I am back after a long absence to bring you once again an edition of bicycling on the cheap. I have been seeing quite a few ads from various people who will do a winterization of your bicycle for $$. That is great for those of you who don't want to get their hands dirty or have lots of change in their pockets. For those of us who either don't mind getting greasy or can't afford not to, here are some steps to winterizing your ride.
1. Clean your bike thoroughly. This is an important step. A clean bike will perform better and give a better surface for some of the winterizing that I will cover below. You can clean the chain and derailleur areas with WD-40, realizing that you should never use WD-40 as a lubricant. It is however, very good at cleaning parts and displacing water. Wipe all excess grime/WD-40 off your bike. Simple Green is also a good bike cleaner.
2. Wax your frame. You would do it to your car, why not the paint on your bike? Get some wax and shine up your frame and give it a chance to protect from the elements.
3. If you have a steel bike, you may want to use either a frame saver treatment, or go the cheap method and shoot a bunch of WD-40 down the tubes. It is not as good as products such as Frame Saver, but can last a winter and is a bit cheaper. I have seen quite a few bikes have their tubes burst because they were left out all winter and the water collected inside the tubes froze and broke the chainstay, ruining the bike. Don't let this happen to you!
4. Lube your bike and any unpainted steel. This includes your brake bolts, etc. They will rust if you give it a chance. Don't, I learned this the hard way on one of my mountain bikes left in a covered but open shelter for an Indiana winter. Also give your chain a good lube. Wipe off the excess unless you are planning to leave the bike sit. I like to use a thicker lube in the winter to keep it on the chain better. While you are at it, lube up your seat post as well and reinsert it. If that rusts and bonds to your frame, it can be a huge issue! I tend to use Bar and Chain oil in the winter. It is typically used for chainsaws and is thick and even better, cheap. You can find a gallon of it for about $5 on sale. It holds up well to the slop out there but will collect dirt. Clean-up will be a bit messy so a warning there. If you are riding during the winter, your bike will be a mess anyway with grime and grit so this should not be a huge issue.
5. Some folks will tell you that a single speed or fixed gear is best for winter. I cannot argue that this is a good solution. In the flatlands of east central Illinois, I suggest if you have a multi-speed bike with a derailleur, you may want to find the best all round gear and stay in it. This will effectively make your bike a single speed. Part of the problem is shifting gears in winter is difficult because, you have bulking gloves or mittens on. Also, grime, salt, grit, snow, etc. can make a derailleur perform poorly. One speed keeps that from being too big of a problem but a single speed bike still might be better as there is no chain hanging down in a derailleur where it can get clogged up with dirt and snow.
6. Check your brake pads if you are using conventional brakes. The brake pads should be in good order and not too worn. You also might want to invest in some pads that have a compound that is good in wet weather.
7. A mountain bike or hybrid makes better sense than a road bike for the winter but some older road bikes have the ability to put wider tires on so they might be ok too. You want to put knobby tires on your bike. This is not as good as studded tires, (check back later for a DIY on the cheap studs article) but will do better in snow than slick road style tires. Studded tires are a great invention but a bit costly unless you do it yourself. Note, you need more traction in the front than the rear so if you only have money for one studded tire or a good knobby tire, the front wheel is where you want to spend your money. The front wheel sliding out usually ends up with you on the ground.
8. Fenders can be a good thing! Especially if you don't want to look like a Cola flavored Icee drink after you ride. Slush is cold and messy and fenders can deflect much of it. Much cheaper than a new pair of pants.
9. Don't forget lighting. By Illinois law must have a rear reflector and a white front light. I suggest both a front light and rear light for safety. You can pick these up pretty cheap. Much cheaper than a ticket. This time of the year, it might be better to be as lighted as the Vegas Strip to stay safe. Having good reflective clothing is also a good idea.
Winter can be a great time to ride. Nothing is more peaceful than riding at night during freshly falling snow. Just prepare your bike properly and you can ride all year.