How to Maintain Your MTB After a Winter Ride

By Martin Atanasov

Riding in winter is about more than just enjoying the winter slopes and the occasional snowy ride. It’s an entire routine that only starts with riding your MTB and enjoying yourself. To be able to do that, however, the end of this routine is boring but absolutely necessary. After every ride, you simply must maintain your bike. Otherwise, you risk having critical issues, which can sabotage your riding plans in the future. Or even worse. You could have your MTB giving up at the worst possible moment during a ride. As you can imagine, not finishing the ride would be the least of your problems if your brakes fail during a DH section.

Naturally, bike maintenance is not strictly a winter duty. However, during the cold months, the conditions are brutal on our bikes – cold, snow, slush, salt, ice, and all sorts of chemicals that will increase your bike’s wear tenfold. So, during these months, you need to give your bike some well-deserved extra attention.

Clean while still wet

After each winter ride, your bike will be very dirty. Even if it looks clean (which most probably won’t), there is still some salt, sand, and other residue on your bike from the ride, especially if you use public roads. Depending on where you live, the roads are treated for ice with salt, sand, or chemicals. This will be all over your drivetrain and frame and will start corroding the metal almost immediately. So make sure to clean your bike right after every ride. Remember to do it before the mud from the ride hardens. This will make the entire process faster, easier, and less demanding. It will also prolong the life of your paint job.

It’s best to use cold water, as otherwise you can compromise your paint and polish. Also, avoid power washers, which will strip all the grease from your powertrain, meaning you will have to grease up your bike completely after each ride. Use a moderately powerful hose instead.

Finally, after you’re done, use a cloth to dry your bike. Give special attention to your fork and your dropper post.

Don’t leave it wet in cold temperatures

Drying your bike off is more important than you think. If you have any water left in the joints or anywhere inside the frame, keeping your bike in an unheated basement or garage may cause it to freeze when temperatures drop below zero. Once frozen, the water will expand, loosening up your bike at best and damaging it at worst.

Still, even if you take the time to correctly dry your bike, it’s still a good idea to keep it in a place with some sort of heating. Extreme cold will inevitably take a toll on your frame, drivetrain, and brakes. In some severe cases, it can even deform your brake disks.

So, make sure to find a proper spot for your bike during the winter months, and don’t just throw it in the shed behind your house or, even worse, lock it outside.

Lube the chain carefully (wet lube)

Now that your bike is clean, it’s time to start preparing it for the next ride. First and foremost, begin with the lube. Use wet lube, as, most likely, you will have to ride through some pretty deep puddles during the winter months. Dry lube will also do the trick, but you will have to reapply it much more often during the ride. Invest in a high-grade wet lube if you will take your bike for a spin this winter, and make sure your chain is well lubricated.

We don’t mean just spraying on some lube, as many riders often do. Take your time to clean your chain link by link, then apply the lube and let it sink in for a while. After a few minutes, wipe off the extra lube; otherwise, it will just become glue for all sorts of mud and residue while you’re riding. This will prolong your chain’s life, and more importantly, it will avoid the abrupt end of your ride due to a broken chain.

Bike Chain
Give your chain the deserved attention. © Profimedia

Inspect for damage regularly

Once your chain has been properly lubed, it’s time to check for damage. This is especially important if your ride was not as smooth as you imagined it would be. In other words, if you’ve crashed or fallen, which will happen much more often during winter rides, you need to take your time and inspect your bike for any damage. If there is a tough crash, you must check for cracks in the frame. These are very dangerous, as your bike may crack at any moment, and I promise you, this won’t be fun when you’re clearing a 10-meter drop.

Moreover, check your brake disks, levers, derailleur, and rims. Give your spokes a nice and tight grip to see if any of them have gotten loose.

Finally, make sure your gears are properly set before you put your bike to rest. After all, it’s much better to do that after a ride and not while everyone’s waiting for you to get going.

Spray your bike with sealant

Finally, before you take your bike to bed, make sure to seal it with a nice sealant. This way, you will ensure that water and mud won’t stick to it so easily. A good sealant will help you cut your cleaning routine significantly.

Though tempting, don’t just spray sealant on your bike. If you do, it will get into all the places you don’t want it – the chain and the brakes, for example. Instead, spray it generously on a dry cloth and gently apply the sealant onto the bike with the care it deserves. Make sure to cover the entire frame, prolonging its life and making the next cleaning much easier.

Check your accessories

After you’re done with your bike, it’s time to pay some attention to your accessories. Mainly the lights. Winter, especially in central and northern Europe, is predominantly dark. If there is a day, it lasts about six hours, during which most of us are at work. So, our rides are mostly in the dark. Naturally, lights are essential, and you must ensure that your batteries are always charged. In the cold, batteries drain faster, so make sure to always stay on top of it, and if you want to be extra careful, get a second pair of lights just in case.

Moreover, make sure you also clean your clothes and gear as soon as you get home. The same compounds that will wear down your bike faster are also damaging your gear as we speak. So, make sure to clean them just like your bike every time you get back from a ride. But before you throw them in the washing machine, rinse off the salt and other debris. No need to wear down your washing machine, right?

Riding in winter is demanding but worth it

As you can see, riding during the winter months, especially when the weather is exceptionally wet, is quite demanding. Still, taking care of your bike is part of the job. It’s just like anything else you do: if you don’t put extra effort into cleaning your dishes after cooking, you can imagine how your next meal will look and taste. So, don’t moan and groan. Just do your chores after the ride and give your bike the pampering it deserves.