The most important tools for surviving winter on two wheels are things that money can’t buy a stiff upper lip and a knack for being wryly evasive whenever asked, “Why the hell are you riding a bike in this weather?” Sadly though, no amount of witty elusiveness will help your bike, which faces all kinds of perils as the mercury falls and the fritters hit the roads. Unless you show it some care and attention, it will end up looking more than a little tatty come the spring.
It doesn’t have to be this way however, and caring for a bike through the cooler months needn’t be a labor intensive affair. There’s an Aladdin’s cave of potions and products to be found in any decent bike shop which can help you and your steed stand strong against the elements. We assemble the must, have ingredients for your winter-survival kit…
1. KEEP IT CLEAN
There is of course no avoiding the fact your bike will need more washing and cleaning in winter. When the roads are salted, it’s critical to rinse off the corrosive road-scum which results – ideally, after every ride, and at least once a week. The easiest way to do this is with a jet-wash; either a pump-action version like the one featured, or a pricier electric-powered type. Use a diluted detergent to loosen the dirt before blasting it off with plain water; washing-up liquid is okay but a bike-specific formula is better. On greasier and dirtier parts, such as downpipes and wheels, you may need a stronger degreaser or solvent. It’s well worth doing a more thorough weekly or fortnightly cleaning job when you take the trouble of keeping paintwork and plastics looking tip-top by using a conditioner and polish.
2. MOLLYCODDLE YOUR METAL
After you’ve given everything a good clean, lubricate all the exposed moving parts and switches with a general-purpose penetrating spray. Which bits need lubing? As a rule, if it’s made from bare metal and/or needs to move or slide against another metal component, give it a squirt. Giving everything a thin oily coating with a product like Scottoiler’s FS365 keeps corrosion at bay, but does require regular reapplication. Some folk prefer to use a thicker protector, such as Waxoyl, which lasts longer but is obviously messier and greasier. Once or twice during the winter, you’ll need to treat your throttle cables to a good dose of silicone spray. Similarly, keep your brake calipers moving smoothly with the occasional clean-and-greasing, and it’s even more important during winter to grease bolts too.
3. AVOID TIGHT SPOTS
Your bike’s drive-chain can suffer terrible travesties of grime-contamination and corrosion during winter – unless you lavish it with regular care. If you’re riding daily, it will need a clean-and-lube at least weekly. Scrub off old lube and dirt using a coarse brush with a chain-cleaner spray or generic solvent such as paraffin. Once clean, apply some fresh lube, and remember that it might not cling on very well initially, and may need a second squirt once you’ve been for a ride. The specific type of chain lube you choose isn’t hugely important; what matters more is keeping a strict maintenance regime of cleaning/reapplication.
4. COOL RUNNING
We’ve dealt with the exterior of your bike, but let’s not forget about what’s under the skin, which can also suffer from the cold. First and foremost, you should make sure your steed is topped up with a quality all-season coolant. If you’re riding an older bike with conventional carbs, it may benefit from a fuel-system treatment, such as Silkolene’s Pro FST, which helps prevent carb-icing. Bear in mind, too, that engine oil gets thicker when it’s cold, so ensure that your bike is topped up with oil that has an appropriate winter rating, such as 10W which operates at temperatures as low as -20C. If you’re worried that your oil might have got old and contaminated, it might be worth considering using an engine flush before you fill up with fresh nectar.
5. WRAP IT UP
If you keep your bike outside, it’s well worth protecting it with an all-weather cover, which will keep off the worst of the rain, saving electrical contacts. It will also keep off the frost and deter thieves. There’s a wide range available but they all do basically the same job; heavier-weight types are more durable but can be trickier to get on and take off. If your bike is garaged, then it’s worth using a lightweight, breathable cover, at least to keep off the dust.
6. COSSET YOUR KIT
It’s not just your bike that takes a battering during winter; your riding kit suffers too. Constantly getting rain-soaked, coated in road grime, and washed and dried, will quickly deteriorate the performance and appearance of any exterior garment. The leader in this field, Nikwax, offers a full range of conditioners, washes and water-proofing treatments to keep all your kit in first-rate order. One of the most important parts of your attire to look after in bad weather is your visor – using a rain repellent treatment on the outside, and a fog-free visor insert on the inside, will keep your vision as clear as possible.