By Steve Graham, Networx
Recently, the League of American Bicyclists released its annual community survey data, which showed a 39 percent increase in bike commuting over the past decade. Still, bike commuting and all other bike travel still plummets during the winter.
Winter biking may seem uncomfortable and dangerous, but it’s easy with the right preparation and equipment. On the other hand, you can stay in shape but keep the bike off the snow by turning a summer bike into a winter trainer. Finally, even if you store the bike for the off-season, invest in the right preparation and equipment.
Tune up for winter
Ice, road salt and snowmelt can all ruin a perfectly good bike, but some precautions can minimize the damage.
Try to wipe down the bike after any winter ride, and clean and lube the chain more frequently. As always, be sure to thoroughly wipe the oil off the chain as much as possible. Also consider adding a drop of oil at the end of each spoke, as this can help reduce rust.
Equip the bike for winter
Winter biking also may require some new equipment, including knobbier mountain bike-style tires. For improved traction, keep the tire pressure on the low end of the inflation range marked on the tire. Studded tires also are available but, like studded tires for cars, they are overkill for all but the most intense weather.
Skip the clipless pedals and toe cages. Though they require a little more exertion, flat pedals are the best bet for winter riding.
With shorter days and long, dark nights, lighting is also important -- and legally required in most places. I recommend the rechargeable Nite Rider MiNewt Mini. It’s compact but powerful, easy to mount on a bike or helmet, and easily switches between bikes or to a helmet.
A fender is also a good idea for avoiding the telltale raccoon stripe of snowmelt up your back. Look for a fender that mounts relatively high off the wheel to avoid dangerous snow buildup between the wheel and fender in the right conditions.
If you want to get really serious about biking in really cold weather, also consider upgrading the brake system to disc brakes or hub brakes. Standard rim brakes can become virtually useless in the unlikely event that ice builds up on the rim.
Make it a trainer
If you aren’t ready for ice riding, but you want to stay in shape for the winter, consider bringing the bike inside and mounting it on a trainer. There is a dizzying range of options, but fluid trainers are especially popular. They provide a wide range of resistance levels and a realistic feel, but are much quieter than other systems.
Store the bikes
If you store the bike, there are space-saving alternatives to leaning the bike against the garage wall.
Freestanding or wall-mounted bike stands can stack several bikes into the same floor space while also keeping the bike off the ground, which is better for the wheels. Another option is to use hooks mounted on a rafter or stud. While this option is cheap, it may require more effort to get a heavy bike on and off the hooks.
If you leave the bike on the ground, be sure to fully inflate the tires, and occasionally check the tire pressure during the winter. Months of weight on a flat tire can ruin the tire. Also clean and lubricate chains and cables before storing the bike, particularly if it is in an unheated garage or shed.
Whether you plan to ride a bike inside or outside, or just store it away, take time to winterize your ride.