Workshop: Don't let winter stop you riding

How to protect your mountain bike from the elements

Summer's dusty singletrack may still be months away but if you want to enjoy it to the fullest you'll need to start getting in shape now – and that means getting out on your bike, whatever the weather.

With some new parts and some quick maintenance, you can enjoy winter riding without having to worry about any unpleasant surprises around the corner. Clothing and lighting technology improve year on year, so there’s no excuse not to get out on your bike all year round, unless mechanical strife gets in your way – and on that front, we’re here to help.

Winter is notoriously tough on equipment but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your bike set up and ready for the arduous conditions. Mud, grit and water wreak havoc with many components, causing them to rust or seize in place, leaving you with an expensive repair bill.

Wear to areas such as the drivetrain can be easy to spot and is often noticeable during a ride, but there are other areas on your bike that may lie dormant, having seen little serious care or attention for years. These seldom-maintained parts need periodical checks to prevent major headaches later on, and in most cases the work is really simple to carry out – just as long as you get on the case early enough.

Top tips

Forks

A rigid fork makes sense for winter riding. Suspension forks don’t like the winter. The action often becomes sluggish and they have a hard time keeping the rain and dirt from penetrating their seals and destroying their delicate internals. Plus, with trail speeds often down to a crawl the need for big bump swallowing is reduced. So why not rest your suspension fork and fit a winter-proof rigid version instead? 

There are plenty of suspension length, disc-compatible models to choose from with popular choices being from Kona, Nuke Proof, Ritchey, Pace and On-One. They’re lighter than suspension forks and virtually maintenance-free too, and cleaning your bike post-ride becomes much quicker. If you do swap, be careful to check out the axle-to-crown length, so you don’t affect the bike’s geometry and handling. 

Gearing

Going singlespeed removes weight, and drivetrain maintenance is almost non-existent. It can take experimentation to find the perfect gear combination and correct chainline. Wider chains, sprockets and chainrings are often used, as they are less likely to slip under load.

Tyres

You need to invest in predictable wet weather grip if you intend to ride through the worst weather. Look for tyres that provide you with not only ample traction but also the ability to shed mud, or you’ll lose grip in no time. Check out our current favourite, Bontrager’s Mud X TR.

Cables

Full-length outer gear cables are a popular solution for riders looking to keep gears working efficiently in harsh conditions. Exposed cable runs can drag dirt and moisture into the outer cable, leading to sticky and slow shifting. If you don’t want to fit full-length outers, lube regularly to keep gear changes smooth.

In the workshop

Follow our simple guide to get your bike ready for the toughest trail conditions – you could save yourself a whole lot of trouble later on.

Time: One hour

Difficulty rating: Medium

Tools: Anti-seize; pedal wrench / 6mm or 8mm Allen key; 4 and 5mm Allen keys; P-handled Torx T25 key; carbon assembly paste; electrical tape

1. Removing pedals

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Many pedals use a 15mm pedal spanner for removal, but there is an increasing trend for Allen key recesses to be used on the pedal axle. If the latter applies to your pedals, a long 6mm or 8mm Allen key makes removal easy. Whichever system your pedals use, the removal process is identical. Whichever pedal you are working on, undo towards the rear wheel – the left pedal has a reverse thread.

2. Check and go

Once the pedals are removed from the cranks, give the threads on the crank arm and the pedal axle a wipe with a lint-free rag. Check for visible signs of damage to the threads that may cause problems when you re-install. Apply a layer of anti-seize to the pedal and crank arm threads. Most manufacturers label pedals ‘left’ or ‘right’ to help prevent confusion as to which one goes where. When you’re refi tting, tighten towards the front wheel.

3. Cleat condition

Cleats take lots of abuse, which goes unnoticed and can cause real headaches if they get stuck in place. To remove them, use an Allen key (usually a 4mm) and undo the bolts anti-clockwise. If the cleats are drastically worn then removal can be trickier — in some cases having to resort to cutting or even drilling the cleats off the shoes. This can damage the sole so avoid letting it get to this stage by periodically checking their condition.

4. Refit or replace

Once you remove your cleats, wipe the threads with a lint-free rag and put anti-seize on the cleat bolts and the threads in the shoe plate. Shoes usually have four bolt holes in the sole plate for a range of adjustment, and despite only using two, it’s worthwhile to anti-seize all four. This can prevent unwanted water making its way into your shoes. If your cleats took a lot of work to remove, then fitting a new set may be a wise move.

5. Seatpost care

Dirt has an innate ability to get into areas where you don’t want it. Your seat tube can often fi ll up with mud, grit and water which, when combined, can hold your seatpost firmly in place. This can cause cosmetic damage when you adjust saddle height, and in extreme cases the seatpin can become stuck in place. This is not a good scenario to be in, so every so often remove your seatpost from the bike. Remember: prevention is the cure. 

6. Get the grime off

Once your seatpost is out of the bike, wipe as much of the grease, mud, grit and general grime off it as possible, and the same goes for the inside of the seat tube. Apply a layer of anti-seize to the rim of the seat tube and to the lower section of the seatpost. If you have a carbon fibre seatpost or frame, then don’t be tempted to use grease or anti-seize on it; instead, use carbon assembly paste that is specifically designed for this application.

7. Remove skewers

Quick-release skewers perform a vital role in the function of a bike but are often left to sit untouched for years. Undo the quick-release by pulling it away from the spokes, just as you do when removing your wheels for punctures. Hold one end in place while turning the other end of the skewer anti-clockwise. Eventually the non-levered end will unscrew all the way off. Be careful not to lose the springs that sit at either end of the skewer, though.

8. Stopping the skewers seizing

Once the skewer has been removed from the wheel, wipe it clean with a rag and apply a fresh coat of anti-seize to the main body. Put a blob on the threaded end of the skewer, as this will get spread down the shaft when the skewer passes through the axle and will prevent the threads seizing in place. If you do drop the springs, they fit with the wider section facing outwards from the centre of the skewer.

9. Rotor bolt condition

When you have the skewer out is a perfect opportunity to check your rotor bolts' condition. If your bike has a six-bolt rotor then use a Torx T25 or appropriate size Allen key to undo the bolts. Once they are out, apply some Locktite to the threads and refit. If it’s a centre-lock rotor, use a cassette removal tool to undo the lockring and apply anti-seize to the splines before refitting, avoiding getting any on the rotor itself.

10. Spoke/nipple lubrication

Wheels get submerged in puddles and mud, so it’s no surprise when a nipple gets stuck in place. Before riding through the winter, take some chain lube and drop a small amount onto the spoke, just above the nipple head. This will run down, coating the spoke threads and helping preventing them from fusing with the nipple. Leave it to soak for a while then wipe off the excess so as not to attract dirt.

11. Chainring bolts

Drivetrain wear is a given consequence of riding bicycles, and at some point you will need to replace a chainring. Wear rates increase during winter, so to remove your chainring bolts you will need a 5mm Allen key/Torx key and a peg spanner. The peg spanner sits holding the rear of the bolt still when you try to undo it from the front. With the spanner in place, turn the bolt anti-clockwise so that the two parts separate.

12. Careful installation

Once a bolt has been removed, clean and anti-seize it ready to reinstall. Removing all the bolts allows you to wipe the chainrings clean of excess dirt that’s built up. When you re-install chainrings, ensure they are mounted the right way round. The text referring to its size is stamped on the inside of each ring. On the outer chainring there is a peg sticking out, which should sit under the crank arm.

13. Catch the crud

Some might frown at it – normally for aesthetic reasons – but fitting mudguards to your bike can help to ensure you and your bike stay cleaner in the worst conditions. Clip-on mudguards usually provide the most versatility, but choose a shorter mounting bracket on a rear mudguard if you have a small frame or run a low saddle height to stop it sitting too close to the rear tyre. Some brands also make mudflaps to stop mud spraying onto rear shocks.

14. Prep your frame and seatpost

Before installing your mudguards, protect your frame from the abrasive effects of winter. Dirt can and will get everywhere, especially between frame tubes and gear/ brake cable housing contact points. Head tubes are a particular area to protect. You can use clear adhesive patches or neatly-cut gaffer tape. Although gaffer tape is waterproof, you may find it eventually wears through.

15. Front mudguard positioning

Many front mudguards are held in place by elasticated ties. They allow you to attach a mudguard to even the most unusual tube profiles. If the frame doesn’t have mounting bosses, position the mudguard close to the front end of the bike — but leave a gap between the leading edge of the mudguard and the head tube. If it is mounted too close, mud will build up, rubbing against the headset and causing damage.

16. Rear mudguard installation

Rear mudguards may be angle-adjustable, so ensure the underside clears the tyre by several inches. Positioned too high, mud will spray over the top; too low and it will catch the tyre or clog up quickly. If you drop your saddle height during rides or have a full-suspension bike, mount the mudguard further up the seatpost so it doesn’t interfere with the tyre when the saddle is lowered or the rear shock compresses.

Top tips

  • Remove cables ties from your fork stanchions because dirt can build up underneath and cause wear. Zip-ties are a great way to measure sag when setting up forks, but remove them straight after it’s done. The scratches and gouges they cause are not good and a zip-tie is a whole lot cheaper to replace than your fork stanchion.
  • When installing carbon fibre parts, use carbon assembly compounds to help stop your bars or seatpost slipping. Don’t be tempted to use regular anti-seize or grease.
  • Wet weather riding can result in water seeping through the eyelets of your wheel rims. This adds excess weight, perishes rim tape, can seize nipples in place and makes puncture repairs a real mess. Next time you puncture, take the opportunity to wipe any excess moisture out from inside the tyres and rim tape.

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