5 Winter Biking Necessities


If you are going to use your bike to get around town this winter, there are a few things you should not skimp on. Below are five must-haves for your bike to make your winter riding safe and comfortable (we'll cover rider necessities in a separate post).

  1. TRACTION: a great set of street tires.
    OK, what's a great tire? Start with a tire that is appropriate for the road surface. For getting around on pavement in Chicago, you want a stocky, but fairly smooth tire. Yes, even in winter. A tire with a tread made for pavement will give you better control, and cut down on rolling resistance. Knobby and studded tires may give you some advantage in a layer of snow, but street tires are your friend in most riding conditions. Deflate tires slightly to get better traction in wet conditions.

    All tires are not created equal. The best tires use special compounds that provide better road grip, and thoughtfully designed treads that channel water away to keep you from hydroplaning in wet conditions. Some of the best tires also give you a high degree of flat protection. This is especially important in winter, when fixing a flat on the curbside could quickly go from inconvenient to dangerous.

    Here are examples of a couple tires we really like:

    SCHWALBE Marathon (about $48/ea) has a tough puncture-resistant band that does not compromise your ride, and a nice, flexible compound that further resists punctures, and gives you good grip on the road surface. Bonus: reflective sidewalls increase your visibility to other road users (Marathon series include several even more heavy-duty options, but we find the Marathons offer the best combination of performance to price).

    CONTINENTAL Contact series tires ($35-37/ea) offer a choice of good city treads combined with excellent puncture-resistance.

    Thinking about studded tires? Those can be a great option, but can limit you flexibility on clear and plowed roads. We'll review some studded tires shortly.

    Yes, they're a bit geeky, but not as geeky as a black mud streak running up your butt and back. Quick release fenders that attach to your seatpost offer some protection, but they wiggle out of position, and can't compare to the full fenders. Full fenders, made of lightweight reinforced plastic, provide maximum coverage, protecting your chest and face from front-tire spatter, and your back from the previously mentioned skunk streak. They also protect you bike's drivetrain and frame against excessive build-up of winter gunk (it will build up anyway, why make it worse?). They attach to eyelets on your bike with steel struts, and will not easily shift out of position.

    We like German-made SKS fenders (about $52-58, plus installation), because they come in an array of sizes to fit your tires, they are durable, and come in a very elegant silver with pinstripes (these will, sadly, not be visible under a layer of winter mud, but you'll know they're there).

  3. ILLUMINATION: Be seen!
    Blinking front and rear lights at the very least. The more the merrier. Cosmic Bikes offers a wide variety of these at prices starting at under $10. Put them on you, your helmet and your bike.

    Reflectives: chose from legbands, sashes, reflective stick-on tape, and sidewalls on tires.

    Headlamp. Very useful if you ride where there is limited street illumination, like smaller streets, off-street trails, or if you have a propensity for cutting through alleys. We like SERFAS E-Lume 500, a nice self-contained, 500-lumen USB rechargeable headlamp with several modes for -- seriously! -- $45. A 250-lumen version is available for $29. Both are a steal, IMO.

  4. LUBRICATION: Keep it moving
    Invest in a bottle of chain lubricant made specifically for bicycles (please don't use WD40, it will mess up your drivetrain), and use it religiously. If you're not sure how to do it, visit us at Cosmic Bikes for a quick tutorial. We are recent converts to DUMODE TECH oil (about $12 for 2 oz. bottle) and use it on all our tune-ups.

  5. SERVICE: Keep it tuned!
    It is vitally important that all systems on your bike - brakes, derraileurs, drivetrain, wheels and bearings - function at their peak in winter. If you want to do your own bike repairs all winter -- great! However, if you prefer to avoid contact with your chain, or other moving parts on your bike, or if you simply don't have the space or time to do the work yourself, please check out Cosmic Bikes' Frozen Chosen Winter Service Package. The real value of this service is not only in the initial repairs performed on your bike, but the on-going, follow-up care to which you and your bike will be entitled all winter.