Thursday, December 17, 2009

You know it's winter when...

Mike has left a possibly-permanent set of salt stains on the carpet outside my apartment, right underneath where the rear tire and the front set of gears are when I stand him in the hallway to thaw after I get in. The one under the derailleur is the worst: chain lube plus salt plus road grime plus slush is not kind to carpet.

Well, I'm not about to bring him in to thaw and drip all over my hardwood floor, right?... I leave him out there for a half hour or so to drip dry, then open the door and allow him in. A little like a dog that's in disgrace.

It's amazing how much snow he brings in with him. The tires throw slush back against the underside of the frame and up into the rear set of gears, where it sticks and clogs around the gearshift cables. It almost feels futile to clear it off, since I'll just get the bike coated again the next time I go out, but I know I should. It's also true that I go through lubricant like a fiend when the weather's bad. Not that you tend to notice a sticky gear or a grinding in the pedals while you're teetering along at three-quarters speed, keeping an eye out for patches of ice or ridges left by the plow, but in the back of my mind I'm always aware that I'm putting the bike through really, really unkind conditions, and if I don't want to replace most of the drive train in the spring I should probably be wiping it down, lubricating absolutely everything, and probably trying to protect the paint job while I'm at it.

I see some debate out there in the blogosphere over using fixed-gear bikes for the winter; the sort of single-speeder that you usually find in either older style bikes, or seriously heavy-duty ones. The idea is that winter is so hard on your gears, and you're so unlikely to be traveling fast or hard enough to need more than one gear, that you're saving yourself a lot of replacement parts and headache by switching to a simpler bike with fewer working parts. The only downside is having to work a lot harder on hills (and you really don't want to stand up on the pedals on a slick, icy hill.) It's a moot point for me: even if I wanted to get a second bike, I don't have anywhere to keep it. As it is, Mike is dripping on the floor inside my apartment because there's no bike parking downstairs.

So, I have to do what I can to protect my bike's delicate bits. MEC (bless their hardcore little hearts) posted a great set of tips for winterizing your bike. New Years Resolution: get that midwinter tuneup, some studded tires, a can of WD-40, and a gallon or so of all-purpose lubricant.

And a rubber mat for the hallway. Sooner or later my landlord's going to complain.


  1. I think it's ridiculous to ride a bike in the winter. Besides the obvious problems with doing so, there is less space on the road and I'm frequently stuck behind cyclists, forced by law to resist the urge to nudge them into the snowbank.

    How about I x-country ski in front of your bike in the summer and see how you like it?

  2. You have mud guards? Might be a plan if you don't. Fixed wheel is like a cult: less to steal, lower maintenance etc but mostly it's for the cool factor of not having brakes & the 'I'm a little more hardcore than thou' I think.

    That said, what about single speed (same as fixie except you can coast)? Since you aren't going fast in winter a low gear would work. Could talk to the bike dump dudes & just get a rear wheel with a BMX freewheel on it, a chain to fit (like this: & for about $50 & then swap it back in summer.

    All the info you could ask for:

  3. I don't think it's ridiculous to bike in the winter at all - no more than it is to drive!

    Granted, it can be tricky. I generally avoid sloppy days - slushy icy biking is no fun, not good for the bike, and is much more dangerous. But most of the winter is like today: cold, and any major street is almost completely clear. I was actually moving faster than the car traffic this afternoon, as usual. (forced by law to resist the urge to key them, perhaps?)

    With that in mind, I keep my mud guards on, at least for now, but they would get in the way if I rode in messier conditions. I also haven't really considered changing my bike hardware much at all, though I might get some knobbier tires at some point.

    I actually *like* riding in the really cold weather (-17 on the way home tonight, and quite windy). Invigorating!

  4. Paul: definitely looking into mudguards and the single speed option (I've discovered just how slowed down I am, and hey, since I'm already down to about three of my 21 speeds I might as well just accept winter.) And I do agree fixed-gear may mostly be for the 'cooler-than-thou' factor.

    Graham: well, it's bike or spend $2 a ride on a bus, as I don't have a car. I'm honestly, honestly, not really getting in your way that much when you think about it, and you can't x-country ski in front of me in summer anyway, because, well, that would wreck the skis.

    Oh, and if you do? I'll just slow down, give you some space, and then swing on past you. That's kinda what we do on the bike paths.

    Oh, and... 'nudging' cyclists into a snowbank could be considered attempted vehicular homicide. Just saying.

    & I'm with you, Jonathan - saw a lot of bikes out today and I was actually jealous. My plans pretty much made it hard for me to bike today, but it was gorgeous out there!