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Winter Riding Tips

Bike Equipment & Maintenance


Now that we are dressed, let's go look at the bike. Is it in top condition? I don't want to have to do bike maintenance on the side of the road in sub-freezing temperatures, so I regularly do a thorough check to make sure everything works perfectly. I also tend to go with wider tires to avoid flats. I'd rather work a little harder riding than to change a flat in the cold. Fenders are worth their weight in gold in New England. I wouldn't think of doing a winter or spring ride without them. Even if no rain is falling, snowmelt keeps the roads wet and fenders keep the water on the road off of me. I just can't emphasize enough that fenders are one of the most valuable component for staying dry, warm and comfortable. And as usual, I carry enough tools to do minor roadside repairs, tire levers, tubes, wrenches, chain tool, etc.

I use a fixed gear bike most of the winter. A fixed gear bike offers more control on icy surfaces. I wouldn't suggest taking your first spin on a fixer on icy roads, but once used to riding fixed wheel, you may find that increased control. With no derailleurs there is far less maintenance and no chance of dealing with frozen shift cables. Many racers used fixed gear bikes in the winter for training - it will increase your ability to spin. This article by the late Sheldon Brown has some great advice on fixed gear riding and equipment.

I did fall on black ice one year (less than ½ mile from home) and broke my collarbone. Now for the additional bit of control I use Nokian studded tires anytime I suspect the roads may be icy - this usually means from November to March! I typically just use one on the front. They do slow me down a bit, but have the added training benefit of making me fly when I go back to regular tires in the spring.

At this stage my winter bike is a cross frame with horizontal dropouts, which allows me to have a fixed gear, clearance for studded tires and fenders, and braze-ons for racks. Notice I said horizontal dropouts, not track ends. The significance has to do with fenders. With front facing horizontal dropouts, wheel removal (for punctures, involves sliding the wheel forward - away from the fenders. With track-ends, the wheel is removed from the back, and can be a real problem with fenders. Keep this in mind if you are planning to use a fixie with fenders. This is not an issue if using an eccentric hub and vertical dropouts or an eccentric bottom bracket.

I use the afore-mentioned bike both for commuting and recreational winter rides. Since it is my commuter, it has lights. This is also handy for a weekend ride, since the days are much shorter, and a flat, mechanical problem or long break can result in a ride finishing after dark. For a discussion of various lights, see my article on lighting.

I mentioned a lot of clothing and the concept of layering earlier, and you may wonder how to carry all that stuff when you aren't wearing it. I use a Carradice saddlebag or an Ortlieb pannier. Both are waterproof(well the Carradice is pretty close), and have reasonable carrying capacity. I have a rear rack and use the pannier when I want to be able to easily leave the bike and take the bag with me. If commuting and parking outside, I tend to use the pannier. If using a bike without a rack, a saddlebag with a Bagman support is ideal. (Of course the saddlebag also works on a bike with a rack!)

Heads, Hands And Feet