Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A few hints for cycling in the winter, part 1: the bicycle

For me cycling in the winter is a little bit different from cycling in the summer. What makes it different? Primarily snow, ice and mud instead of rain. Fog instead of sunshine (although there is also a lot of sunshine in the winter ;-)). Well, it's also much colder, but that's not really a big deal. It's only an issue if it has temperatures a good bit below zero °C for a few days. In the following I will refer to winter as "winter in Central Europe" like Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary etc. If you live in a warmer climate you might not need any of that. Although, some of the techniques are also practical for cycling on wet roads. If you live in a colder climate you may want to check out some extra websites on the topic like Chicago Bike Winter, Icebike, Schnee-Fall? Nein danke! etc.

Since the list turned out to be a bit lengthy, I decided to split it up. There will be three parts:
So let's start. The only thing you actually need for winter cycling is .. yes, a bicycle! To be honest, you could also ride a unicycle, a tandem, a tricycle etc., but of course there's not a big difference - ok, maybe for the unicycle, but I can't ride them so I can't tell you anything about them.
What should your bike have if you ride it in the winter? There are some general and quite obvious things and some extra ones that can make your life easier:
  • strong lights - also use them during the day, especially when it's foggy or snowy, and not just if it's dark
  • reflectors on the front, back, wheels and pedals (if you don't have them already)
  • make sure your brakes work well and that you have a feeling for their response (I like them fast responding, but it's a personal thing)
  • lower the saddle a little bit
  • less pressure in your tires also gives you better road grip (but don't go below the minimum pressure written on the tire)
  • use tires with a good profile, e.g. like mountain bikes have (although that doesn't matter so much if there is no or little snow/mud)
  • if there is ice on the road you may think about buying studded tires (but don't worry, they are generally not necessary – I don't have them and I never felt the need to have them either)
  • don't forget to grease your chain regularly as well as other moving parts (chains tend you get rusty pretty quick in the winter, and you don't want to have to replace them, do you?)
  • fenders/mudguards are a must if you cycle in mud and want to stay dry - and clean
  • use pedals with a good grip (e.g. metal ones with saw teeth) so that you don't slip off them if you have some snow on your shoes

Certainly a good friend: bike oil

If you're not sure that your bike works perfectly well get it checked before it's too late (that's a must at anytime of the year). Most bike shops offer a cheap service in the fall and winter cause there are less cyclists around. Don't go to a sports shop, go to a proper bike repair shop with real bike mechanics who know what they are doing.

Did I forget something? Probably I did. Feel free to add any type of equipment you think is essential for your bike in the winter..

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