Author Topic: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?  (Read 4397 times)

scottydog

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 132
  • Location: Montreal
Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« on: September 03, 2014, 12:29:49 PM »
I'm coming up to my first full year of biking as my primary mode of transportation, and have a dilemma of biking vs walking/running for the coming winter.  In January I bought a crappy mountain bike and was thrilled with the resulting freedom of getting around so easily.  Now the chain is completely rusted, the frame creaks ominously with every pedal stroke, and the LBS recommends a new chain, freewheel, and (used) 5-speed cogset for $55, which is more than I paid for the bike.  Plus, the bike is too small.  For winter riding, the LBS recommends a single-speed with narrow tires (to cut through the snow) for about $400 and the expectation of i) replacing the chain and freewheel after each winter and ii) replacing the entire bike every 5 years or so.  I would hope to get more years out of the bike by following the advice here on the forum, but it still sounds like about $100/season for a winter bike.  I've been watching kijiji for a few weeks, and I'm wary of buying used because I'd like to benefit from the LBS's advice on getting a bike that fits properly.  The LBS I have in mind does have used bikes, but there's obviously still a markup.

I work from home and my only required commuting is taking the kids to their respective spots - which I can do with a jogging stroller and lots of encouragement for the older ones to walk when necessary.  Everything I need (e.g. groceries, library, school/daycare) is within walking distance, but I would miss out on loss-leaders from stores that are easily accessible by bike but a bit too far otherwise.  One of my favourite exercises right now is to plan our menu around what's on sale and then ride around picking everything up.  I'm not sure that our savings from the loss-leaders would add up to $100 over the 3-4 months of winter; I mostly do this extra riding because it's fun.

What do you think: is it more badass to (a) save the money on the bike, build up my running muscles, and adjust for a reduced set of grocery stores, or (b) invest in a sturdy set of winter wheels?

GuitarStv

  • Senior Mustachian
  • ********
  • Posts: 14027
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2014, 01:16:16 PM »
Biking in the winter is a lot of fun.  I've been doing it for a couple years, and it doesn't have to be particularly expensive.

The key is to maintain your bicycle for winter riding.
- Oil your chain after every long ride.
- Take some boiling water and rinse your bike off after every salty/wet go around.
- Use fenders.
- Grease everything before the winter (seat post, all screws that go into the frame, etc. to prevent water from getting in).
- Keep an eye on your chain stretch and replace when it gets too long.  If you do this you can get at least two chains worth of use out of your cassette.
- Lube your cables very well with something that doesn't freeze.
- Clean your brake pads every week or so because they'll pick up lots of rim destroying grit.

At 50 miles a week it's necessary to replace cables and chain at the end of each winter.  Cassette every other year.  Brake pads as needed.  I see no reason so far that my bike won't last many years of this.  If you don't do the required maintenance though, your bike will disintegrate in short order.


It sounds like you need a new bike anyway, so my vote would go for getting a new bike . . . but only using it in the winter if you're willing to really stay on top of the maintenance.

lemanfan

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 820
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2014, 01:23:08 PM »
I don't know what kind of de-icing salt you use in Montreal, but here in Scandinavia we have a similar climate and bikes normally last for a decade or more even when ridden in the winter, and I've yet to replace any part after just one winter. Do you have any possibility of storing the bike under roof or indoors?  Any washing opportunities?  Servicing your bike yourself is not that hard to learn, and parts are usually reasonable.

For winter riding I would personally get a bike with internal gear mechanism, so it won't freeze as easily in the cold (possibly three-speed or a good old single-speed).  External gears are a bit of a hassle in the cold, in my opinion.

For winter riding, I would also invest in studded bike tires, just like the ones you use on your car in the snow.  If they save one accident, they're worth the money. 

Oh, and to answer your question - I would get the winter wheels.  :)

jopiquant

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 98
  • Age: 40
  • Location: Burnaby, BC
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2014, 01:28:06 PM »
Do both - bike to the stores, walk/run everywhere else!

chops

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 164
  • Location: Mustachian Midwest
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2014, 02:22:51 PM »
Agree wholeheartedly with GuitarStv - I've been winter bike riding for years and absolutely love it.  He's got great advice here for how to maintain your bike. 

There's definitely something incredibly peaceful about it especially at night, when it's just you and the snow packed up on the curbs and not too many cars.  If you get some long underwear (see MMM's article "the oil well you keep in your pants") I don't think it's too cold, even in NE which dipped to 0 or -5 F quite often last winter, since you're exercising.  I actually prefer it to hot summer riding.

My recommendation:  Get another used mountain bike that fits you with good wheels for a lot less than $400.  I've been using the same bike for 20 years now, and with regular maintenance it works fine, although I may be closer to Jacob in this regard than MMM on the ERE spectrum.

Ride On!

 - Chops

gimp

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2348
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2014, 03:30:39 PM »
Don't bike during the first snowfall of the year. Don't bike during heavy snowstorms on busy roads. Don't bike on poorly cleaned and slippery busy roads. And be really careful crossing tracks. I've seen bikers falls in these conditions, and the only thing that saved them from getting run over were fast reflexes and good snow driving skills...

SisterX

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2796
  • Location: 2nd Star on the Right and Straight On 'Til Morning
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2014, 03:35:02 PM »
I don't ride in the winter (too accident-prone) but my husband does.  He prefers his mountain bike tires rather than thin ones (like my hybrid tires) because there's a larger base and more traction on ice.  More resistance through snow, but to me that's preferable to skidding on the ice around every corner.  I don't know how bad the ice is in Montreal, however.  If yours is more of a wet snow, the smaller tires might work better.
Other than that, general low-key maintenance has kept his bike in pretty good condition even with hard summer riding and winter riding down into the -50s (F).  We keep the bikes in the garage, but at work/school they're parked outside.
I think it's all badass.  How many people do you know who walk, run, or bike all winter?  Just contemplating it is outside of the norm.  Most people wimp out.  So, good for you, no matter what you choose!

Reddleman

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 103
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2014, 04:16:03 PM »
I winter biked with both thin and thick tires, studded and stud less.  Most of the time I preferred thinish 25-28 hybrid tires.  They cut through snow much better overall.  Riding in ice, however, is no joke!  If it was near freezing or ice was predicted, I took the extra 20 minutes or so to walk.

I had a schedule as a teacher that I could ride to work before 7 am and be back home before 4:30, so traffic was not an impediment.  Plus few things make you feel more badass than getting to work in the morning to have the grounds crew yell at you to go home because school was cancelled because it was " too dangerous to drive out there!"

Parts do get eaten up with salt, but it's all relative.  Steel frames in good condition last 5-8 years or so.  Aluminum potentially longer.  If you grease areas like bottom brackets well they will last almost as long.  Brakes gunk up, but are easily cleaned with wd-40 ( which is actually what it was designed to do, BTW).  Chains need to be lubed regularly and cleaned at least once or twice a month.

One thing that was surprisingly good was wippeman stainless steel chains.  One went a whole winter without showing any noticeable stretch. 

GuitarStv

  • Senior Mustachian
  • ********
  • Posts: 14027
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2014, 06:47:37 AM »
Don't bike during the first snowfall of the year. Don't bike during heavy snowstorms on busy roads. Don't bike on poorly cleaned and slippery busy roads. And be really careful crossing tracks. I've seen bikers falls in these conditions, and the only thing that saved them from getting run over were fast reflexes and good snow driving skills...

Snowstorms are fine for biking, but you have to be extra careful.  Visibilty is super important (lights, bright stuff, reflective stuff).  Typically vehicle tires will make a nice clear spot for your bike tires to get down to pavement . . . and don't go on road shoulders (as they're not plowed usually and will be full of hidden chunks of ice and stuff under the snow).  Busy roads are actually safer because the vehicle traffic melts a lot of the snow before the plows get out.  Busy roads are also typically slower moving during a snow storm in my experience just due to volume of cars.

I've found that the key to crossing tracks and obstacles is to hit them with speed.  If you're going slowly over a large bump you're more likely to fall than if you go over them at a good pace, keep your butt hanging way back over the seat, and use your knees and arms as shock absorbers.


The two conditions I don't like to bike in for winter are freezing rain, and extreme snow.  If you have much over 5 inches of snow that hasn't been cleared from the road, it's difficult to get anywhere.  Usually the plows around here get on it pretty quickly though.  If you have a layer of ice covering everything it's scary trying to make turns, stop, or go down steep hills.

Thegoblinchief

  • Guest
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2014, 07:37:12 AM »
Grr, stupid non-responsive server set my reply.

Short version: biking is fun in the winter. Visibility is even more critical. I personally have had better traction with thinner rather than fatter tires, since the roads here are usually well salted and it's more a matter of cutting down through slush to the pavement than riding up on packed snow.

I'm going to try studded tires for the first time this winter, as I had a few spills on snow covered ice.

The real problem area on my bikes has been the rear derailer cable. Local mechanic recommended using a silicon lube and once a week blowing compressed air through the cable shroud to remove any water or gunk. He swore that his bad weather bike hadn't needed new cables for 5 years using that method.

Definitely going to use GuitarStv's hot water suggestion this year.

pete5306

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 20
  • Location: St Louis Park Minnesota
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2014, 11:18:33 AM »
I am up in Minneapolis and biked fairly consistently to work last year.  I find it is all in how far you want to go.  An old rigid mountain bike (no shocks) with some studded tires and you will be invincible.  You can pick one up for under $100 if you watch CL for a month.  As others have said lube it up.  I even take mine inside and hose it off in the shower, which works pretty slick. 

GuitarStv

  • Senior Mustachian
  • ********
  • Posts: 14027
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2014, 11:40:39 AM »
Definitely going to use GuitarStv's hot water suggestion this year.

Forgot to post this . . . after doing the hot water shower for the bike, remember to bounce it a bunch of times to knock the water off so everything doesn't ice up!

scottydog

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 132
  • Location: Montreal
Re: Winter biking WWYD: is it better to just walk/run instead?
« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2014, 08:07:42 PM »
These are great tips everyone.  Thank you!!

Last winter I stored the bike outside under a tarp, with occasional days inside when I wanted it to warm up before working on it.  My thinking was that staying outside, below freezing, would reduce rust by not allowing the snow and ice to even melt.  Has anyone compared that to storing their winter bike indoors?  I could set up indoor storage.

I like the hot water shower idea too.

I'm still leaning towards a single-speed for simplicity in maintenance.  I don't mind being in a lower-than-ideal gear during the winter.