Winter and the art of bicycle (and self) maintenance
By BikePGH Guest Blogger Sara Cole [originally published in the February issue of the Union Hall Times]
In my last biking column I gave some tips on how to get into the swing of winter riding in the ‘Burgh, focusing mostly on preparation before and during a ride. The recent “polar vortex” and my good friend, Brian, snapping his bike’s chain in the midst of the vortex reminded me that winter riding also requires a good deal more care of one’s ride and one’s self.
In terms of your bike, the main two things you’re going to want to do is keep it clean and keep it lubricated. Your chain and drivetrain have a tendency to get much dirtier in the winter, given the wet, slushy conditions and the salt on the road. Knock as much road gunk from your bike as possible right after your ride and before you bring it inside. Using a windshield brush that you might use on a car works well to loosen salt and other debris from your bike, and you can use an old toothbrush to get at smaller components. If your bike’s gotten really dirty, using a rag with a small amount of warm water and dish soap (preferably with some sort of degreaser in it) will work well to clean your frame and other parts. Make sure to dry it off when you’re finished.
In addition to keeping it clean, winter riding requires more frequent lubrication than other seasons. You should probably be lubing up your chain twice as often as you would during warmer months. If you ride almost every day, that would translate to lubing your chain two or three times a week. Look for a lube that is specifically formulated for “all-weather” conditions because these types of lubes tend to have added ingredients that help to discourage gritty bits from adhering to your chain and drivetrain. Keeping your chain lubed also will help, to a certain extent, prevent rust. After the season is over, if you’ve been riding quite a bit, you’ll likely want to replace your chain.
But it’s not just your bike that needs extra attention; self-care is an important part of making winter cycling enjoyable and physically possible. Along with dressing properly, keeping well-hydrated and eating enough is important. Though it’s colder, you lose a lot of moisture in the winter and burn just as many, if not more, calories getting around. Keep some snacks and a water bottle on hand.
The cold might make you feel the effects of your cycle commute a lot more. In terms of low/no-cost winter riding self-care, warm baths with Epsom salts (and perhaps a nice essential oil), stretching, muscle rub (think Bengay or Tiger Balm), and using a heating pad or hot water bottle on stiff or achy spots all help me get back in the saddle the next day.
If you’re willing to spend a bit of money, a massage or hot yoga class works wonders for working out extra-stiff muscles. The Yoga Hive in Garfield has a weekly class specifically for runners and cyclists that feels all the more relevant this time of year. Local licensed massage therapist Benjamin Rod works with cyclists on a sliding-scale basis, and when I felt totally spent and achy post-vortex, a massage at the Pittsburgh Center for Complementary Health and Healing not only erased aches and stress but also left me feeling more limber. (Rod can be reached for appointments at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As poet and activist Audre Lorde once noted, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Keep your personal cycling revolution going by making sure both you and your ride are well-nurtured and loved.
Sara Cole is a teacher, a big advocate of self-care, and a survivor of cycling in the (polar) vortex.