Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Activate Winter Mode!

Well, the forecast is calling for the first snow of the year here in Vancouver, and that means it's time to winterize! We're fortunate here on the west coast; our winter is temperate enough that you can pretty much ride straight through it. However, if you intend to do so, it's a good idea to make a couple quick upgrades to your ride before hittin' the slushy streets.

1. Fenders!
Both the most imperative and the easiest of winter upgrades, fenders are a life-saver when the streets get nasty. A variety of different types are available, and what you should choose depends on what kind of bike you ride, and how much coverage you desire. If you just want enough to keep the road gunk off your butt, and like something quick and easy to install, something like this will do you just fine. They're cheap, fit on any kind of bike, and keep your butt dry.

If you're looking for something with more coverage - to keep your legs and the person behind you dry - you're probably better off with something like this. A bit more money, and a bit more labour-intensive to get installed correctly, but they'll provide better road goo protection than a clip-on. A word of warning about full fenders, though: they're usually wheel-size-specific, so make sure you get ones that are intended for your wheels size!

2. Bearings
If you've got a bicycle that was made in the last few years, you probably don't need to worry about this - this point is more for those of you riding vintage road bikes, or other older bikes. If you have an older bike, it's likely that you have loose ball bearings in your bottom bracket, and maybe even in your hubs. Riding these in wet weather will destroy them, and it will do so rather quickly. If you plan on riding an older bike this winter, take it into your favourite bike shop, and get them to replace your bottom bracket with the more modern sealed-bearing type. You'll be able to ride a sealed bottom bracket in whatever weather you can find, without having to worry about your bearings getting mangled.

3. Tires
If you're planning on riding a mountain bike this winter, you can pretty much ignore this section; your bike will likely already be equipped with wide tires that will give you a good contact patch in slippery weather. If you're riding a road or track bike, though, it might be time for some different tires. Those 23c slicks are great for fast rides on dry pavement, but once things get slippery, a wider contact patch is a good idea. Many people are under the impression that slippery conditions call for a tire with a chunky tread, but this is not true. What you want is a tire with a large amount of rubber meeting the road, which means something wide and fairly slick is the way to go. Tires with blocks of tread are designed for loose terrain, not wet or icy pavement. A good bet for winter road tires is something like a Shwalbe Marathon; they're wide, they're relatively slick, and they're thick enough to offer some puncture protection against the road debris that inevitably builds up during the winter months.

4. Lights
This bit is mostly common sense, but I'll mention it anyways. It gets dark earlier in the winter! This means that your 5pm commute home will probably take place in low light conditions for the next couple months. Invest in a couple blinkies, at the very least. These can be had at almost any bike shop, for under $10, and will keep you visible during your twilight commutes. Some people opt for larger, more powerful (and of course, more expensive) lights, but it's my opinion that these aren't really necessary when riding in a well-lit urban environment.

Well, that's all for now. Hopefully this post will help at least a couple Vancouverites keep on commuting all year 'round. If you have any more winter preparation tips, we'd love to hear them! Drop us a line at districtxii at gmail dot com.

Ride safe,

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