Winter is coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. For many people that means it’s time to put the bike away for the season. However, there are those of us who hate the subway so much, who prefer the freedom of a bike over app-tethered ride-sharing to such a degree, that we are willing to keep riding our mighty bicycle-shaped steeds through the black-slush-lined streets of a New York City winter. We, the year-round commuters and cyclists, are entering the time of year when it is necessary to take a long, hard look at our bicycles and decide — is my bike ready for winter?
That’s exactly the question that this blog post has come to answer. What do you need to do in order to winterize your bike? What gear do you need, and what tips and tricks are there to keep your bike reliable and functional all winter?
Every bike and every rider is different, so the process for winterizing bikes will vary depending on you and your bike’s specific needs — but there are some basic accessories, gear, and maintenance tips that we think can benefit all riders in the wintertime.
Perhaps the biggest meteorological difference between Summer and Winter is the precipitation. Summer rain is downright refreshing compared to the sleet, slush and snow of winter — and your bike agrees. The “salt” that the city puts on the roads in the winter months acts as a corrosive agent, not only to the icy roads, but to the components on your bike as well. Keeping that winter sludge off of your drivetrain can save you money in repairs in the Spring, and the best way to keep winter grossness off of your drivetrain is with full coverage fenders.
When it comes to fenders, you have options. You can go minimal with something like the Origin8 Ass-Saver, a spray-guard that clips to your saddle rails, or the Blackburn Splashboard, a rear fender that clips onto your seat post. These are inexpensive, easy to install and remove, and they do a respectable job of keeping the winter sludge off of your back. However, minimalist clip-on fenders don’t provide any protection to the bike itself, nor to the rider’s frontside.
Full coverage fenders provide significantly more protection from the elements than their smaller counterparts, and that’s the most important thing during the winter. They stretch almost all the way around the rear wheel to keep dirt, grime, and road salt off of the drivetrain. Furthermore, they include a front fender that stretches down the back of the front wheel to protect your shoes, socks, and face. When properly fitted and installed, full coverage fenders not only keep you dry, but they keep the bike significantly cleaner, reducing rust, grime, and wear, and extending the life of your drivetrain.
In a perfect world, we’d all have a bike like this for the winter months. It’s a Momentum Rocker, with enormous 26×4.0 tires perfect for keeping traction over snow, slush and the aforementioned black sludge so common on NY streets between December and February. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and Fatbikes don’t grow on trees (But we do carry them here at Bicycle Roots! Come in and test ride one!) — but just because you don’t have a fatbike doesn’t mean you’re stuck inside when the winter hits.
Depending on your bicycle, you may be able to install wider tires for the winter months. Riding a wider tire means that your tires will have a greater surface area making contact with the ground, resulting in more traction under slippery conditions. We’re more than happy to assess whether or not your bike can fit wider tires, and we can steer you towards tires that will work for you.
But width isn’t all that matters. The type of rubber and the tire tread also matter when picking a good winter tire. The Schwalbe Marathon and Marathon Plus are great year-round tires available in pretty much any size you can imagine. They’re thick, they have a semi-radial tread to push moisture away from the center of the tire, and they even have a reflective sidewall to increase night time visibility. If you’d prefer a more aggressive tread for better traction in the snow, we’ve got Nokian snow tires, too. The Nokian Suomi Hakkeplitta and IceSpeed tires both have metal studs embedded in the tire tread, making them perfect for icy road conditions.
If your winter commuter is a road bike or a fixie, and you can’t fit anything wider than a 25c, you can still upgrade your grip with Continental Grand Prix 4-Season tires. Grand Prix 4-Seasons are made of a special rubber compound that stays soft when the temperature drops and the blue sky gives way to rain — giving you better grip even on the brick-est of NYC mornings.
Brakes and Brake Pads
Brakes are always important, but in the wet slog of winter riding, they are even more vital. Cold and wetness can decrease the effectiveness of traditional brake pads, increasing your stopping distance, and creating dangerous scenarios for both you and other cyclists around you. Making sure your brakes are in good working condition and that your pads aren’t dried out or used up can mean the difference between avoiding that stopped cab or slamming into the back of it.
If your brake pads feel more like plastic than rubber, or you can see bits of metal embedded in them, then it might be time for some new ones. But not all pads are created equal. If you have steel rims, or if you plan on riding in the rain or snow or sleet, then Kool Stop Salmon brake pads might be the right choice for you. Kool Stops have been around for a long time, and their distinctive orange color makes them easy to identify.
Kool Stop Salmon brake pads are made of a denser rubber compound than traditional black pads, giving them extra stopping power, especially in wet conditions. We’ve got several different types of Kool Stop Salmon pads in stock at the shop so chances are we’ve got the right pads to keep your winter commute safe and your stopping distance low.
If your bike has disc brakes, that’s fantastic! Disc brakes work extremely well in cold or wet conditions, but they still need their pads replaced sometimes. If your disc brakes feel weak or make squealing or squeaking noises, then it may be time for new pads for you, too.
Tips and Best Practices
Beyond just new gear there are also some simple tips and tricks that can keep your winter commute running smoothly and warmly. As you can see from the photo below, co-owner and head mechanic Joe Lawler endorses the “bar tape your levers” method to help keep your fingers happy. From our Instagram:
Winter cycling tip: a piece of discarded handlebar tape wrapped around your brake levers can help keep your fingers more toasty through the cold weather, even when wearing your favorite pair of gloves!
Perhaps the biggest favor you can do for your mighty winter commuter is to bring it inside at night. We understand that space constraints in a New York City apartment can make it hard to bring a bike inside — but your bike will thank you. Chances of theft decrease significantly when you store your bike inside overnight, but furthermore, the drastic temperature changes overnight affect rubber components and allow moisture to get into and onto every part of your bike, resulting in a brownish-orange rust on the bike’s components that renders many of them useless. Bringing the bike inside to thaw out and dry off overnight helps your bike rest after a hard day of hauling you to work through the frozen NYC tundra.
As is the case in most situations, lubrication is your friend. The combination of black slush and the aforementioned “salt” on the roads can eat through your drivetrain and dissolve your chain lube in just a few rides. If you’re going to ride through the winter, it’s a good idea to have a bottle of lube at home. A bottle of Tri-Flow costs less than $6 and is likely to last you all season. Lubing your chain is simple and easy. Just apply the lube to the inside of the chain while pedaling backwards, then use a rag to wipe away the excess oil and dirt. Stop by the shop and one of our mechanics will be happy to show you how to lube your chain.
Lastly, if you’re planning on riding your bike through the NYC winter, it might be a good idea to stop by Bicycle Roots and have a mechanic assess your bike and make recommendations for winterizing. Estimates are always free, and our mechanics and sales staff are happy to chat about your winter biking concerns. We’ll take into consideration everything we’ve written about in this blog post, and tailor a winter commuting solution specific to your needs.
The moral of the story here is that winter commuting in NYC is not only possible, it’s easy — as long as you have the right preparation and the right gear. Spare yourself the subway ride and enjoy the bike life all year!