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How to Clean your bike through winter

Just as inevitable as the changing of the seasons, beautiful warm summer evenings inescapably give-way to the autumn leaves falling and eventually the depths of the wet, cold winter arrives.  Some of us cyclists retreat to the sanctity of our indoor trainers, many of us continue to spend at least a certain proportion of our bike training time out in the elements.  

Winter cycling poses one considerable issue for the dedicated all weather cyclist; the increased build up of destructive road grime and corrosive salts that accumulate on your pride and joy.  So cleaning your bike through the winter season is essential to limit long term maintenance costs.  

“Firstly, riding in winter isn’t what actually damages your bike” says Tony from local bicycle maintenance company ‘Braveheart Bikes’ in Coulsdon. “The real damage occurs from not doing basic maintenance after a winter ride.  It’s important to clean your bike regularly over winter to remove corrosive road salts and grime and also check your bike regularly to ensure all components are working correctly and safely.”  

The remedy for this is simple Tony assures us. “Ensuring you give your bike a wash down after each winter ride is essential to prolonging the life of your frame, components and wheels. It’s also important to inspect your bike throughout winter to ensure components are in proper working order”

So how can we get the most life out of our bike components and limit the potentially harsh impact of winter? 

Washing your Bike

When washing your bike; Firstly, rinse off most of the grime and mud with a hose. Don’t be tempted to use a pressure washer as these can penetrate bearings and wash out essential grease/ lube. Once most of the crud is removed, if you have one, place your bike on a work stand to allow access to the underneath and able to rotate the drivetrain. 

Fill a bucket with warm water and use dedicated bike cleaners (not washing up liquid). Using a sponge, clean the entire frame, wheels and components paying particular attention to rims as these can accumulate most of the road grime and increase the wear on braking surfaces. With an old toothbrush or scrubbing brush, clean the chain, cassette and chainrings. I also use a dedicated degreaser on top of the cleaning agent to remove excess oily grime. You can also use a chain degreaser tool for this job if you prefer. If you’re running disc brakes, take care when cleaning the discs as these can easily be bent if you apply too much pressure and will then require re-alignment. It also pays to use a good degreaser when washing the discs and pads to eliminate any squeal after washing. 

Once cleaned, use some old clean rags to dry the entire bike ensuring it is completely dry. Pay particular attention to the drive train and make sure no excess water is in the chain or cassette. If you have one, an air compressor is really handy for getting water out of the drive train. Blow through the chain and cassette until no water is present.

Post wash maintenance.

Once washed, it’s imperative that you now re-lube the drive train and any other key moving parts on the bike. For the drive train, using your preferred lube – I use dry wax on my bikes as I find they tend to pick up less grit than wet lube- rotate the cranks and apply a drop of lube on each roller on the chain. Once you’ve gone around the entire chain, rotate the cranks and go through the entire range of gears to allow the lube to coat the cassette and both chain-rings. If your bike has disc brakes be careful when lubricating the drive train as over spray from lube can easily get onto the discs and pads, potentially leading to contamination that can result in reduced braking performance & squealing brakes. With a clean rag, wipe of any excess from the drive train. 

For other components such as brakes, it’s important to lube the pivot points (Calliper brakes). To do so, apply a small drop of lube on the pivot points making sure you cover the brake pads and ensure no oil/ lube gets anywhere near the braking surface of the pads or the rims. Additionally, if you use rim brakes, it’s important to check the braking surface of the rims as winter riding increases the rate of wear, too much and cracks can occur. 

For front and rear mechs, carefully spray a small amount of lube onto the pivots points and also the main retention springs to ensure a smooth operation. 

For disc brakes, ensure the discs and pads are free from any contaminants. I like to remove both discs and pads and with a degreaser, clean them thoroughly before refitting. It’s also worth checking the wear on the pads when you have them out. If worn, then replace. 

Lubricants: what to use and where.

There are a lot of lubricants on the market and it’s a very subjective matter for cyclists. Each have their preferred brand and type. As mentioned above, I’m a fan of dry wax for chains as it’s less prone to collecting grit, sand and road grime than wet lube/wax and helps increase the life of the chain. 

For other components such as front and rear mechs, I typically use Weldtite TF2 or GT85 sprays or wet lube. Both are great all-purpose lubricants and have the added benefit of Teflon to ensure a smooth operation without attracting grit and grime. 

What is the biggest maintenance error cyclists make? 

The biggest mistake is simply ignoring or overlooking the bike cleaning and make maintenance. Many riders tend to jump on their bikes and ride them without giving it a quick check to see if everything is working as it should. Taking a few minutes to check over your bike before and after a ride is vital in ensuring the components are in good working order and there are no defects. Not only will this ensure you have a trouble free ride, but it will also help identify problems earlier and therefore keep the cost of maintenance down. A worn chain initially requires just a replacement chain. Left ignored this can quickly result in needing a whole new drive chain. 

One other common mistake is over lubricating the drivetrain. Putting too much lube on your chain is as damaging as too little. ‘Over lubed’ chains pick up road grime much more easily and the combination forms a corrosive paste that wears through the drive train in no time. 

When should you get a service over winter? What are the signs to look out for?

I always advise getting your winter steed checked out before winter arrives, so around September/October. Most club riders tend to have a good summer / race bike and also a winter bike. Before the end of summer it’s advisable to have the winter biked serviced to ensure it’s ready for the wet and muddy rides ahead. As winter riding tends to put more strain on wheels, tyres and components its important to regularly check these items to ensure everything is still in good condition or to replace if necessary. At the end of winter, a full service will help prolong the life of the moving parts on your bike. Grit and dirt will accumulate in hard to reach places that might not be washed away easily. 

Do you also need to do maintenance to a dedicated turbo bike over / after winter?

Yes! The common misconception is that a turbo bike doesn’t suffer from wear and tear. Even though the bike is indoors and not subject to winter conditions, the drive train is still taking a bashing from those intense Zwift sessions. These can sometime put the drivetrain under more strain than on the road, so it’s important to check the wear on the chain, cassette and bottom bracket. The frame can also take some considerable punishment too as the forces being put through the frame whilst in a static position can cause wear and tear around the headset and bottom bracket, so it’s good to check play or movement in these every now and then. If your trainer is not direct drive, then it’s important also to check your tyre wear. Another, often overlooked issue with indoor riding, is the accumulation of sweat that works it’s way in to various key points that can lead to corrosion. Give your bike a clean after a few rides and remember some of the damage might not be immediately visible, like under the bar tape. It might not look dirty, but salty sweat and bikes don’t mix!

Is there one tip you would give for winter bike set up to protect them?

The biggest tip I can give is to get some mudguards. Some people find them ugly and they’re not considered ‘aero’ but fitting mudguards to your winter bike will prolong the life of the components and also ensure you (and your club mates) stay drier and and warmer during those winter club rides. If your bike has full mudguard fixing points, then it’s worth fitting and leaving your mudguards on all winter; They’ll rattle less, cover more of the tyre and won’t scuff the frame at velcro/rubber fixing points. If you’re using removable ‘guards, stick a bit of tape under the rubber that sits on the frame – it’ll help prevent scratching your pride and joy, with tell-tale patches.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Tony for sharing his maintenance tips.  If your winter bike could do with a much needed health check and service, or if you want to get your Time Trial Bike race-ready for the upcoming season, get in contact with him.  He comes highly recommended from our friends at Oxted Cycle Club and Addiscombe Cycling Club. 

Tony is contactable on email tony.couttie@gmail.com or telephone 07557 614 900 to arrange a full bike service. He even offers a collection service for a small charge if required too.