Nobody likes spending hours toying and tinkering with gear cables, bottom brackets and worn brake pads when they could be out riding. Riding comes first and for a lot of us maintaining our bikes doesn’t even come second – a coffee and slump on the couch is often the first thing to enter our minds after we’ve completed a ride.
Maintaining our bikes, however, is essential, particularly come the cold, dark and grisly winter months – a time when Mother Nature is trying its hardest to wreck both you and your bike. Staying on top of maintenance is perhaps the best piece of advice you could ever follow, but what about those otherwise unknown tips; those hacks that beat back the winter blues and make riding in the cold and wet somewhat enjoyable?
Here are our top maintenance tips for you to follow during this upcoming winter season…
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
In an ideal world, I’m sure we’d all love to jump aboard our bikes like Zorro on his horse, riding into the sunset without a care in the world. Living in the UK, however, makes this largely impossible, with a lot of time – often too much time – allotted to planning, preparing and weighing up each and every bike ride.
During winter this preparation time increases tenfold, almost to the point where it dissuades you from getting out there altogether. But it needn’t do, especially if you make a few of these essential winter upgrades to your prized two-wheeled machine:
Mudguards: No one likes a damp backside on the best of days, but during the winter period a wet one can really drag you down. Mudguards will largely protect you from the road spray, keeping your backside clean and pristine. They’ll also serve as a welcome treat for your riding partners, particularly if you’re partial to riding at the front of the paceline.
Lights: Staying visible when the darkness descends is vital, but lights can also serve another purpose. Have you ever embarked on an ambitiously long ride through the barren valleys of the Lake District only to become suddenly shrouded in total darkness? If, like me, you have, then a powerful front-beam light is always a better alternative to your fading phone screen.
Winter tyres: Punctures are a cyclist’s kryptonite, the nails in our coffins when we’re out on a long winter’s ride. All the rain and ice often leave the roads strewn with spiky debris and vertigo-inducing potholes, making navigating the roads a nightmare during winter. Wider, more robust tyres with some grippy tread are ideal for the winter season – keeping you both upright and puncture free on the icy roads.
Keeping it clean
It might not be something you want to hear, but simply keeping your bike clean is the best way to keep it in top shape and hold off the winter wear. Yes, there are some more technical procedures you can follow for fine-tuning your bike for the winter, but none provide more bang-for-their-buck than the tried and tested sponge and soapy water method.
Jet washes are a slightly more exciting alternative, but they do come with a few risks. Exciting it may be, but if you get a little too trigger happy then you may just find yourself with a bike stripped of its paint and its bearings totally blasted.
Giving the bike a quick wash after every ride is advised, as is a deep clean at the end of a long week of riding. Soaking your moving parts in a bath of degreaser will help to get at all that grime that’s managed to sneak past your soapy defences and really dig in to your bike. A spray of Muc-Off MOX-904 Nano will do the job, but then again, so will a blast with PAM cooking spray – it all depends on what you’ve got to hand in your anti-winter arsenal.
The age-old saying, ‘a clean bike is a fast bike’ certainly rings true, but have you ever ridden a clean bike that’s been properly lubed up? If not, then it may be a good idea to invest in a pair of cycle-specific lubes, one wet and one dry. The wet lube will last for longer and only needs to be applied weekly. The dry, however, is a little better at keeping the grime at bay but may need daily application.
Check, check and check again
Even after a deep clean, or total winter upgrade makeover, you still need to make sure that your bike passes all the necessary checks before you embark on your ride. Think of it as a little two-wheeled MOT, a quick once over that may just save you a couple of hours spent freezing on the side of a road trying to fix an untimely mechanical.
Brake pads are the first to go during winter, all the grit and grime shredding them to pieces. If they’ve worn past the guideline, bin ‘em and grab a new pair, you’ll certainly thank yourself for doing so later. The next thing to check are the tyres. Debris can often stay embedded in the rubber hidden from view only to cause a puncture later down the road. Pressure can also drop after weeks spent in the shed, so be sure to top up with some air – but not too much, you don’t want them skidding on every patch of ice.
You might also want to throw a quick glance at the chain and mech hangers, making sure they’re all in line and running smoothly. If rusted and worn, a chain runs the risk of snapping, especially if it’s being pushed to its tensional limit by your skewed mech hangers. This is a job that can get a little fiddly and definitely not one you’ll want to be doing on the roadside when your thumbs have swollen to the size of small pears.
DIY hacks and winter bodges
When all else fails and the winter budget starts to run dry, it’s time to employ some home remedies; the kind that will make or break your ride – quite literally. PAM cooking spray has already been given a mention, but did you know that trusty Mr Sheen furniture spray can do a similar job? Not only will it keep the grime from attaching to your bike, it’ll also give it that classic, gleaming showroom look.
Zip-ties and zip-lock bags are essential for any winter ride and are often traded as covert currency among riding groups. Anything that wobbles loosely can be kept in place with a trusty zip-tie, and your money and phone can be kept in the little waterproof bag. These bags also double up as DIY overshoes – although we would advise opting for the XL bags if you’re planning on doing this.
Finally, never underestimate the powers of a £5 note. Not only can a fiver help to pay your way out of all manner of situations – a bribe for the bus driver, entry to an all-you-can-eat buffet or fare for a train ride home – it also doubles as a tyre boot. Okay, it might not be as effective as the real thing, but in a real emergency you can fashion a DIY tyre boot from of the new, ‘plasticky’ £5 note – one that both Elizabeth and Winston would be proud of.