Getting Your Bike Ready For Winter Cycling

16 Sep

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”).

Crankset On My Surly Pugsley After A Few Hours In The Snow

Crankset On My Surly Pugsley After A Few Hours In The Snow

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.

In The Spring The Snow Turns Into Mud

In The Spring The Snow Turns Into Mud

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

Park Tool Anti-Seize Compound

Park Tool 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.


Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Fat Bikes, Winter Cycling


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16 responses to “Getting Your Bike Ready For Winter Cycling

  1. elisariva

    September 16, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    I wish I knew about anti-seize compound earlier! I have a shoe with one bolt covered in dried mud that refuses to come off! Thank you for the tips!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 16, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      I’ve had problems with cleats before as well — the anti-seize compound does a fantastic job of preventing such problems!

  2. Out of the Blue

    September 16, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    I have an old Schwinn that I ride in Chicago. It came with some paint chipping and minor rust, but the city snow/rain/dirt has definitely taken a toll in the last year. This is great information!

    My current area of focus: How to eliminate rust and protect further damage on the fenders and freewheel.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 16, 2013 at 5:33 PM

      There are several rust removers on the market — I’d go to an auto parts store and see what they recommend — and once the rust is gone give the bike a good waxing!

  3. Jordan Hartong

    September 16, 2013 at 3:20 PM

  4. shitbike

    September 16, 2013 at 10:22 PM

    i know a few people looking forward to riding like this guy-
    thanks for all the great advice, check out some san francisco winter adventures coming soon at shitbike.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 17, 2013 at 8:10 AM

      That looks great — can’t wait for the video to come out!

  5. joniautio

    September 18, 2013 at 8:00 AM

    Nice post! Will try to apply this on my bike as well, hopefully will give some resolve to biking in -30 degree celcius 🙂

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 18, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      Sounds like we ride in about the same type of winter weather!

  6. MikeW

    September 18, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Another great clinic. Thanks ASC!

  7. timscyclingblog

    September 19, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    +1 for koolstop

    When below 0 Celsius, fit winter tyres if you want to ride icy roads.
    Salt is good on the roads, but is evil to your bike, if you can stomach the effort (I never can) then regularly clean your bike to get that salt off.
    Winter (wet) lubes are a good idea too.

    Don’t be put off, remember this one rule of commuting in winter:
    Scraping ice off your windscreen and queuing in traffic to be cut up, abused and late for work is not fun. Riding in winter is a bit gritty but still a lot of fun!

    When it snows I build a snowman, then I get my bike out for more fun.

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      September 19, 2013 at 9:44 AM

      I like the way you phrased it, “Salt is good on the roads, but is evil to your bike.”

  8. 1chancemiamor

    October 7, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    This post is most helpful. I’m not a big enthusiast but I am a frequent biker, but winter always ruins that fun. I never knew of all the things I could do to make it so I could continue through winter!

    P.S. Thanks for all the blog likes!

    • All Seasons Cyclist

      October 7, 2013 at 10:29 PM

      Thanks for the note! It took my several years to figure out how to stay warm on winter rides, but now I really look forward to riding in the snow — and across ice covered lakes!

  9. kurtbredeson

    November 6, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Very helpful article. I’ve been following you for two winters now since searching for “winter riding” and have been slowly building up my gear. I’ve yet to try anti-seize or wax my bike but if I have time I may give it a shot. Leaving my bike out in the cold garage worked for not having it melt and rust last year, but lots of folks had their bikes stolen over the winter out of their garages! now I’m worried about bringing it in every day.

    Also, it’s very hard to drink frozen water (I know you have reviewed bottle cozies), and hard to drink with a face mask, so this year no bottle cages at all, hehe! However, anyone who plays outdoor hockey or bikes in winter can attest to how delicious water is that has had ice crystals forming in it!

    Can’t wait to read your whole series, nice job for putting it together!


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