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Bikes in wintertime

A few days ago, when we got the Ugly Storm, I mentioned bicycling through the winter. It’s not really something I’ve done before, so I don’t feel like I can be an authority on it, but so far this semester I’ve only driven to campus three times (making that $200 commuter parking pass really expensive,) and I feel like I could make it through the year yet. That said, I think the Scoplaw has always been more at one with his ride than I have and could speak more helpfully if he wasn’t in the midst of writing exams, and what got me looking stuff up was this recent post on Bostonist.

The Ugly Storm switched to rain for a few hours around noon before going back to snow. As a result, there was a lot of wet snow that got packed down hard and never scraped up by the plows. Over the warmer days since then, they haven’t softened, but they have re-frozen. On any less-travelled street, which includes nearly any street I ride on my way to campus, there are big islands of lumpy white ice which aren’t going anywhere until, I expect, March, unless someone does some hard-core salt-and-pickaxe work.

So one aspect of winter riding, which I met on my way over to the lab this afternoon, are these navigation hazards. They’re fine if you go straight across and don’t shift balance, but I tried making a corner over by the Sci-Tech building and wound up dumping the bike in the middle of the street. I’m happy, now, that I didn’t swap my knobby tires for slicks when the bike was new, though I might want some once these pavement-hard death-traps have melted.

The other obvious part is drivers. The roads are narrower now, so I’m more likely to be riding out in the road. That’s another caution-and-lights issue. (You do have a blinking taillight and bright headlight, right?)

Less obvious is storage. I can stow my bike in the basement at home, but my problem during last week’s storm was locking it up on campus. I usually use the racks, but yesterday I talked to one of the department staff and found out that if there was actually snow or freezing rain coming down, I could lock it to a staircase out by the building extension, which would keep the lock from freezing up (and the bike from sitting too long and freezing up, like it did last week.)

The catch is this: according to Massbike, a bike kept inside rusts faster than an outdoor bike. I’m not really sure why this is, but I suppose oxidation, like most chemical reactions, would happen more slowly at low temperatures. And when there’s slush and other salty mess on the road, there’s a lot of gunk getting kicked up into the chain and gears. (You’ll notice that it’s getting kicked up onto you, as well, but you’re easier to clean off, and you don’t oxidize.)

So the Winter Cycling pages suggest fenders. I’ve seen bikes with fenders before, but it wasn’t until I saw that suggestion that I realized how useful they’d be in winter. Front fenders, in particular, could keep a lot of gunk out of the chain ring.

Beyond that, regular wipe-downs of the bike and keeping the chain well-lubed seem to be the way to go. I have some chain grease, but I need to spend some more time with my bicycle maintenance handbook figuring out how to use it effectively. I think I essentially killed my last bike by not taking better care of it; it would be nice if this one lasted longer.

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