How to Prep and Maintain Your Bicycle Through Winter

A few tips to make sure you have the smoothest, safest ride possible all winter.

Written by:
Winter Biking

Photo by k.steudel

Alright we said it, “winter.” Winter is coming. Though the leaves may still be a brilliant orange in some places, in others they’ve long since fallen and chilly residents are pulling their collars up against a biting wind. With the right gear and the right attitude, winter riding can be a (cool) breeze, but is it that easy for your bike as well?

Maintaining your bicycle properly through the winter is crucial to having a safe and enjoyable season. With salt, snow, slush, and various debris on the roads, your bicycle is going to need a lot more attention than it does through the summer to stay in top working order. And it’s going to take a little more work to keep your bike storage spot clean as well when all that snow melts off your tires. Here are a few quick tips and tricks on how to maintain your bicycle through winter so your ride stays happy and your place stays clean.

1. Make sure your bike is ready

A minimalist fixie is a fun, zippy ride through the breezy of days of summer, but you’re going to need weigh that thing down with some brakes and fenders to make it through the winter in one relatively clean piece. Give your bike one thorough tune-up before winter really begins to make sure you’re starting out on the right foot (or should we say wheel), and make sure you’re outfitted with fenders, a good set of lights and reflectors, and well-working brakes and shifters.

It’s worth replacing your brake and shifter cables at the onset of winter, as water can get into the cable housing and reduce your braking and shifting performance over time. Cables are fairly inexpensive and available at any bike shop, and changing them somewhat regularly – but especially heading into winter – is a good idea. You can fill your cable housing with grease to prevent water and grime from finding its way in.

2. Clean your chain and gears at least once a week

I know that seems like a lot, but put it this way, being diligent from the get-go is going to save you from requiring a professional tune-up (or a new crankset) once all the gunk of winter builds up and clogs your gears.  Once a week, thoroughly clean your chain with a chain solvent such as Simple Green and a chain scrubber, available at most bike shops for $10 – $15. If you don’t have or don’t want a chain scrubber, an old toothbrush will do. If you don’t have or don’t want chain solvent, warm water and any degreasing dishsoap will do. Fenders also come in handy here as they not only eliminate the stripe up your back, they help keep your bike protected from road grime and slow down the build up of dirt. The right fenders do a great job stopping road shlock from being kicked up into your chain, bottom bracket, and drive train. Look for a set that has a mud flap.

When cleaning make sure to get into the hard-to-reach areas between the cogs to get stubborn bits of grease that will have picked up road grime. If you really want to get into it and have some time, you can take the chain off and soak it in solvent, but a good scrub usually does the trick. Once it’s all fresh and clean, re-grease the chain with an oil-based lubricant and shift through the gears.

All of this is going to be a lot easier to do if your bike is lifted. Feedback Sports has work stands for home and professional use ranging from $129.99 to $284 USD. If you don’t want to spring for the work stand, you can also double up on bike storage with any of their bike columns or racks, and work gently with the bike on the rack.

3. Wipe your bike down every time you ride in snow

Every. Single. Time. You wouldn’t come home from a day at the pool and throw a wet bathing suit back in your drawer, so don’t put a wet bicycle in your hallway. Just keep an old towel where you store your bike and make it a necessary part of your homecoming ritual. Wipe the frame, rims, spokes, chainrings, cogset, chain, brake cables, and cranks to prevent rusting and stem the tide of water trickling down your hallway as the snow melts.

Your bicycle and your floors will thank you.

4. Check your brakes

Brake pads wear out much more quickly in wet, grimy conditions than they do in the summer, so it’s worth checking them with some regularity to make sure they’re not disappearing altogether. Most brake pads have a wear line indicator which you want to ensure you don’t go below. Use your handy old toothbrush to get between the brake blocks and rims to remove any bits of grime which might be stuck in there.

If you didn’t replace your brake cables and you find your brakes aren’t working very well as you move through winter, taking them out, cleaning them and re-greasing them will go a long way to breathe new life into tired cables.

5. Have fun

Seriously, despite requiring that bit of extra effort, winter riding is really a blast. Stay warm, ride safely, and have fun!

Feedback sports - bicycle storage

You love your bike.  Feedback Sports can help you keep it clean and happy until your next ride.  From wash and work stands to bike storage, they’ve got you covered.  Check out their sleek, yet functional products and you’ll feel like you have your very own bike shop right at home…only without the neon “open” sign (although technically, you COULD roll that way…).



  • Amanda

    I just had a new form of winter maintenance done on my bike – my shop just coated all my cables with WD40 so they don’t freeze/seize up. Idea is to drive out all the water in the cable housing. I have been winter biking going on 3 winters in Boston area and this morning was the first time I had a frozen brake cable. That ride was not so fun with my rear brake working against me.

  • nancy S.

    Fenders! They do much more than eliminate the stripe up your back, they help keep your bike protected from road shlock. These are not the cutesie tiny mountain bike fenders, but the ones that cover the wheels properly. Add a half 2 Liter pop bottle, cut lengthwise, hanging to the pavement, off the back of the front fender, and the chain, bottom bracket, and drive train will stay clean.

    • morlamweb

      I prefer the look of purpose-built mudflaps to a DIY solution. Good ones follow the curve of the tire better than a cut-up plastic bottle, which minimizes drag, and works just as well as a DIY flap. I prefer Planet Bike’s mudflaps. they make long ones in various widths to fit different width fenders. Their Cascadia ATB model fits perfectly on Velo Orange’s 60 mm fenders, and they’d probably fit SKS/ESGE fenders, too. They cost only 5 for a set of fenders. That’s more than a bottle of soda, but not by much, and they install in mutes.

  • Hey Momentum writers and readers,

    Nate from The New Wheel Electric Bike Shop in San Francisco chiming in. We’ve been posting some wet weather riding tips on our blog, here you go:

    Flat Prevention –
    Traction on Wet Pavement –
    Visibility –

  • Dean

    Consider buying a belt drive bike with a geared hub when it comes time to upgrade. They are virtually maintenance free and require no cleaning or lube in winter

    • Lucas

      It also helps to invest in a pair of studded tires. They don’t help much on the snow, but they will help prevent falls on ice.

    • morlamweb

      Shaft-drive bikes, or bikes with a completely enclosed chain, are also a good maintenance “free” option. Nothing is truly maintenance-free, of course, but all of these option minimize the upkeep chores.

      On the other hand, one need not buy a separate bike for winter. If one is inclined to have only one bike, then you need only get winter tires, full mudguards + mudflaps, and look after it weekly, in order to keep the same vehicle on the road.

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