Articles under this title have been done to death by magazines over the years. But why shouldn't I have a go at it also? Hopefully I'll put a new slant onto it, and perhaps it'll not just be a list of items to buy.
So, why do you need to winterise your bike? Well, if you run your bike using the same set up as summer, the following things will probably happen:
But, before all this convinces you to abandon winter biking altogether, here's a few tips about how to (try to) keep the mud & filth at bay.
This almost certainly depends upon how much money you have. If you're on a budget, you'll have to make do with the low-tech solutions. Brake blocks without grooves are a much better idea than grooved ones. The grooves are the perfect size for holding on to pieces of gravel, which will machine away your rims beautifully. Also, the thicker sidewalls on Mavic X618 rims will far outlast the skimpy ones on their X517 model, so remember that when replacing worn rims - they cost exactly the same, and weigh only 60g more.
For those with a little more dosh, ceramic rims are a little known secret. I've used them since 1992, and am currently trying out my first pair of ceramic 2's. Things were a little complex with the original Mavic ceramic coating (see www.wheelpro.co.uk), especially when used with modern abrasive brake blocks, but the new ceramic 2's are a well overdue improvement (but see Adam Chamber's dilemma on the bikemagic forum!). Not only is your rim life increased by 5 or 6 times, but brake block life is also massively increased. A common myth is that block life is reduced - but with the new ceramic 2's just use 'ordinary' blocks (ignore the special 'ceramic' blocks) and you'll get 6 to 12 months per pair whatever the weather! Not only does this save yourself some significant money (£5-£8 a pair for blocks), but considerable hassle, which is what matters the most to me.
The ultimate solution to all this rim wear is to remove them from the equation altogether i.e. disc brakes. At the moment you're still talking of at least £120 per wheel, and that's assuming that you've already got disc compatible hubs. That's serious wodge.
Stick with well proven hydraulic systems such as Hope, Hayes, Magura & Shimano. Despite what you might think, hydraulic discs are actually far simpler than their cable actuated cousins. If you really are getting through blocks and rims like there's no tomorrow, your discs could pay for themselves in a couple of years. Sadly, I've actually worked that out!
Just remember that even discs aren't infallible, so at this time of year you'll need to fit your gold pads. They get really hot if you use them in the dry, but all that mud and water will keep them nicely cool. With pads lasting around 8 months (£14) and discs 5 to 10 years (£30) there's no need to worry about the consumables.
It is unfortunate for those who ride in gritty or sandy mud, that at the moment most quality chainrings are manufactured from aluminium. Because the rest of the drivetrain is composed of steel, this means that the chainrings will get very quickly worn and hooked, and this then accelerates the wear processes on the other components. This seems like madness as the chainrings are also the most expensive (£70 or so for 3) part of the transmission, and are the main culprits of chainsuck.
If chainrings were available made from a harder material, such as high quality stainless steel, the wear on all the components would be drastically reduced, for just a minute increase in weight. I can testify to this after having used Onza Buzzsaw stainless steel chainrings several years ago. Anyway, rant over; no one makes quality steel rings at the moment so the only way to minimise drivetrain wear is to ensure your chain is always well lubricated.
Winter lubrication is very different from summer lubrication. You can follow the 'text book' guidelines to the word: degrease chain, dry chain, lube, and wipe off excess: and 20 minutes into your ride your chain will be washed clean or coated in mud! For winter chain lubing, you have to think 'gunky' & 'tenacious' rather than 'clean' & 'dry'. This all depends upon how bad the conditions are where you ride, but cheap cycle oil, or even multigrade could be your answer. Forget those Californian quotes about 'attracting dust', in a British winter the oily black film on your chain serves to repel mud & water. The object of the exercise is to still have a lubricated chain at the end of your ride, however long, muddy and wet that ride might be!
Another recommend chemical weapon is motorcycle chain wax. Use it on a clean chain, then apply oil on top. Even if the chain oil is washed away, I can guarantee that the underlying chain wax will still be there, perhaps even 3 or 4 rides later. Re-lubing your chain mid-ride may also be a fine idea, but once the chain is wet and mucky, your expensive chain lube may just run off the chain uselessly. I have also used a Rohloff lubmatic, a device which feeds lube directly onto you chain via the lower jockey wheel. Although very convenient, allowing you to re-lube your chain while riding, about half of the oil seems to end up on the lower jockey wheel, turning it into a black mass of oil & mud.
The end result of all this winter wear is that the chainrings become hooked, the chain worn, and chain suck is the result. Chain suck can ruin the chain stays of an expensive aluminium frame after just 2 or 3 serious attacks. Anti-chainsuck plates protect the frame against damage but don't prevent the actual chainsuck. The forces involved during chainsuck are incredibly high, so an anti-chainsuck plate must be very tightly secured to prevent it being rammed out of line. If you suffer from chainsuck during a ride, the only possible immediate help is to re-lube the chain, so taking along a small bottle of oil could save your frame!
Once you get home you might want to replace the offending parts, but fitting a new chain without replacing the worn ring(s) will actually make matters much worse, so always replace the inner/middle ring at the same time. (For more info see www.mtb.org.za/csuck)
The usual response to the problem of sticky and rusty cables, is to recommend the use of Gore or other 'sealed' cables, but there are cheaper and easier ways to solve this problem. Water is drawn into the gap between the inner and outer cables by capillary action and the movement of the inner. The best way to prevent this is to fill the outer cables with WD40 or light oil before assembling the cables. This oil is held in by the same capillary action, and repels any water - it is not there to act as a lubricant. I also fill V-brake cable noodles and "grub" seals with a light grease, such as suspension fork grease - it all helps to keep the cables running glitch free
Another bright idea is to use full-length cable outers. By minimising the number of 'ends', there are less points for water to enter - in exactly the same way as Gore-type 'sealed' cables work. 'Sealed' cables have waterproof liners over the inner cable, as well as having as much PTFE as possible thrown in for good (advertising) measure. At £40 for a bike's worth, they don't work or last as well as you might expect! The original Gore brake & gear cables have lasted me barely a year, before becoming seized. The new Gore-lite gear cables are much better, but I prefer Venhill's sealed cables. The tightly wound, smooth stainless inners work & last much better than the typical PTFE coated inner. Running PTFE against stainless steel is actually better than running it against more PTFE. Whatever type of sealed cables you choose, still fill the outers & liners with WD40, and the "grub" seals with light grease.
The actual underlying problem behind cable 'stickiness' is often the reduced return spring tensions in modern brakes & derailleurs. While little can be done about rear mech spring tensions, other that spending a cursed hour trying to fit a power spring, V-brake springs can be easily bent outwards about 45° with a pair of pliers. This improves cable return hugely, especially on the rear brake, and has no adverse effects.
You could, alternatively forget all these cable problems completely, and move over to hydraulics. If you use disc brakes you will have probably already replaced your brake cables with hydraulic hose, but for those running rim brakes, the Magura HS33 hydraulic rim brakes come highly recommended. The Maguras arrive fully filled and bled, and best of all, guaranteed leak free for 5 years, which is 4 years longer than Gore's guarantee on their cables!
The golden rule is to fit suspension fork boots if the owner's manual says they should be fitted. Try to make the boots as waterproof as humanly possible by sealing them with cable ties, and smearing the contact points with grease. Check beneath the boots regularly, so that mud and water isn't simply sealed in beneath the boots all winter.
Pace forks do not use boots, as the seals are built for British conditions. Also the inner legs are hard chromed steel, meaning that the bearing surfaces will far outlast all the other aluminium legged forks. But at £400 they're hardly a bargain solution.
As well as the outer defences of forks, the insides should be almost dripping with light waterproof grease. No internal surfaces should be dry. This is especially true with elastomer forks, which can be rescued from a state of near lockout to 'better than new', simply by a strip down and liberal application of fork grease. Open oil bath forks are superb in this regard, as the internal surfaces are splash lubricated as you ride along.
Rear shocks should also be protected against mud and water with some form of boot. I am no fan of neoprene boots, as they actually absorb mud & water. If you use these, make sure you remove, wash & dry them regularly. Bits of old inner tube make excellent rear shock seals, as do condoms (apparently - cheers Dave Parr)!
If your seals and inner legs (for both front & rear shocks) are of good enough quality, you can certainly run without boots, but you must remember to clean around the seal area after every ride before the mud dries in place.
Your bearings are all sealed, so why should you have any problems with water ingress? Well, imagine your seatpost. It is fitted into the seat tube with only a 0.2mm gap, it is then clamped in, with about 150mm of well-greased overlap. But you still get water past it and into the frame!! So what chance do those rubber lip seals have of actually keeping water out of your bearings - none!
Headsets are the worst problem. To be more specific the lower headset race; which sits directly in the water spray from the front tyre. Until recently, the only cure for this was piece of inner tube, greased underneath, to seal the lower headset bearing. A more elegant solution is current available - the WTB greaseguard headset. Despite it costing only £35 and being fitted with 'old fashioned' adjustable 3/32" ball races, they last for aeons, provided that the lower race is given a squirt or two of grease after every wet ride. Certainly easier to stomach than a £100+ Chris King headset.
WTB greaseguard bottom brackets are also excellent, but almost impossible to find. Chain Reaction cycles have some listed in their adverts at the moment, and I bought an old adjustable one for only £13. It has lasted over 2 years! For those not lucky enough to find a GG BB (eh!), don't worry; standard cartridge bottom brackets seem to last about 12 months whether wet or dry, so you'll just have to treat them as consumables.
Hubs are another matter: WTB do make re-greaseable hubs, but they are hardly affordable. A better idea is to really fill your hub bearings with waterproof grease (not Lithium), before you hit winter. If you use cartridge-bearing hubs, you'll be able to replace them easily, without having to replace the entire hub that also requires a wheel rebuild. Whenever you replace your cartridge bearings, look for stainless steel units, as well as substituting the supplied grease with your favourite waterproof goo. If you have ever seen those foam-rubber hub and bottom bracket seals for sale, then please don't bother. How a little loose piece of rotating foam can achieve anything, I can't imagine!
Pedals may not be readily available with grease nipples, but here's a simple little trick that achieves the same. If your pedals have an external dust cap, unscrew it, fill the body and dust cap completely with grease, then refit. Repeat a couple of times and the grease should squidge noisily out from the axle seal. If you have Shimano style axle cartridges, you'll need to remove the pedals and axle assembly, before placing a few squirts of grease into the pedal body and refitting the whole lot. Alternatively you may want to provide your own grease nipples with the help of a 2mm drill bit. Provided the pedals / hubs are squirted with grease regularly, you shouldn't need to worry about water ingress through the hole - my WTB bottom bracket has no seal on the grease points - simply 2 open ports.
You know how much you really really like tea shops? Well have a little respect, and try your hardest to have a respectably clean bum when sitting down for tea and muffins. The difference that a rear mud guard makes to posterior cleanliness is incredible!
My favourite is the original crud guard, with the aluminium stays. You can still pick them up in bike shop bargain bins and (rumour has it) Halfords. If you want to avoid some of the overpriced trendy mud guards, mudguard supremos SKS do some fabulous 'instant-fit' MTB guards at the sort of money that strips of plastic should cost!
I still like the 'crud catcher' type front guards, but some of the newer style provide better protection, block the steerer tube to boot and protect the lower headset race to boot.
Without these preparations, a winter's worth of riding can reduce your pride and joy into a rusty bag of spanners. While magazines may concentrate on items to buy, your greatest weapons are oils and greases, as well as choosing components carefully when they are next due for replacement. Concentrate on regreaseable and/or replaceable bearings: every bearing on your bike could be replaced for around £100 - the cost of an expensive headset.
Filling your cables with water repellent or light oil is just as effective as fitting expensive 'sealed' cable, and greasing the inside of your forks is better than fitting un-sealed shock boots. Remember, neoprene is not waterproof, which is why they use it to make wet suits and not dry suits!
I hope you find some useful information in this article; unfortunately true British-winter-proof components often don't exist, YET!
Last Updated 03-12-2000
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