Preparing you and your bike for winter

by Raymond Parker on September 23, 2010

in Cycling, Technical

fall-trio Click to enlarge

Recent “monsoon” rains on the West Coast announced, in case we were in denial, that autumn is here and It’s time to prepare for cycling in inclement weather.

Have you got your mudguards/fenders on? Does your bike need a tune-up? How about winter clothing? Is your lighting adequate?

Nothing spoils a rainy ride, not to mention moving parts, faster than a fenderless bike. When buying a commuting bike, make sure it has room and attachment points for fenders. I’ve beaten this horse mercilessly on VeloWeb (recently here) but it’s not quite dead yet. Unless you live in Timbuktu, just say no to no fenders. Then again, fenders also protect your gears from sand, which is just what grinds up gear trains here: grit mixed with the endless rains of winter.

Some commuters will change clothes completely at their destination. Clothing choice will depend on the severity of the weather. Sometimes, to avoid overheating, you’ll only need a windbreaker and thin insulating layer.

Us West Coasters often need to dress like Captain Highliner. A well-vented waterproof and breathable shell is a must. Rain pants are favoured by many cyclists. I prefer to wear breathable polyester tights alone and dry them between rides. Helmet covers—styled like sou’westers—keep the rain out of your collar (I don’t like hoods; they restrict vision when shoulder checking). Unless you crave that squelchy feeling, buy yourself some shoe covers, or “booties.”

Keep your hands warm with quality cycling gloves, or if the weather is extreme, mountaineering hand protection can be adapted. Just make sure you can still brake and shift deftly.

As nights draw in, the most important part of your winter arsenal is your lighting. There are reasonably-priced battery-powered LED lights that will do the job on a short commute, but don’t expect a $30 battery light to illuminate your way on dark roads. Use headlights on constant power, not blink mode—then I won’t have to use my bar-mount rocket-launcher as you approach on the trail.

When you are choosing, consider safety over cost (what is your life worth?) and check battery run time. How often do you want to replace or recharge batteries?

How bright is the light? Don’t bother with manufacturer lumens measurements; they rarely represent real-world performance.

Serious commuters might consider dynamo-powered lights: No batteries to maintain and replace, and generally superior durability.

I know it’s hard, but try to keep your bike clean and well-lubed in the winter. Nothing will save you more money. Maintenance is cheaper than replacement.

Again, depending on climate, use an appropriate lube (not a solvent, like WD-40) In wet weather, try something like Finish Line Wet formula. Check out the related links below.

Winter Cycling Guide | Clothing & Kit | Clean & Lube | Honjo Fenders | LightingAn Autumn Ride

Hamish December 6, 2011 at 5:35 am

Great idea about using adequate lighting front and back.
I was having problems with cold hands when riding in winter. I now use a It covers the entire handlebar and keeps the cold wind off my hands so I can wear lighter gloves. It is bright orange so it increases visibility – especially important in winter.

Raymond Parker December 6, 2011 at 10:10 am

I’m not sure I’d want to use, or promote, one of those.

The photos on the site are not very clear, but it looks like the “bra” would flap around.

Other than a proper hard-shell fairing, I’d recommend something like lobster-claw gloves.

Follow the link above to the Winter Cycling Guide for my recommendations on hand coverings and other winter clothing options.

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