Winter’s coming and the regular cycling season is winding down. Though I have frigid and foul weather gear, my heart isn’t into riding when it’s cold, windy and wet. Though some cyclists ride all year and fat bike in winter, I’m not one of them. When there’s snow on the ground, I’ll be cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Taking time in late fall to get your bike and cycle gear cleaned up, organized and put away is a good investment in your cycling future. Bikes that aren’t stored carefully and cleaned thoroughly won’t be in good shape come spring. Give your bicycles love and attention now so they’ll be ready to ride.
Some riders have multiple bikes — a road, gravel and/or mountain bike. That means they better get started soon to get them all ready for winter storage. Cycling families will have to multiply their efforts.
Research into “preparing for winter storage,” gave me some ideas about what to do to get my bike ready to put away. Some things I knew, but there were others I hadn’t thought about. I found this Tech Talk (tinyurl.com/45kn8ar4) article useful. Other articles I consulted were (tinyurl.com/45kn8ar4, tinyurl.com/4jandae3 and tinyurl.com/76mjdetc. Finally, I asked my local bike mechanic, The Bike Shop’s Anthony Walker, for his advice.
No. 1 on the Tech Talk list was “Remove your water bottle, cyclo-computer and any other electronic devices.” I always take off water bottles and remove my hydration pack. It’s my winter routine to thoroughly clean them out with a mild vinegar solution and dry them before putting them away in a warm dry place, ready for spring. Nothing is more disgusting than a funky water bottle or bladder!
The electronic devices removal I hadn’t thought about. Since none of my cyclometers work anymore, I forget about them. Maybe that’s why they quit working. They weren’t given proper attention. Taking them off the bikes, removing the batteries that might corrode and putting them somewhere warm and dry may have helped them last longer.
I also check my bicycle bags for perishable snacks, sunscreen and other items that might “go bad” in winter. I take out cycling clothes and accessories, clean them and store them where I can find them come spring. Removing the handlebar and seat post bags will also make cleaning the bike easier.
Once the bicycle has been stripped of its extras, No. 2 is “Thoroughly wash the bike.” Putting a bike away dirty is a crime! All that dirt, mud, grime and maybe road salt the bike has accumulated over the season can cause corrosion and damage to the bike’s frame and components if left there all winter. If you want your bike to work well in the spring, wash it now!
For me, that’s a problem. We already put the hoses away and turned the outside spigots off. I guess I could take my bike in the shower as some cyclists do, but that seems extreme. On a warmer fall day, I’ll get a bucket of warm water and soap, a sponge or rag and clean my bikes. Washing them off with a spray bottle, I’ll dry them with clean rags and let them air dry in the sun before putting them away.
Many people suggest waxing your bike to protect it and keep the dust off. You can use regular car wax or a bike-specific wax. Just make sure you rub it all off!
The chain needs special attention. Many people use bike chain cleaners, but I use “Simple Green.” I spray it on the chain and let it soak in for a while. It loosens grit and grease. Using a gear brush, I scrape that off. This is messy and best done outside or in the garage with newspaper spread around to catch the “gook.”
Once the bike and chain are clean, it’s time to jump ahead to No. 5 — “Lubricate the chain and cables.” Using a bike-specific lubricant like “Tri-flow,” I’ll add extra protection from corrosion. Putting bikes away clean and lubricated extends their lifetimes.
No. 3 — “Get your bike a full tune-up” before winter is good advice. You can avoid the “spring rush” at bike shops and have the bike ready to ride come spring. If you can’t do it now, Anthony suggests doing it before Valentine’s Day. That’s when bike shops start getting busy.
Step No. 4 is “Air up the tires.” This advice is somewhat controversial. Some guides to winter storage suggest inflating the tires to recommended pressure so “they won’t develop flat spots, bulges or other deformities from sitting under-inflated.” One source said to check them once a month since tires lose air over time. If you can’t hang your bike up, Georgena Terry, of Terry Bicycles, wrote: “Just turn the tires a bit every week or so and pump up the tires every 60 days. That will keep the tires nice and round.”
When I asked Anthony at The Bike Shop about winter prep, he recommended the opposite to inflation-deflation. Because of all the temperature variations in winter, bicycle tires are subject to cold cracks and dry rot when left fully inflated, so he deflates his tires.
Check with your local bike mechanics and see what they recommend. If you’re lucky enough to have a place where you can hang your bike off the floor, there’s less of a tire issue when the weight of the bike isn’t on the tires.
Once the bike is clean, lubricated and ready to store, cover it up. I never thought to do that, but it makes sense. Whether you store your clean bike in a garage, basement, shed or in a room, dust and dirt are sure to find it. Covering it keeps dust out of shifters and other important parts so they’ll be working well in spring. A word of caution — make sure your cover is breathable to allow for airflow and reduce condensation. Keep dust off but don’t trap in moisture.
Where and how to store your bicycle
Where you store your bicycles depends on where you have room. The optimal place is inside where the temperature is more constant, but not everyone can do that. What’s important is that the bike is secured (locked up) if it’s outside, covered and isn’t sitting with its wheels directly on a concrete floor.
For years, we’ve stored our bikes in a multi-bike rack in the basement. I never knew the concrete floor could draw moisture out of rubber tires, causing dry rot. This year, I’ll put down some plywood underneath to protect them.
If you can hang your bike up on hooks, you avoid tire issues and save space. There are many different types of either wall or ceiling-mounted storage hooks. Another word of caution — don’t hang the bike upside down. Anthony told me that can cause hydraulic fluids to drain out. It’s best to hang it by the front wheel.
Winter’s on its way. Get your bicycles clean, lubricated, covered and well-cared for now so they’ll be ready in spring when you’re ready to ride.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.