Note: This is the second installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, “A Guide To Winter Cycling”).
Riding in foul weather is really hard on your bike. In my area of the country it’s not just the snow that bothers you, but all the road debris that comes along with it. Every winter our roads turn white—not just from the snow but from numerous layers of road salt. The highway department also uses a lot of sand to give motorists better traction on icy roads. Road salt and sand will eat through all the components on your bike, even if you wash it off after each ride. You can’t stop all that grit and road grime from splashing up on your chain, cables, brakes, derailleurs and crankset, but you can minimize the damage it does by spending a few hours getting your bike ready for winter weather.
Clean Your Drivetain
Let’s start with the dirtiest part of your bike—the drivetrain (chain, chainring, rear cassette, derailleur, and derailleur pulleys). The quickest way to clean the drivetrain is with White Lighting Clean Streak Dry-Degreaser. Once the chain is stripped down to bare metal it is going to be thirsty for a fresh coat of lubricant—and for winter riding there is only one lubricant I’ll use—Boeshield T-9, a lube developed by The Boeing Company (the folks who make those pretty planes). This product has a solvent and paraffin wax base and uses neither Silicone or Teflon. While the solvent will penetrate deep through other lubricants, I still recommend you clean the chain first before you apply Boeshield T-9 if for no other reason than it looks better that way. Boeshield T-9 dries quickly, but it is best to let it dry for at least 15 minutes (a couple of hours is better) before wiping off the excess. This will leave your chain with an incredible barrier against rain, mud, snow, ice, salt and road grime. Boeshield T-9 is available in a variety of sizes, from one ounce bottles up to gallon containers, and in aerosol cans. I prefer the aerosol because it is so easy to use (on the bike and everywhere else). Regardless of what form you buy it in, Boeshield T-9 has the same formula. Boeshield T-9 is also suitable for use on derailleurs, brake cables, and pivot points.
Quick Tip: If you have a steel bike frame and ride in either snow or rain I would suggest you spray Boeshield T-9 on the entire frame (inside and out). This product will not harm paints, plastics, or rubber.
Wash And Wax Your Bike
Now that the drivetrain is clean it’s time to show your bike frame a little love. Before you can wax your bike you have to clean it first. While there are many good products you can use to wash your bike I usually use Dawn dishwashing liquid. Dawn does a great job of cutting through grease and grime—just squirt a small amount of it into a bucket before you add the water and then as you fill the bucket the suds form. Using a soft brush gently scrub the frame, rims and tires of your bike. With a gentle rinse the dirt should fall off your bike. Don’t ever use a high-pressure washer on your bike or you will drive dirt and water into places that will cause you trouble in the future. Now dry the bike off with a cotton cloth (an old T-shirt will do).
If your bike is several years old I suggest you use Turtle Wax Premium Grade Rubbing Compound on the frame to remove scratches in the paint and smooth out the finish. If you have any chrome on your bike you can use a bit of Brasso Multi Purpose Metal Polish to make it shine. After everything is clean apply a coat of Turtle Wax Super Hard Shell Paste Wax and your frame should look like new. If you apply a good paste wax to your bike every year you will find it is a lot easier to keep it clean.
Quick Tip: If some of the paint has chipped off your bike frame your local bike shop can sometimes find a bottle of touch-up paint to match. If they can’t match your paint a good alternative is to use acrylic fingernail polish (if you need help matching the color you should ask your wife or significant for help). Give the acrylic nail polish several days to set and then seal it with a coat of paste wax.
Check Your Brake Pads
When you ride on roads that are covered with salt and sand your brake pads will end up having grit embedded in them and this can wear down bike rims rather quickly. So, while you are cleaning your bike take a look at the brake pads and see if they are in need of replacement. For my winter bikes without disc brakes I like Kool Stop Bicycle Brake Pads due to their superior stopping power in wet weather.
Kool Stop manufactures several different compounds for use in their brakes—some compounds are best for dry weather cycling and others are very aggressive for use in wet weather. As the name implies, the “dual compound” brake pads are a combination of two compounds—it uses a black compound usually found in their dry weather pads along with their aggressive salmon colored pad that offer superior stopping power in wet weather. Kool Stop ships these brakes with the dual compound pads preinstalled, but they also include an extra pair of salmon colored pads (for really nasty weather).
If you have never replaced a pair of brake pads on your bike before you might wonder how difficult a job it is. There is no reason to have the local bike shop put these pads on for you—a total amateur can put on a set of these brake pads in under 15 minutes, and the second set will probably go on in 10 minutes.
Finish With Some Anti-Seize Compound
Another product you need to have on hand for winter cycling is a tube of Park Tool Anti-Seize Compound—it forms a protective barrier around small parts to protect them from rust and corrosion. While this product can be used on many bicycle parts, like the bottom bracket, headset cups, and quill stems, most non-mechanics will use it for pedal threads, seatposts, water bottle cages and shoe cleats. This product is safe for use on steel, aluminum, and Titanium.
I will discuss cleat and pedal selection in another article, but even if you don’t change to a different style of pedals for winter riding you still need to remove the pedals and coat the threads with an anti-seize compound or they will be nearly impossible to remove after a full season of riding in the snow, sand, salt and muck. Also, in the winter I have to switch styles of water bottle cages on a couple of my bikes and if I apply the anti-seize compound on the threads of the bolts it is a lot easier to get them on and off. Another great use for this compound is on the cleats of your bike shoes.