It’s the end of January and most cyclists have long since put their bikes away. I know I have; it’s not so much the cold weather as it is the bad air that keeps me off the road this time of year. I just can’t motivate myself to ride through this soup we call atmosphere. Except for that dedicated (or desperate) cadre of bike commuters, cyclists are right in the middle of an off-season. Still, whether February finds you in or out of the saddle, there’s always time to learn a few pointers and do a little maintenance.

Staying Warm During Your Winter Commute

Let’s start with a few tips for our chilly commuters. Thinking in terms of layers is important when it comes to preparing for a winter ride because of the range of conditions you face on an average day. Dressing correctly for a Salt Lake winter can be tricky, especially as spring approaches. It can be bitter cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon, so that parka you put on when you left turns out to be too hot when you come back. Layers eliminate this problem because you take them on and off as needed.

Sometimes all you need is to wear a thermal top and bottom under your regular clothes. Synthetic base layers have been at the top of the market for some time because of their weight, price, and ability to wick sweat away from the skin. More recently, high performance wool microfiber clothing has become popular, boasting much of the same performance with added breathability.

Pictured: Not the best choice

I haven’t personally tested any of the wool products, but from what I’ve read you get similar performance, and a little added breathability at a higher price. One disadvantage of wool is that it dries more slowly than synthetics do, and it’s for this reason I can’t recommend cotton at all. (Follow the link for an in-depth guide to choosing a base layer)

For a middle layer you can usually get away with whatever you were going to wear anyway, specifically because most people are required to wear certain clothes to work. I like a mid layer to be breathable and easily adjustable, so I can stay comfortable without having to pull over.  For the outer layer breathability is, again, important because you will be sweating and the last thing you want is damp clothes. I would suggest a water-resistant shell over a waterproof one because it better suits the needs of our climate. Not to mention it’s difficult to find a breathable waterproof shell at a decent price.

Finally, don’t forget hats and gloves! Your ears and fingers are going to be extra vulnerable to windchill. Mittens will provide you with the most warmth, but you may have trouble operating your bike. Many cyclists prefer a lobster-claw mitten for the added dexterity. Also, a headband is a great way to keep your ears covered without affecting the way the helmet sits on your head. (See here for a more exhaustive guide to winter wear.)

Winter Maintenance

Whether you ride a performance road bike, fixie, dirt jumper, or what have you, it’s important to maintain your bike in the off-season.

The first thing to do is make sure it’s stored in a dry place. Your bike can put up with the low temperatures, but water will cause some serious problems. If you haven’t touched your bike in a while, then the first thing you want to do is remove the seat post and check for moisture inside the frame. (Hanging your bike on a proper bike rack will also reduce moisture.) Then Wipe down the whole frame, checking for moisture as you go.

Inspect the seat tube for rust, cracks and other problems then grease the seat post before replacing it. Next, the chain, if you’re riding through the winter then you need to clean it off more frequently than you would in the summer. Wipe it down with a clean, dry rag at least, or you can use a toothbrush to clean out serious crud.  The bike chain should never be greasy. A few drops of lube near the chain ring should be enough, and make sure to wipe up any excess. Check for buildup on your rims, then check the brake and gear lines for cracks. (For more information on winter bicycle maintenance see this great Bicycle Magazine article.)

Here’s hoping you find these tips helpful.

Christensen and Hymas remind all cyclists to wear their helmets, dress warmly, and avoid the road if the weather so inclines. Stay safe out there!