How to prepare and maintain your bike for winter cycling
Cycling during winter can work for anybody if enough preparation is involved. All you need is the right equipment and some know-how. In this article, we take a quick look at the lights, mudguards, tyres, and brakes: these are your great helpers to stay on the bike throughout the year. We also look into how to take care of your bike during winter and what are the specifics of all-year care for e-bikes.
Using the right bike lights at winter
The absolutely most important thing to guarantee your safety while cycling in winter is to have the right lights. Winter days are short and by the end of a ride dusk might crawl in as a surprise.
Seeing the road ahead and identifying any objects and other riders is of paramount importance to stay safe. But something equally important is to be visible to all others out there. A large proportion of traffic accidents involving cyclists occur at dusk or darkness.
In many European countries, there are regulations which limit the choice of lights and their function, but the most important rule while choosing the light is simple: see the road and be seen by others.
Similarly to car traffic, there is a possibility to blind oncoming cyclists and drivers with a front light that is too intense. To avoid that, make sure your front light has a cut-off limit.
»The most important rule while choosing the light is simple: see the road and be seen by others«
The rear light needs to have a 220° visibility so that you are also seen from the side while cycling. Making sure you have reflectors steadily in place is equally important. Especially reflectors in the spokes make you visible and also signal you moving in traffic.
All Ampler bikes are road-legal in Europe, that means they carry lights which are good for the darkest months of the year. They also include all necessary reflectors.
Heroes of winter cycling: mudguards!
If lights are paramount for your safety while cycling in winter, then mudguards are the real heroes when we talk about keeping comfort and staying clean. No matter how sweet and tender the white snowflakes seem at first look, they tend to turn into a muddy affair in the matter of minutes within the traffic.
If snow is not the issue, rain tends to be, and if it starts raining, then mud is around the next corner. An important benefit of mudguards is often overlooked. They not only help yourself to stay dry but also protect your bike from bigger amounts of slush and dirt.
It is important to choose the mudguards which fit your bike. Mostly the choice depends on whether your bike has drilling holes for them or not. The best and most elegant solutions come with the pre-drilled holes, but there are also well-functioning temporary clip-on mudguards available.
Ampler Bikes is an Estonian company and winters in Estonia can be tough. That means that we build our bikes with winter in mind: be it snowstorms or heavy rain, causing mud and water pools that the cycler needs to enfront. This is why all Ampler bikes come with steady mudguards and a full lighting system.
When to use winter tyres?
This is the classic question the beginners in winter cycling pose: can I be lazy and use the same tyres all year round or should I really switch to winter tyres? Where and how and why this extra effort?
Ampler suggests that all the brave all-year cyclers make this extra effort and change the tyres before you see any traces of ice or snow on the road. Although Ampler provides all the bikes with the universal tyres which are good for year-round use, it is still highly recommendable to switch to winter tyres in very slippery road situations.
Before you buy the winter tyres, make sure that they fit the rims and frame of your bike. You can get advice on this at any local bike shop, where the bicycle tyres will be fitted for a small extra charge. Ampler does not recommend choosing tyre sizes wider than the ones we use, as it can rub on mudguards and frame.
Winter tyres can reduce the probability of punctuation if there are any objects on the road. Usually, the studded tyres are considered the best as they provide remarkable traction on ice and snow. On the infamous black ice: asphalt that looks normal but is in fact cunningly slippery, it is only studded winter tires that help you to obtain safer driving conditions. All that being said: nothing can make it completely safe to ride a bike on icy roads – so an extra amount of caution and picking the right speed remain your best security guards.
Bike brakes for winter
Finally we reach the good news to the lazier among us: there is no good reason to change the brakes of your bike for winter. Bearing in mind that roads might get more slippery with rain and snow, it is simply wise to check them before the winter really kicks in. Your brakes might not get a break when you keep on bravely cycling throughout the winter.
Maintaining your bicycle in winter
When the days get shorter and winter is around the corner, it is wise to take a thorough look at your dear bike, who carries you wherever you need to go. We now cast a look at some winter-specific maintenance tips:
Cleaning the bike
There is no need to properly clean the bike after every ride, but it is recommended to at least wipe off any snow, ice and salt. If your bike is lucky enough to spend the nights inside, you can allow yourself to be lazy after a long ride and let it first dry a bit. Then you can smoothly brush off the dry dirt with a soft brush.
If you want to clean your bike with water, then do it calmly. Do not use high pressure as it will remove important grease along with the dirt. If you don’t have access to running water near the place you keep your bike and you don’t want to take the dirty bike inside, there are pump canisters on the market which provide a solid spray of water to sufficiently clean the bike with a brush.
Cleaning the drivetrain
Riding in winter means dirtier roads, the dirt is often mixed with salt and grit. Thus the greased chain attracts the dirt particles even more than normal. You need to clean the whole drivetrain, a degreasing bike spray can be of great help. Lube the chain liberally, let it dry, and then wipe the drivetrain with a cloth to remove excess oil.
The Gates carbon belt drive, such as on our Curt e-bike, does not need grease and is especially winter-resistant, but naturally picks up dirt off the road as well. Brush the dirt off when it’s dry and clean once in a while with soap and water.
The salt used against the snow on the streets affects the bikes. While the Ampler aluminium frame and stainless steel bolts are protected against corrosion, the bike should be cleaned more often when riding through grit and salt-mixtures. Take extra care of the chain, as mentioned above, but also the wheels. Check and clean the steel spokes and brass nipples once in a while with water, soap and a cloth.
Taking care of the brakes
If you are riding with disc brakes, be prepared to hear some noise while we enter the wet season. It is normal for disc brakes to make a squealing sound when riding in wet conditions. This noise will subside over time. The disc and brake pads should be cleaned with brake cleaner or simply warm water, do not use soap or grease.
Ready for a tip? Check any shifter and brake cable housing for damage, as it otherwise won’t protect the cables and brake fluid from snow & water efficiently.
Ampler uses hydraulic disc brakes on our bikes, which are low-maintenance, and provide very good dosing levels and braking power in all conditions. A hard brake should bring you to a stop immediately and when pulling the levers, they should not be too loose or even make contact with the grip.
Taking care of the e-bike battery during the cold season
E-bikes don’t require any specific winter maintenance. But there is one mental adjustment to do: prepare for the battery range to drop quicker in winter. All lithium-ion batteries lose capacity in colder weather and this is completely normal. Do not be worried about any long-term damage to the battery: all the functions will go back to normal when the sun comes out.
It also does not do much harm to leave your bike standing in the cold temporarily. There is one important thing to keep in mind: do not charge your bike below 0°C! Try to take the bike inside and let it first warm up, then charge. Also, check the port for dirt and dry it off before plugging it in.
Storing your bike in winter
Despite all those health benefits of year-round cycling, let us be sincere. If you really do not feel like cycling throughout the winter, there is no shame in being a good-weather cyclist and having your e-bike take a nice break during the cold and wet season. There are some important checks and precautions to take to make the break useful.
Do not store your e-bike at a temperature below 0°C. Storing it below room temperature does not do harm, but should be avoided in the long run. Every 5-6 weeks, check the battery level of your e-bike. For lithium-ion batteries such as those used by Ampler, storing it at a level of 40% – 80% is ideal.
As you see – winter bike maintenance is nothing complicated. You need to see and be seen: so choose your lights and reflectors well – or get an Ampler e-bike with all that in place. You want to stay clean and keep your bike reasonably clean: get mudguards – or let Ampler take care of those too. If driving on snow or ice, do make the effort to get winter tyres – and check your brakes before heading out. Better safe than sorry.
After using clean your bike: whether with a dry brush or some water, but do not overdo it. Put some extra attention to the drivetrain. Do not worry if your brakes squeal louder or battery gets low faster than in summer: that’s part of the winter game! If possible, pamper your e-bike with storing it in warmer temperatures, but whatever you do, please do not charge the battery below 0 degrees.