Winter Cycling Tips & Information

photobucket-3660-1329696094106Cycling in the winter (yes, it’s here!) can be full of challenges and yet also very gratifying if you’re prepared.  Wet and slippery conditions, poor lighting, distracted drivers, and cold temperatures can all make your ride more difficult but they also make your driving more difficult and dangerous as well, right?  You don’t need to put your bike away until spring, however. Read on for tips on how to make winter riding more enjoyable and safer.

If you’re just not interested in riding through the winter, do your bike a big favor and store it indoors where it won’t get all rusted, stolen or vandalized (or accidentally hit by a snow plow).  MSU Surplus offers storage services for bikes (and just about anything else for that matter!).  Click here for more information.  Many residence halls also have indoor bike rooms which are first-come first-serve, so check with your hall’s front desk and see if you can get a key for yours.

Here are some photos of one of our year-round bicyclists, Thomas Baumann, showing off his bike, accessories and related gear.  More tips and information further below.

Tim's winter bike
Tim’s winter bike

Pics of Tim’s latest winter bike, an early ’80s Schwinn Sierra mountain bike, can be seen here.  ’80’s MTBs make perfect winter bikes for many reasons:  they’re quite cheap, they’re made like tanks (that is, to survive brutal treatment and extreme conditions), they have lots of room around the tires to allow for full coverage fenders and studded tires!

Stay Upright, Be Seen and Live

Winter is a hazardous time to be on the roads for everyone, not just bicyclists.  Falling snow, ice on windshields, fogged up windshields, blinding glare,  low lighting etc. will also dramatically affect the ability of motorists to see you.  Drivers may also be distracted by poor road conditions, phones, etc.  Assuming that drivers don’t see you is a good attitude any time of the year no matter whether you ride in the road (with or without bike lanes) or on the sidewalks/ paths.  Here’s a great article w/ more tips for riding safely in snowy conditions (courtesy Bike Arlington).

Be safe, be seen!
Be safe, be seen! Tim wears a safety vest in addition to using lights in case his batteries burn out and for increased visibility from all directions.

So you need to be sure you’re highly visible.  Although lights and bright clothing are recommended year round, they are especially critical during winter months. Use a flashing white light on your handlebar and a flashing red light on your back or seat-post to draw attention to yourself.  Here is a series of articles comparing the brightness and run-time of different headlights and tailights (many of which we stock here; most we can order), and another new article re: updating older taillights with modern LED bulbs (in case you have an older bike using incandescent bulbs). Remember to also ride responsibly and intelligently.  Bicyclists get full legal protection as a vehicle of the road when they’re riding on the road and behaving according to the laws/ rules of the road (e.g., riding your bike through a pedestrian crosswalk is NOT protected).  Assuming that drivers don’t see you is a good attitude any time of the year no matter whether you ride in the road (with or without bike lanes) or on the sidewalks/ paths.  Falling snow, ice on windshields, fogged up windshields, etc. will also dramatically affect the ability of motorists to see you.

Stay Upright with Studded Tires:

Studded tires can be very helpful for keeping you upright on icy roads. They can be expensive however, so handy folks may want to consider making their own. MSU Bikes’ Tim Potter crafted a pair for his own winter commuter:

Notes on DIY studded tires:

Tim's DIY front studded tire
Tim’s DIY front studded tire – click pic for more pics of Tim’s winter bike (2012 version).

I was under the mistaken assumption that as long as I ride in a straight line and make no quick turns that I’ll be OK on ice. Well, recently I crashed on some black ice while going straight ahead. That changed my mind on studded tires immediately. I priced commercially available studded tires and found they were expensive. So, I made some myself in about one-and-a-half hours, and they work great and last longer than I expected despite what is written about non-carbide tipped studs. DIY instructions that I used can be found here.  Note: these instructions only work with tires like the one pictured as you need to have a large knob to screw into, most common on 24″, 26″ or 29’er MTB tires.  So, no, this won’t work for 700c tires as there aren’t any made with such large knobs that I know of.

Here are some top-secret tweaks to those instructions: I screwed #6 x 3/8” sheet metal screws (a box of 100 costs $5 from a good hardware store) from the outside in, just like in the instructions, and then used an old tire carcass (after cutting off the beads — use a smooth tread tire) to line the inside of the tire to cover up the protruding tips to protect the tube (be sure and overlap the tire liner by 1/2″ at least to cover all the sharp points).  While this modification makes the wheels quite a bit heavier, it provides another great benefit: the tires are now effectively “run-flats.” Since there’s so much rubber inside the tire, you can keep riding if you get a flat. If you can find #4 x 1/4” screws, you probably won’t need a liner.

Another option for even better traction consider Kold Kutter ice screws, which motorcycle ice racers have used for years; they come in a small 3/8″ size for only $20 and change through College Bike Shop, Lansing or any good motorcycle shop I’m sure.  Remember: In the winter, you’re not trying to break speed records as much as stay alive!

Bar Mitts keep your hands toasty warm but allow you to use thinner gloves to work your controls better.
Bar Mitts keep your hands toasty warm but allow you to use thinner gloves to work your controls better. 
‘Borealis’ lobster gloves from Planet Bike

Stay Comfortable

It’s cold out there. Winter air stings eyes and turns fingers into meat popsicles. Sloppy road slush tends to end up all over pantlegs and backsides.

Don’t arrive at your destination soaking wet and half frozen. Fenders come in full coverage models and easy to attach clip-on models. Some rear fenders are designed with quick-release attachments that don’t require tools for installation. For your hands, try a pair of “lobster” gloves or mittens.  The three or four fingered design helps retain body heat and keep your digits warm. Many cyclists also find ski or chem-lab goggles helpful in keeping the cold air out of their eyes.

Keep Your Equipment in Working Order

A properly locked U-lock
Keep the opening to the lock mechanism facing down to reduce rusting and freezing of the lock.

Rusted and frozen parts are one of the most common issues we see in the shop during the winter. Moisture inside cable housing can cause freezing and corrosion, which results in poor brake and shift performance. Water in locks can cause them to freeze shut resulting in locks that can’t be opened or keys snapping off.

Tri-flow oil - great for chains and lubricating many other parts of a bike
Tri-flow oil – great for chains and lubricating many other parts of a bike. Pedros Syn-Lube - excellent for wet,freezing conditions of winterPedros Syn-Lube – excellent for wet,freezing conditions of winter

Pick up a bottle of wet lubricant that’s designed for bicycles. (WD-40 is not a lubricant. Try TriFlow or better yet, Pedro’s Synlube which stays on longer in wet, cold conditions). Chains need to be lubed frequently during wet months. You can also drip the lube down inside cable housing to restore functionality to frozen brake and shift systems.

When locking your bike, point the keyhole of your lock toward the ground to prevent to prevent rust and ice forming inside.  A squirt of chain lube into the lock cylinder will help prevent freezing and result in smoother operation.  If you find your lock frozen use some hot water, coffee or tea and pour it slowly over the lock mechanism to thaw it enough to open it up, then be sure and dry it out with a hair dryer and then lube it to prevent it from freezing or rusting in the future.

Covered Enhanced Security Indoor Bike Parking/ Storage Options

Bike Garage @ Trowbridge Parking Ramp
Bike Garage @ Trowbridge Parking Ramp. Holds up to 23 bikes and features a DIY repair station.

Looking for a place to lock up your bike out of the rain and snow? We’ve now got two enhanced security bike parking facilities on campus called “MSU Bike Garages”; one on the north side of campus (Grand River Parking Ramp) and one on the south side (Trowbridge Parking Ramp).  Click here to learn more about the Bike Garages.  Additionally, covered bike parking options around campus most of them inside our car parking garages. Click here to see them all.

Additionally, many of the residence halls on campus have indoor bike rooms: Holden, Wonders, Wilson, Holmes, McDonel, Akers, Hubbard, Mason/Abbot, Snyder/Phillips, Campbell, Landon, Yakeley/Gilchrist all have bike rooms (as of Nov. 2010). Inquire at your hall reception desk about using the bike rooms.  Note that the rooms use a common key so be sure and lock your bike even in these rooms.

Further Resources

More winter cycling tips and links to other sites can be found on our notes from our winter cycling class in 2010.   If you’d like to receive an email when we announce our classes this winter consider subscribing to our MSU Bikes e-newsletter here.

MSU’s Snow Removal Information

Many in the MSU community will comment on how great the sidewalks, paths and roads are in comparison to other area roads during the storms of winter.  The MSU road crew is out 24/7 to keep campus safe for everyone.  However, if you do see something on campus that needs immediate attention call the 24-hour IPF Dispatch number (517/353-1760) or email the supervisor of the snow crew: snowplan@ipf.msu.edu
If you’d like to learn more about MSU’s official snow removal policies check this page.  Here’s a short video on the topic by IPF.


What winter riding tips do you have to share?  Pls. comment on this blog with your thoughts/ tips/ advice!

(Updated and reposted by Tim Potter, 11/19/14)

Advertisements

Author: Tim Potter

Sustainable Transportation Manager, MSU Bikes Service Center; member of the All University Traffic & Transportation Committee (http://auttc.msu.edu); founding member of MSU Bike Advisory Committee (https://msubikes.wordpress.com/volunteer-donate/msu-bac/); advocate for local & regional non-motorized transportation issues thru the Tri-Co. Bike Assn. Advocacy Committee (http://groups.google.com/group/tcatc); board member of the Ride of Silence (http://www.rideofsilence.org); year-round bicyclist of all sorts; photographer; soccer player; father of 3; married 30 yrs. to Hiromi, Japanese national (daughter of former Natl. Keirin Champion, Seiichi Nishiji); Christ follower.

13 thoughts on “Winter Cycling Tips & Information”

  1. I found earmuffs to be the right choice for keeping my head warm. Winter hats don’t permit the wearing of a helmet — the earmuffs don’t interfere with the helmet, and combined with wrap-around sunglasses, keep me warm on all but sub-zero wind-chill days.

    1. Excellent point Brian. That has been a challenge for me as well. A couple of my tips: remove the padding from inside the helmet that is generally attached by velcro to give you more space inside the shell. Consider buying a thin balacava for those days that aren’t as cold as TODAY! For the coldest days I use a military surplus winter hat that is very warm but also very thin most likely designed to be worn under military helmets. I bought these from Sportsmans Guide which look dorky but they rock:
      http://www.sportsmansguide.com/net/cb/2-new-german-mil-winter-caps-olive-drab.aspx?a=571899

      Stay upright,
      Tim

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s