How do I winterize my bike in a rainy city?
September 17, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Help me winterize my bike

We live in a townhouse complex and usually store our bikes in front of our front door. In past winters I have kept my bicycle in the bicycle lockup in the underground parking, but I've started riding my bike more and more over the past 6 months or so, and trooping down to retrieve it is a pain in the ass and is a barrier towards me riding my bike more.

However, there is little shelter at our front door for a bike. It rains a lot in the winter here (not as bad as Seattle but close), and so my bike will stay wet 24 hours a day. I've started wiping my bike off after rides and I now put a tarp over it, but is this enough?

How else can I protect my bike against constant wet?

The weather here in the winter averages about 10C during the day or about 45F. It rains continuously from late October to late December. There is no salt put on the roads.

Is there a special lube I should put on the bike? Should I wax it?

As well, if you live in a wet weather city, what do you use for bicycle wear during the winter? It's a little too cold for shorts, and I'm not sure if I can afford Gore-Tex pants. No breathable waterproofs are not really preferred either.
posted by KokuRyu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Constant wet, even with a tarp, sounds awful. How awkward would it be to take your bike indoors and put it on some kind of rack, with maybe some carpet underneath to catch the drips? MEC has lots of options.
posted by maudlin at 9:18 AM on September 17, 2010

Dry as a bone where I live and I keep my wheels indoors, but a few days ago I went to the local REI and got some Marmot clothing for 50% + off of retail that I am going to wear for winter cycling. I believe it's spring skiing/XC skiing gear(so-called soft-shell fabric) but the fit was right for riding and the price was better than right. All this stuff was on the rack along with the Gore Tex stuff for the same deal. If you need that sort of stuff right now is the time to buy before the new winter gear ships.
posted by No Shmoobles at 9:21 AM on September 17, 2010

Yeah, not all cycling clothing is a choice between Hi-Tech Expensive and Modified Trashbag. A decent jacket and *maybe* pants should be fine. If you have fenders on your bike the issue of wet pants decreases significantly, and at any rate you can bring a dry pair in a backpack or whatever.

Beyond that, I would just keep the bike's drivetrain clean and lubricated, which will cause it to shed water. Paint will be fine as long as there's no chips to rust (touch-up paint or clear nail polish), and maybe if your handlebars are wrapped with anything absorbent you should cover them (modified trashbag). In this way the tarp is enough. Any cold or wind won't hurt the bike, you're pretty much just battling rust and damp touchables.
posted by rhizome at 9:53 AM on September 17, 2010

I would clean and wax the chain regularly - perhaps every two weeks.

A plastic tarp will keep rain off your bike, but it will also let it stew in its own wetness. I would look at tarps with vents or Goretex or whatever it is the nicer car tarps use to allow water vapor to escape from underneath.
posted by zippy at 9:55 AM on September 17, 2010

Also, at the end of your ride, lift the bike up two inches or so and drop it back down on its tires. This will shake much water off before you towel the bike dry.
posted by zippy at 9:58 AM on September 17, 2010

Would it be possible to pick up a crappy bike for winter riding? Constant cold and wet can't be good for a bike, and you may find the weather to be a big enough barrier to riding as much as you'd like in itself. At least this way if the bike does get rusted up it isn't such a big deal.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:15 AM on September 17, 2010

I have found that grease (nice thick, goopy stuff) on the chain will protect it during wet winters. You lose a bit in efficiency, but you also will need less maintenance (otherwise, cleaning and re-lubing the chain every couple or few weeks would be prudent). This is not a good idea if there is a lot of road grime or gravel, but you should do OK in your location. Make sure you don't let your pants touch the chain! Don't be afraid the replace your chain come spring if it gets really bad.

General rust may be an issue if you are near the ocean. At least dry the bike off occasionally if rust is an issue. Rust will attack fasteners and all kinds of little bits and there isn't much you can do to protect them. In the worst case, your bike just won't last as long or will next parts replaced earlier - you'll just have to accept that relatively minor cost.

Fenders make a huge difference if you don't have them yet. Get wide, long ones.

For clothing, your best bet is probably just to head to MEC. Waterproof-breathable stuff is awesome, but you might be OK with non-breathable pants (they have a fine pair for $40) and a waterproof-breathable jacket. Depending how hardcore you want to be, you can round the outfit out with a helmet cover, shoe covers, waterproof gloves or mitts, and a waterproof bag or panniers. I wouldn't bother spending money on anything but waterproof gear. I grew up riding in your region and I can attest that the most important component of staying comfortable during the winter is staying dry.
posted by ssg at 10:45 AM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: Would it be possible to pick up a crappy bike for winter riding?

I'm thinking it already would be considered a crappy bike. Surprisingly (at least to me when I counted the years with my fingers) I've had this bike for 10 years now - it was bought on a trip home to Canada, and has lived half its life outside in Japan, near the sea. It's a Brodie Torque with Deore XT everything. I've replaced some of the fasteners as they get rusty. The bike was stolen a few years ago and was recovered intact a few weeks later after laying out in the rain. I ended up replacing the shifters at the time (Deore XT).

I just had the rear wheel rebuilt last month. Due to a mistake on the part of the mechanics (I think they were stoned), they also rebuilt my front wheel, and totally tuned up my bike, all without asking and I got all this work done for free.

Maybe I am worrying unnecessarily here...

Anyway, bringing the bike inside is not an option, although I can always store it in the bicycle lockup in the underground parking, beyond the security gate, the chain link enclosure, mounted high up on a hook, with a shitload of truly crappy bikes clogging the area and making navigation painful and jabby...
posted by KokuRyu at 11:00 AM on September 17, 2010

A tarp is good but a fitted cover might be better. Bikes are pretty tough. You'll be happiest if your bike doesn't have too much in the way of fanciness - high-end integrated shifters, etc., but I'm always amazed at the amount of abuse my bicycles live through. I would recommend making sure any repairs or upgrades you do take into account the storage conditions - as things wear out there are better and worse options for hubs, headsets, and bottom brackets in terms of water infiltration.

Clothing-wise, as a Seattleite I don't try to fight the wet too hard. Especially if you're going to be doing any substantial climbs or anything you're likely to sweat into your Goretex faster than it'll breathe. Goodwill-purchased wool dress slacks insulate well and dry quickly, as do thin wool socks. Fenders and mudflaps help immensely. I've got a decent REI Elements rain shell for the hard stuff and some thin base layers that I carry in my Chrome bag.
posted by lantius at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm about to enter my third consecutive winter commuting the same bike here in the Northeast (Boston). My winter bike is also my rain bike in the nicer weather, so it sees a lot of wet, salt, snow, slush, you name it and it is a 1994 model on top of that. Mostly I just attend to the chain and derailleurs (clean and lube) during the winters but I know that the main reason my bike holds up so well is that it is has the luxury of being stored in toasty warm enivirons both at work and at home. No matter how wet it gets on my 10 mile commute, it is always bone dry without me doing anything to it both at the end of the day and the following morning. Our bike room at home is also the furnace room for our condo and the bike room at work is our very warm and dry basement compressor room at work. So +1 for getting it indoors if possible. Also, besides lubing your chain, it needs to be regularly checked for wear. If you don't catch the wear early enough it will first destroy your gears in back and then your chainrings up front. The sad part is that you won't know it until you finally get a new chain only to find that it skips like crazy because the rest of your drivetrain has worn with the old chain. I try to make it through an entire winter with one chain by maintaining it well, but for the past two winters I still needed to replace the chain by February lest I wear out more stuff.

Details on bicycle chain wear
posted by Rafaelloello at 1:25 PM on September 17, 2010

Oh, and clothing for rainy weather:

Feet - best solution is Gore-Tex socks over whatever thickness of wool sock matches the cold, but the real pro commuter trick is to match these with cycling sandals. Your socks keep your feet warm and dry, the sandals give you the circulation you need to keep warm. I do this pretty much all winter, adding a neoprene shoe cover over the sandals for temps below 20F.

Legs - Sorry for the bad news, but nothing beats a pair of $200 Gore BikeWear Gore-Tex Paclite fitted cycling shell pants over whatever thickness of fleece sweats/base layers matches the cold. My wife found me a pair at REI for half price early last fall and I wore them just about every day last winter. They're fantastic.

Jacket - Waterproof and Breathable may *not* be the way to go until you get really close to freezing. I have a Gore-Tex-like knock-off jacket, but tend to only wear it below 35F and for constant heavy rain. Above 35F and light rain or chance of rain I wear a water resistant, but even more breathable softshell over a thin fleece base layer.

Head - I wear a very, very, very thin fleece beanie under my helmet and really care too much if it gets wet through the helmet slots. Anything else is just too hot above freezing. Below freezing I'll add a very thin polypro balaclava and below 20F I might trade out the fleece beanie for softshell that covers the ears as well.
posted by Rafaelloello at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've actually replaced a chain in the past, and all I can say is - never again. I had only had the bike for a couple of years (a Kona Explosif), so I thought it might be fun to replace the chain. The cogs had of course conformed to the chain, so I had to replace everything.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2010

The chain thing is, IMO, very lucrative planned obsolescence by the bike industry. As the number of cogs in the back has grown from 5 to 6 to 7 to 8 to 9 to 10 and now even 11 with Campy, the chains have necessarily gotten thinner and faster wearing and nobody even manufactures the old 5 speed width chains as anything from 5 to 8 gears in back now gets sold and 8 speed chain (and I go through at least 2 a year on my rain/winter bike), but at least they're not too expensive ($16 on sale) and they start out so nice and clean! Paying $50-$80 every year for a new 10 speed chain on my titanium race bike that never sees rain, that's another story altogether.
posted by Rafaelloello at 2:14 PM on September 17, 2010

Living in So CA coast where we get lots of dew overnight, though very little rain, I found tarps seemed to cause more trouble than they're worth. They retain moisture longer than if the bike was left out in the elements. And I found dealing with the tarp a disincentive to using the bike.

Given the description of your bike, I'd be inclined to simply make it an outside bike, keep the chain lubed, and just ride the sucker. Replace the chain regularly, if it's not one of those silly chains Rafaelloello mentions. Chains are disposable.

If you insist that the bike be kept dry, you'll have to suck it up and keep if in the parking area of inside and get used to the inconvenience.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:32 PM on September 17, 2010

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