It's positively balmy today, so it's easy to forget that your bike may need a thing or two to make it winter-worthy. Or five. Here they are:
Start with quality tires that are appropriate for the road surface. When you are commuting by bike in a large city like Chicago, where streets are usually plowed, you want a fairly smooth tire. 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 beefy street tires are your best option in most riding conditions. You can run your tires at a slightly lower pressure to get better traction on wet or slippery surfaces.
All tires are not created equal. The best tires use compounds developed for better road grip, and specifically designed tread patterns that channel water away to keep you from hydroplaning in wet conditions. 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. Some of our favorite tires for winter bike riding are Schwalbe Marathon series, like these.
2. Splash Protection:
Fenders have come a long way in the last few years. Once relegated to the "nerdiest bike accessory" status, the full fenders of today have risen to a fashion statement. Fashion or no, properly installed full fenders, whether plastic or metal, will keep your chest and face from front-tire spatter, and your back from the unsightly (and Gore-Tex ruining) 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, unlike seat-post mounted fenders, will not easily shift out of position. We like SKS fenders, because they are available in an array of sizes to match 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 know they're there).
Front and rear lights are a must. In fact, you should have more than one. Even if you can see just fine, make it easy for other road users to see you.
Don't overlook the importance of a headlight. In many cases a front blinker may not be enough. A headlight is much more visible to oncoming traffic, and, if it is mounted on your helmet, it allows you to signal drivers. Unlike a blinker, it will light up the way if you are riding on bike paths, or on stretches where street lights may be out.
Rechargeable lights are a little more expensive up front, but are convenient to use and ready when you are. If you are considering a new light, a new USB rechargeable model might be a good option. If you already have traditional battery-operated lights, there's no reason not to use them, just make sure you have spare batteries on hand, and test the lights for brightness before you head out.
Purchase a bottle of chain lubricant made specifically for bicycles, and use it religiously. Click here for a detailed explanation of why you must do it.
Sprays are a little easier to apply, but drip bottles are more economical and more environmentally friendly. A little drip bottle will go a long way.
One of the best investments you can make is a Winter Tune-Up. It is vitally important that all systems on your bike - brakes, derraileurs, drivetrain, wheels and bearings - function at their peak in winter. If you prefer to avoid contact with the chain and 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 our Frozen Chosen. It's a winter-long maintenance package that covers your bike until March. 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.
Not riding this winter?
Free up your storage space, and keep your bike safe and sound with our Tune & Store program.
Need a little economic incentive?
More on winter biking: