• Country

Bike maintenance in winter

By Christopher Ashley

Winter cycling can cause extra wear to your bike but there are a few simple checks you can make to lower your annual bike service cost. Here are my tips.

Buy a bike stand

It’s cheaper and sturdier than paying someone else to hold your bike while you work on it. If you’re not allowed to fix your bike in the house, it’ll make sure you’re spending less time out in the cold working on your bike. A big retailer sells them for as little as £40, but if you have a carbon frame expect to spend up to £300.

Side view portrait of man repairing bicycle tire outdoors

To clean or not to clean?

This is a divisive issue, but most mechanics I’ve met tell me that unless you really know what you’re doing don’t clean your bike with detergent, and never take a power hose to it.

By all means wipe the frame down, but there are a lot of parts on your bike that need grease and oil, and you don’t want to wash it out by accident. Leave the deep cleaning to trained mechanics.

Fit mud guards

In winter, roads get gritted, there’s more rain, and this mixture gets churned up into salt water that sprays over your wheels and drive chain. Fitting mudguards to front and rear wheels reduces the amount this goes on your drive chain and brake/gear cables. Also read our article about winter city cycling.

Check your brakes

Take both wheels off. Wipe down the rim where the brakes touch the wheel with a clean cloth – you don’t want oil on your braking surface. Look for signs of wear because a hollow dip in the wheel rim gives you less braking power – especially in the wet winter.


With the wheel still off, check your brake pads. Most brake pads have grooves to indicate how worn they are. They’re made of rubber, which means grit or glass can get stuck in them.

Don’t feel brake pads with your fingers, instead do a visual check with a torch, and remove debris carefully. This will stop your wheel rim/braking surface from getting damaged. Remember: new brake pads are cheap and easy to fit.

Check your tyres

In winter it’s best to switch to puncture protected tyres, usually with Kevlar or deep plastic treads. I don’t bother with latex filled tubes. Instead I check mine almost every day to see if there’s a bit of glass working its way slowly towards the inner tube.

Boy fixing a puncture on his bicycle, locating the tyre valve

You can find any debris stuck in your tyre easily. Simply work it out with a thin-pointy-thing before it becomes too imbedded to wear down the inner tube.

Never take a tyre off and feel round the inside with your fingers, unless you want shredded bleeding fingers!

Keep your bike under cover

Always choose bike parking with cover. If this isn’t an option, carry a pack-away bike cover you can put over your bike quickly and easily. They have side gaps to fit locks through. The cheapest option is carry two plastic bags. One bag covers your rear cassette and derailleur, and one covers your saddle. This will prevent rain and frost removing much needed lube from your bike.

Streetworn, well-used bicycles with bag-covered seats chained to a bike rack near a busy street in N

Lube time

Learn how to lube up your chain. It’s cheap, and if you’ve cycled in the rain all week, you’ll need to lube your chain once a week. If it rains less, you can lube less. It’ll keep your chain wear down, and your rear cassette will last much longer.

Replace your chain on a regular basis

In winter your chain “stretches” quicker than it would in summer. The extra rain and snow mixed with salt and grit from the road works it’s way into your chain and removes the lube causing the metal to wear, and the chain appears to stretch – you’ll notice your bike’s gears skipping.

Bicycle dirty chain

I’d recommend getting a chain wear indicator for about £5. A chain tool to replace a chain will cost you another £5 and you can buy a new chain for about £10 – £25 depending on how fancy your bike is. I ride a mid-range road bike about 100 miles a week, so I replace my chain for about £15 every 3 months or so.

Have a good relationship with your local bike shop

Once you’ve developed a good relationship with your friendly neighbourhood bike shop, you’ll find that they’re quite happy for you to drop in (on a quiet afternoon) and assess your bike for free. When my girlfriend bought a pannier rack from them, they fitted it for free. Sure – online shops are cheaper, but they’re a lot harder to get free work or advice from qualified professionals!

What are your tips for bike maintenance in winter? Please share with us in the comments below or on facebook