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A Gear & Maintenance Clinic

by Dan Curtis Cummins with Nick Neuhaus of Mike’s Bikes

Mountain biking is a great way to beat stress and stay in shape. However, many riders shamefully store their ride for the winter even though winter in California offers some of the best, dirtiest riding of the year. It just takes a little more care and preparation to get the most out of the rainy season. Proper preparation means having the right gear and taking care of your other half in the sport–your bike. One of these responsibilities is to not allow your bike to get dusty or rusty after a mud-slinging singletrack attack. Nick Neuhaus and the folks of Mike’s Bikes in San Rafael shared their expert opinion on how to prepare your bike, and yourself as a rider, for the upcoming winter season.

The Bike Bath

Your bike will need a regular bath. Nick recommends that riders clean their bike every time they ride. You will want to clean the frame and components as well as conduct a thorough drive train cleaning and lubing.

To get started, find a hose with no high pressure nozzle attached, a bucket of soapy water, sponges, and gear brushes to clean your bike. You will also need rags/towels to dry your bike. You must dry it after you wash it.

Wet the entire bike to loosen any dirt, mud or grime before you gently scrub the bike with your sponge (so as not to scratch the paint). Use the brushes for behind the crankset; around the brakes, under the fork, around the hubs, and in all the nooks of the drivetrain. If you have standard brakes (not discs) be sure to scrub the rims, especially the sidewalls because they’re your braking surfaces. You can scrub them with the rough side of a standard dishwashing sponge. Keeping the rims clean ensures positive braking.

You can use a chain cleaning tool and some citrus cleaner to clean a mucked up chain. Wet winter lube mixed with mud is notorious for gooping up the chain and rear derailleur.

Once you’ve scrubbed all the dirt off your bike, finish the job by rinsing and drying. Rinse the bike gently with clean water to remove all the soap and dirt, and then dry the bike with a towel or soft chamois. Be careful to not spray water directly into the cable housing. The grit from the mud can throw the shifting off.

According to Nick, it’s really important to keep it dry and keep the chain lubed, after regular winter cleaning. For winter, Nick recommends Dumon Tech liquid grease to lube the chain and components of the drivetrain.

Storage

Proper winter storage is essential for keeping your ride in good condition. Moisture can create rust spots, especially in the chain. Salt in the air is particularly bad because it not only causes rust but can also create some corrosion areas. Nick insists on storing his bike inside, and suggests the same for everyone this winter. “Inside, in a garage…not under a tarp,” or in any moist place, he commented. In your bed is fine if your bike costs more than your car.

Gear

As far as preparing your bike and gear for winter riding, a few key bases must be covered to keep you and your bike rolling. Nick suggests everyone carry a thin rain jacket or disposable poncho in their hydration pack if riding on uncertain days. He discourages leg and arm warmers for his type of aggressive riding, where he says he’s exercising really hard and moving around so he doesn’t need them to keep warm (although they may be a good idea for those more timid riders). Neoprene toe or shoe covers can be beneficial for long descents that don’t require much pedaling. Gloves are essential because it can be hard to brake and shift with chilled digits.

You should also consider purchasing a good night riding light system to maximize riding opportunities. The daylight hours are hard to come by in the winter, but with a good light you can ride anytime.

Tires

Nick recommends riders swap their light summer tires out for those with an aggressive tread pattern for the winter months. He especially likes the Maxxiss “Holy Roller” for muddy and wet terrain. Overall, look for thick, deep treads that will allow the mud to spin out of the tires.

Tools

Besides a regular travel toolkit (with a chain tool) and flat repair kit,
Nick highly suggests always carrying a gear brush on the trail, stowed in your hydration pack to be ready to quickly brush down the chain in extremely wet and wild days. “Mud can weigh a lot,” he said, “and cleaning the chain mid-ride can save a lot of drivetrain failure and energy.”

Follow these words of maintenance wisdom to keep riding on the trails this winter, rain or shine, mud, puddles, or slippery rocks. Be prepared and you will enjoy riding in the mud as much as riding in the sun-you and your bike
will just get a bit dirtier, which is not necessarily a bad thing.