IN another fifty years or so, when we’ve taken global warming as far as we can, the U.K. might enjoy, or endure, temperate, all year-round weather. Until then though, we must put up with the perma-rain that is our current clime. Our weather, especially here in our beautiful Peak District and Dales, is anything but predictable, swinging from biblical floods to, very occasionally, blistering sunshine. Usually though, around the end of September, when the winds start to chill and frosts seem inevitable, I begin the process of getting my bikes ready for the winter to minimise the wear to the increasingly delicate drivetrain and other moving parts which makes up our bikes.
Usually, when I write a blog post, it is to promote a part of my business – we all have to make a living – however, I thought with this post I’d share some of the things I do to ensure my bikes are ready for the onslaught of rain, floating diesel and Dale’s mud/Peak District grit. These things might, of course, not be the right things for you to do, I’ll let you decide that, but I will give you the reasons and you can argue the toss if you like – comments below please.
I’m going to divide the post into three separate sections, general maintenance, MTB and road. My reasoning for the difference between the two is the environmental factors in which each exists, the wear on a road bike is very obviously different to that of an MTB, more on that later. Let’s get into it.
General Maintenance for Winter riding.
The first thing I do at the end of September or the beginning of October, is to take one of my bikes out of commission for a couple of days. My goal is to ensure the bike is primarily capable of riding through the dark months till when the sun comes up again in March or April. To begin with, I perform a full strip down of the bike taking every bolt that I can out. The next six months with its cold wetness will allow water into things like water bottle bosses, stem bolts, pedal threads, wheel bearings, axles, pivot bolts, even the bolts in jockey wheels and handlebar grips. Not only is it rain and splash water that gets into these things it is also condensation, happening when you move your bike from the cold outdoors to the warm inside and vice versa.
While the frame is bare, I give it a good clean and, once dry, decide which type of protection to use. For my aluminium and steel frames I have a couple of different processes. The inside of my steel road bike I treat with Boeshield or another waxy treatment. Modern thin-wall steel frames are generally corrosion-proofed after being assembled but this treatment tends to wear off over time but, even if it doesn’t wear off, the extra protection will do no harm – belt and braces. On the exterior I apply some of the excellent Muc off HCB-1, a word of warning though, try and get this coating as thin as possible and leave the frame somewhere warm to dry. Muc off claims that HCB-1 should be dry within twenty-four hours but, in reality, it usually takes longer than that – I’d double the time at a minimum.
On Carbon Fibre frames, I always use Carnauba wax or matt detailer, though the wax is definitely better. I give the frame a couple of coats over the day to build up some protection against the elements, but this is more to do with the ease of cleaning after I have ridden in the wet and mud rather than protection against it.
While the frame is enjoying its pamper session I start on my wheels. If I can get to the bearings, I gently pry the seals off (sealed bearings obviously, cup and cone are much simpler), and refill them with my favourite Mobil XHP, a thin marine grease recommended by Hope Technology. If the freehub is serviceable, I coat the pawls in the same Mobil XHP, if it doesn’t need stripping and de-greasing. Next, and you may find this just a little bit anal, I go round the wheels and add a single drop of oil to every spoke/nipple junction, there is nothing worse than buckling a wheel only to find, when you come to straighten it, that the spoke and nipple are galvanised together.
While all this is happening, I will also clean the drivetrain, removing the rings from the crank, splitting the chain and removing the cassette. I am lucky enough to have access to my own parts washer and ultrasonic bath so degreasing and cleaning is a fairly simple job. I will cover the treatment process in the individual bike sections.
Reassembling the frame, I chase every thread with a good quality tap, this removes any swarf build up and smooths out any oxidisation, I then ensure that every thread has a light coating of copa or aluslip, this provides a modicum of wet weather protection but, most importantly, ensures that the oxidisation process is slowed to a minimum and the bolt doesn’t seize. This is especially prevalent in carbon frames (and some alloy), where the bottle bosses are riveted in, trying to remove a seized bottle bolt in a carbon frame may sometimes have catastrophic results. If my crank axle has any signs of rust I give it a quick but light sanding with emery cloth and coat it lightly with grease, external bottom bracket threads, I chase them with a BB tap, however, as you're unlikely to have such taps in your garage toolkit, I'd recommend a degrease and a clean with a detail or tooth brush. I also apply a thin coat of copaslip to the seat post cradle and to the rear of disc brake pads but, be very careful not to get any on the pad material itself.
While on the subject of seat posts, a thin smear of assembly grease or carbon-grip is a good idea.
While the derailleurs are not on the bike, I take time to strip the jockey wheels, give them a good scrub and pop them in the ultrasonic bath (make sure to remove the bearing seals on higher end models or you’ll trap water in the bearings.) Once the derailleurs are scrubbed - I don’t put them in the ultrasonic cleaner because water will get trapped internally - I dry them and use a decent ceramic lube on the pivots – I recommend Mobi, their ceramic lube is inexpensive, and the ceramic particles are microscopic. On clutch derailleurs, I remove the cover and give the clutch a light coating of grease, XHP is, once again, my preferred lube of choice here. The jockey wheels should by dried thoroughly before regreasing the bearings and being replaced – make sure you get them in the right position on the derailleur. SRAM mechs have a guide wheel for your cable, remove this and give the bolt a light grease. On the front derailleur, oil the pivots and give the spring a very thin smear of grease – too much attracts dust and dirt. Again, copaslip on the bolts when reattaching to the frame.
Before replacing the cables, I submerge the inners in Silca’s Secret wax blend, infused with tungsten, to keep them slippery and any exposed parts, protected against the elements.
By road bikes I am lumping together Race bikes and rigid hybrids. The major difference between Road and MTB is the drivetrain treatment. A road bike is less likely to get as covered in mud as an MTB, that’s not to say we don’t get muddy roads in the Peaks, we most certainly do, but that the bike doesn’t get quite as plastered. I am still a great proponent of the Hot Wax treatment, even through the winter months. The waxing process not only reduces friction, but it also protects the internals of the chain very well. However, if you do decide to wax, ensuring that the chain is dried after every wet ride and then treated to a top up of liquid wax is essential.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that, I am not a fan of wet lubes on chains. I have found that, even in the wet, wet lubes are dirt magnets and that horrible grinding and white gloop is prevalent after a few wet miles.
Finally, for road bikes with rim brakes I would recommend either a specialised rim eraser or a lower grit emery paper to lightly sand the rim. Take time to remove the brake pads and, with a sharp pick, remove all the embedded alloy shards and grit. Give the pads a gentle sanding to rough the surface up. This is also a good time to check the tyres for cuts and splits and, if you run tubeless, top up your sealant.
Peak district MTBing throws a particularly acidic problem into the mix. The lighter stone of the White Peak is heavily laden with lime – hence the cement factories and quarries, and northern Dark Peak is prominently a heavier gritstone, excellent at rapidly wearing out brake pads on wet rides. While I still advocate hot waxing, for those who don’t time to rinse, dry and wax lube after every ride, I would strongly recommend Muc Off’s relatively new HCB-1, it provides excellent protection against the elements – if the manufacturers claims are to be believed.
As it’s the beginning of the wet months, I recommend a lower service on your forks, stripping the air can of your rear shock to replace the lube and a basic dropper post service. During the winter months I put a lighter lube in both my forks and shocks, so it doesn’t thicken up in the cold, however, that is personal preference. Now is also a good time to, at the very least, remove the bolts and covers off your pivot bearings and check them for smooth rotation. I remove the seals off the bearings on my MTB's and refill the voids with grease. Any bearings that I cannot pull back from the brink, I replace.
Disks and pads are thoroughly cleaned with a disc cleaner or alcohol and sanded with a high grit sandpaper to roughen them up.
While it may be very involved, and a pain in the backside, doing all the things I have listed does set your bike up for winter riding. The goal is to ensure smooth riding through the winter, especially in the cold and wet. There is no magic bullet though, to keep your bike running at its best you should have some sort of maintenance schedule.
Of course, I must add a little bit of self-promotion, I can do all of this for you with all the correct tools and at a very reasonable price with one of my premium services. Please check out my website below, even if you don’t want to use my services it does help me with google rankings.
Thanks for reading, if you got this far.