, don't even think of putting it on your chain in the winter. There are two ways to go here folks, I like a light weight oil generally and triflow in particular because teflon isn't affected by cold and it doesn't pick up as much grit and salt but the drawback is that you'll have to apply it more often. The other way to go is a heavier weight synthetic oil like pedro's synlube, it's thick and hangs on really well but a heavier oil will attract more crud into your chain, no free lunch. Either way check your chain, wipe it down with a rag after sloppy rides and oil it about once a week for the average commuter and every 3 days or so for all of you long-haulers.
Speaking of triflow make sure to hit those spoke brake pivots and cantilever posts. During the corrosive season it's vitally important to keep all of those pivots, cables and housing well lubed but hey, they're your brakes do what you like, it's a free(ish) country.
And finally we come to the wheels, they're a big deal, they're what let you roll around the city as the picture of cool instead of standing astride a metal bar looking dumb. First off as a carry over from the last paragraph, hit those spoke nipples with some triflow. Put a drop at the base of the nipple where it goes through the rim and one at the top where it meets the spoke, do this all the way around the wheel starting at the tire valve (it's easier to keep track of where you've been this way) and then give the wheel a good spin. It's a good idea to let the tires dry out before you do this but hey, don't let me stop you from learning by doing. Next up let's talk hubs, sealed or cartridge bearings are ideal because the sealed bearings don't let as much, if any, crud into the moving parts and the cartidges are easily replaceable even if they do get crapped up.
Last but not least we've got tires, tires are a religious argument among winter cyclists but it breaks down into four main cases with a rider with basic bike handling skills in mind;
-Skinny, smooth tires will cut through snow to the pavement beneath and have the least rolling resistance but don't do as well on ice.
-Cyclocross tires are about as good on ice as skinnys, still get a good amount of "cut" and have a little knobbiness for extra traction but will cost you a bit of rolling resistance for the extra grab.
-Fat, knobby mountain bike tires have a lot of grab and will "float" you above the deeper snow but still aren't that great on ice and can get snow impacted into the treads which ends up with you rolling on some ice donuts.
-Studded tires have the best grip on ice bar none and usually have a tread pattern designed to shed snow but they are heavy, have serious rolling resistance on pavement, and cost about $45 to $70 a piece.
Personally I ride on 700x25 panaracer t-servs all year round because they rule and panaracer doesn't give me anything to say that, they're just that good. Like i said it's a religious argument. No matter what tires you ride slap some fenders or a mudguard on that sucker, your butt will thank you.
Next time we can go over that winter couture thing for you and maybe even toss out some snow and ice bike-handling tips. Cheers, -willis


steve ulrich said...

good stuff. you wouldn't happen to have any pointers / info regarding routes and roads that are typically decent for winter commuting. i understand that the greenway is to be plowed, but info re: routes in minneapolis that are relatively decent for riding.

thanks for the tire info. i've been wondering about the investment in studded tires.

Hubsters said...

The commuter trails ie. greenway, cedar lake, diagonal, sw lrt all get plowed to varying degrees but as far as streets go I would stick to the main drags, they get cleared faster and wider. You will have to deal with a bit more car traffic but in my experience people will give us a bit more room to breathe in the winter. Most likely because they think we are completely insane.

Mike Mason said...

Be seen! Now recovering from an accident, I can't stress enough to have good lighting for Minnesota winter rides. Shorter days, and glazed windshields means it's extra important to have headlights, rear lights, and as much reflective gear as you can stomach. Sure, sure... you'll look like a tourist, but better that than going through months of physical therapy to get back on the bike.