Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Can Your Bike Withstand the Outdoors?

A couple of days ago I forgot my bike lock and dragged the big steel bicycle I was riding that day, complete with a pannier full of art supplies, up 3 flights of stairs to my studio. While doable, it was certainly an ordeal - not even the weight alone, but the awkwardness and inconvenience of carrying something so bulky up a long, winding staircase. I cannot imagine doing this on a daily basis, and normally my transportation bikes spend the day locked up outside.

That is why it surprised me to learn that quite a few cyclists I know apparently do this several times every day and will not leave their bike outdoors for anything beyond a quick errand. Their concern is not safety, but durability. One acquaintance tells me that leaving her bicycle outside - not overnight, but during a normal workday - leads to rust and mechanical issues, particularly if it happens to rain. Another cyclist complained that after half a year of leaving her new Dutch-style bicycle outdoors 9-5 on a daily basis, the bike is now in such bad shape that the shop she took it to for a cleanup and tune-up told her not to bother and just buy a new one. It sounds absurd, but I have more anecdotes in the same vein, all involving bikes purchased in the past 2-3 years: It seems that many of the new wave "city bikes" - unlike the European originals that inspired them - were not actually designed to withstand the outdoors.

Of the current-production bikes I've owned or had on loan, I have kept a Pashley, a Bella Ciao, a Pilen, an Urbana, and a Paper Bicycle outdoors for extensive periods of time and have observed no damage as a result of this practice. Same with the vintage bikes I've owned - my Gazelle and the Steyr I rode in Austria both stayed outside overnight and were none the worse for wear. So what did these manufacturers do differently, and is it possible to do the same to other bikes aftermarket? I suppose a frame can be sprayed with some rust-proof solvent, but what about the components?

Finally, I am curious to know what you feel is realistic to expect from a new transportation bike, as far as its outdoor durability. Should it be rated for being left outside for a couple of hours at a time? A standard 9-5 workday? Overnight storage? Your own experiences with specific bikes are welcome.

97 comments:

  1. I always carry my bike up the two flights of stairs at home to store it in my apartment. I don't want the weather beating up on it nor for people to mess with it at night (i.e. steal parts or the whole thing!). At my office, I'm fortunate that the parking garage attached to my building has numerous indoor covered bike racks. (There are many other garages in the city that do as well. You may have to explore a little to find them though.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Steel, aluminum, carbon fibre, rubber are all hardy components that can fend off elements well.

    Long as the bike is kept reasonably clean and lubricated a couple of times per year it will be fine for many a year.

    Theft and vandalism are another story altogether.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So what would you say to someone whose experience contradicts this, like the girl whose (steel) city bike looks a mess after 6 months?

      Delete
    2. It may be that she didn't do routine maintenance, like oiling and wiping the chain. What about yearly checkups at a LBS? Do you know the history of these particular bikes? I get a rusty chain after one we ride if I don't wipe it down and apply more lubricant.

      Delete
    3. If she was keeping her bike clean and lubricated, it is possible the paint was faulty, allowing water and salt to accumulate. This should be covered by warranty.

      While a novice may not be able to tell, paint faults are fairly obvious. Scratches, bubbling, rough surface are all clues the paint was not applied properly.

      Delete
    4. FWIW I do not regularly oil or wipe the chain on my transportation bikes, and they are fine.

      The bikes that have been described to me as "outdoor sensitive" by their owners have included a couple of bikes from the Globe series, Linus, Schwinn, Trek hybrid/city bikes, and other makes/models of the same caliber. And it isn't just about rusty chains, but more like rusty cranksets, handlebars, stuck brake levers, rust on the frame, the works.

      Delete
  3. Cheap bikes and components rust.
    My bikes sit outdoors year-round albeit under shelter.
    The first thing I do when I get a new bike is to swap every bolt and nut possible for stainless (marine grade) ones. Every thread is greased too. The greasing needs to be repeated yearly for non-stainless steel components.
    That done, and after swapping the chain for a "rustproof" model I don't see much rust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder whether this is a service a bike shop would be willing to perform. I do not see an average new bicycle owner being able to do it.

      Delete
    2. Not here in Denmark, to my knowledge at least.
      The LBS's I've asked don't even carry stainless bolts and nuts. No demand and too expensive they say.

      Delete
    3. I like Blue Green boat trailer grease for weather-proofing. It's very cheap ($3 for 40 bikes worth!). I transfer it out of the cardboard grease gun tube it comes in into a plastic peanut butter jar. Good for YEARS... I use it for anything threaded. It's even good for bearing surfaces, though a purist would come up with better lubricants. I don't use it on chains, preferring oils to grease. Grease picks up too much dirt.

      Delete
    4. A good bike shop will repack the hubs, headset, and bottom bracket with good marine grade grease as well as grease every threaded interface on a bike before it goes out the door. They'll also tension and stress relieve the wheels.

      Repacking IGH with marine grade grease is really necessary in wet climates as especially the Shimano IGH don't come with nearly enough lubrication from the factory. The only real exceptions are the Rohloff, NuVinci, and Alfine 11 which are filled with an oil bath.

      The good news is even if the shop you bought your bike from didn't do the above, any decent shop will be willing to perform the above services (for a fee) as part of a tune-up/overhaul.

      Delete
    5. I would have to agree that maintenance is extremely important if a bicycle is to be left out in the elements. But one really has to know their bike and what potential threats could affect it's performance, along with the wear and tear of usage. I'll relate two experiences: I decided to replace my bottom bracket as I could feel that it wasn't moving smoothly. When I removed it, I was shocked to see that WATER was in the frame! About a shot glass worth! That explains why the BB failed. But that caused me to take action. I learned where the water was coming from and addressed it. The other experience involved someone's bike that was locked outside, during a HEAVY DOWN POUR. They had removed their seat with the seat pole. Guess where water was pouring down into? Do you think they thought about that? Probably not. And when their components fail, they go back to the LBS and question them. You have to KNOW your machine and do the maintenance . . . .

      Delete
  4. At the Bike Station I work for here in Chicago we have indoor parking for both security and weather reasons. Local offices are starting offer these as well. Out door racks often get over crowded, or bikes are abandoned there. Part of the investment that comes with a big bike purchase is making sure the snow isn't going to rust your chain off in three months.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Cheap bikes have cheap paint and non-stainless parts; obviously the Dutch-style bikes only emphasize the form over function. Maybe some galvanized parts are ok.

    Depends on what's rusting replacing parts and repainting isn't worth the cost in general. Keep the paint intact with nail polish.

    As far as rating outdoor-worthiness without an independent assessment the ratings would be meaningless. Of course it would be very micro-climate specific.

    Ratings aside, the best way to determine if a bike is durable is to look at its design objective and price point. A good mtb is a natural for abuse.

    I have a 20 year old bike that looks brand new despite being left outside for a couple of years.

    ReplyDelete
  6. A bicycle cover integrated with a locking chain or cable would work. Roll it up and take it with you.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Are you willing to disclose what brand of city bike this bike that's trashed after 6 months is?

    I see a Flying Pigeon that's locked up outside a lot on my route home, and after only seeing it for about a year, all the chromed parts are starting to rust really badly. I know that old (environmentally unfriendly) chroming techniques were more durable than newer ones, and the cheapest ones used in lower quality new construction are really poor.

    Although my bikes are pampered in a bike shed, or in my office,
    Minerva's "new" front rim (28" Westwood) is already rusting a bit, just from atmospheric humidity, and a couple of rides in rain. It is probably poor quality Indian or Chinese construction for the roadster market abroad-the rim was never flat, and the wheel has never been true. There just aren't many options for 28" wheels in the US.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same bike as described here (see end of the post), and very similar experience. Not the same woman though.

      Delete
  8. I have a Linus which started to show rust on the steel frame and components (not sure of makeup)after 4 months outside (under a bike tarp at times). I did ask the bike shop what best case scenario was for keeping it outside and they recommended a dry-down after it rained (if possible) and regular chain lubrication. I wasn't going for a high-end bike and realize it was fairly cheap as bikes go - and I've heard similar issues from other Linus owners.

    Then I moved into an apartment with an elevator so it lives inside now.

    Before that I had a '70s Baypoint Huffy and while it was outside for over a year, it rusted a little, but not nearly as much or as quickly as the Linus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have never owned a Linus and have no experience with them other than one short test ride, but I do see rusty Linus bikes parked around Boston. And you are probably the 5th person whose feedback I am reading/hearing about the rust issue. Hopefully the manufacturer will consider doing something about this.

      Delete
    2. I've bashed Linus before but it's worth repeating: don't invest any more money in an albatross.

      Delete
    3. I own a Linus and keep it in my garage stable with my Pashley and seven other bikes and the Linus is still rusting compared to the other bikes Pashley, Vintage schwinn, and 3 Electra bikes. But then the Linus is the cheapest bike in terms of cost.

      I bought my Linus as cheep winter bike for $400, it's a single gear so there is less to worry about in the freezing. This all being said I like my Linus, it has a very smooth ride compared to my other biles I own for a lot less money. I knew buying it that it wasn't going to compare to, let's say my Pashley. The Pashley cost me $1,500.00 verses $400.00 dollars. You get what you pay for and all bikes rust and deteriorate overtime, a cheep bike is going to do so much faster, just goes without saying I think.

      Delete
  9. I remember back in the late 70's when Chevy trucks used steel bodies from Japan and the truck bed's paint just flaked off in big round patches. Later big holes would develop. Could it be that the steel is low grade on these new city bikes?

    The Sparta that I rescued out of a canal had a thick clear rubberlike coating over the entire paint job. It survived several months in the canal and when I tried to sand it down to paint it, it was near impossible. All I managed to do was rough the surface enough for paint to stick. I think many new bikes today are not given the same thick layers of paint, and if it's not the cheap paint, it's the cheap steel.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I leave my Retrovelo outside in all conditions (though not overnight) and it looks the same as when I got it apart from a few dings of my own making.

    I'm really glad -- I would be seriously irritated if that were not the case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Since Retrovelos do not have a full chaincase, I am curious how your chain has held up?

      Delete
    2. It's perfectly fine, I've had no trouble at all and have done nothing to it as of yet.

      Delete
    3. That is good to know and very cool. Makes me wonder whether their stock chain is stainless.

      Delete
    4. I went to look at it and it is so dirty that I can't tell. I will report back after "I" have cleaned it.

      Delete
  11. As a college student living in a dorm, when not being ridden my bike is locked to a generally uncovered bike rack 24/7. I should point out that I ride an old mountain bike with smooth tires (great combination of smooth ride and ability to leap curbs). I just make sure not to have anything on the bike that can't handle the weather. Any steel is painted, plated, or covered in oil, and everything else is either stainless or aluminum. Rather than permanent lights, I've built clips to hold a flashlight and a rear blinker only when I'm actually riding (and need them).

    End result? Certainly not a "lovely" bicycle, the thing is ugly as sin. But it's perfectly rideable, very reliable, and worry-free.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I store most bikes outdoors most of the year, but:

    1) safe neighborhood.

    2) lock the bikes that don't "move" often (so only the useful bikes will get stolen :-).

    3) There's rudimentary shelter for several bikes:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/32419497@N05/sets/72157629232476153/

    4) I take care to cover saddles with buckets or boxes or bags or whatever happens to be handy.

    5) I lubricate the bikes from time-to-time; chains get lubed, and I also used a solder-flux bottle with synthetic oil to hit all the exposed threads and pivot joints I can find with a tiny drop of oil.

    6) I'm careful with waterproofing whenever I work on a bike. Cables got a dab of grease/oil at their ends when they are assembled, to help slow water intrusion. Seatposts are lubed, too. All the (steel) bikes that I ever have "apart" get a shot of Weigle's Frame Saver into whatever tube happens to be open. Aluminum, I would use T-9. Threads are generally gooped up with beeswax before assembly, also, including spokes when I build a wheel.

    7) Kids' bikes, I aim for less rustable chain, when I can get it.

    8) Big bike consumes chain fast enough and gets enough attention that it never really has a chance to rust.

    ReplyDelete
  13. You know people regularly buy a new car every 3 years or so. I'm sure it's because that "new car smell" is gone.

    "The finish process" is probably the costliest part of building a bike. It costs as much to finish the bike as to make the frame. So you get what you pay for.

    If you ride a bike, expect to at least wipe it down with an oily rag from time to time. If you don't like oil (it's trendy not to) Turtle Wax Plastic Protectant cleans & leaves a film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, I think the reason people buy a new car every 3 years nowadays is because currently produced cars are designed to break down shortly after that period. As soon as your warranty runs out, prepare to spend $$ it seems, which makes it more cost-efficient to trade the b@stard in for a new model with a warranty. This sort of thing is very scary to me.

      Delete
    2. I don't think that it's accurate to say that cars currently in production are intentionally designed to break down after around 3 years. If that was the case, people would catch on and say "oh, such and such brand of car is no good, they always die after 3 years, don't buy that car". Sure, there are lots of people who like to trade in their car when the warranty runs out and get a new one simply because they CAN. Usually it has nothing to do with the car starting to break. They just want the new one. Or they like the safety net of the warranty. The other reason people might be inclined to get rid of a car after a few years would be state required "safety" inspections. And I put safety in quotes b/c a lot of the time things that aren't necessarily related to safety will get failed causing the owner to have to fork over large sums of money in order to keep their car legal (Example: My mom's air conditioner stopped working. She never used it anyway, but it was failed, and so her car wouldn't pass inspection. She had 7 days to come up with hundreds of dollars to fix it or she couldn't drive it. She lives on a farm 45 miles from her work, so alternative transportation is not an option for her). In TN there is no safety inspection and most of the people here tend to keep their cars for as long as they possibly can. Especially in this economy. If they can duct tape it or fix it with bailing twine or just get by with out that broken door/hood/body panels they will. It's amazing what you'll see people driving here! Also, dealerships are making it WAY too easy and tempting to get a new car.

      Delete
    3. Cars are far more durable than they used to be. 200,000 miles is nothing for a late model car. It is still in it's youth.

      Delete
    4. That's a bit of an extreme statement about cars-
      I haven't bought one recently- because the last car I owned I had for 14 year, 150K , and the most expensive thing I ever had to do to it was replace the AC compressor after 10 years.
      I get the impression that that's more the norm than the exception these days. My husband's 7 year old BMW hasn't had any serious issues in the three years we've owned it, although it's close to needing it's first set of new brake pads which will probably be expensive, but over 3 years, if that and oil changes are the only costs it's had, that's not bad.

      Delete
    5. I am no car expert and this was just an off-hand comment, based on listening to countless people I know complain that cars develop problems as soon as the warrantee runs out. It was also my impression that "planned obsolescence" in the auto industry is widely acknowledged. If I am wrong, so be it - I am not attached to this idea in the least. My own car (European) developed its first problem at the end of year 6 and otherwise handled wonderfully, so I am not complaining.

      Delete
    6. There isn't really a "planned obsolescence" in the industry unless you're talking about the brands I mentioned. It's people's expectations which constantly change. WiFi in a car?

      Cars are like bikes in this respect: they sell sex. As someone trained in this field I'm sure this has relevance. Companies are under extreme pressure to develop new technologies or "improvements" nearly every year, so some former giants of reliability, Toyota & Honda to name two, have compromised their vetting process.

      If you think bikes have the potential for problems cars are infinitely more complex; it's a miracle they're not all Linuses.

      Delete
    7. Heard a story on NPR last week (I think) about why folks don't hitchhike anymore, besides the obvious horrible 70's slasher movies, and they had a guy who studies car durability on the show. He noted that new cars routinely last 10-15 years without much maintenance, whereas old cars required more maintenance and mostly died young, unless you bought a very high-end model. That's certainly been my experience. My 2000 Honda is going on 200,000 miles, and all I've done since the 100,000 mark is change the oil regularly and replace the brake pads. I expect it to run for many miles more, mostly because it bores me and I sort of wish it would die so I could buy a different car. I've even been hit twice (we're on the third rear bumper) and it runs like a top. My BF's 90's Honda Civic is pushing 300,000 miles with just expected maintenance.

      On the other hand, my new VW Jetta got traded in the second the 3-year warranty ran out as the thing couldn't drive near a Volkswagen dealer without something literally falling off the car. I once pushed the button to roll down the driver's-side window, the cable broke, and the glass crashed down into the door! Before that we owned a brand-spankin' new Eurovan that drove us nuts by rattling in every possible place at incredible volumes. So it might be the brand of car you owned (ehem, VW, I'm talkin' to you!).

      In my experience with bikes, some rust when you just look at them (the Panasonic got rusty at the slightest contact with a gentle mist, I swear), and others run forever with no rust issues. My Raleigh has terribly battered paint, where the steel gleams right through, and no rust at all. The Shogun was covered in rust when I got it, like a pox. I can't explain any of it. Just seems to vary from bike to bike.

      Delete
    8. You do realise that VWs sold in the USA are either made locally or in Mexico?

      Delete
  14. I like to keep my bike under a porch roof outside, not to keep it safe, but so that I'm not coming out to a wet or frozen bicycle. At work I asked for and was lucky enough to receive a spot to park it inside so i don't need to lock it up to anything.

    I expect a bicycle to be able to be outdoors all the time without suffering from rust or other things. Tires becoming sun-bleached and brittle, fine. Chains rusting, thats ok with non-use. But the whole bicycle rusting? That should not happen except in salty beach areas or on salted roads. I don't think it's too much to ask for, but my bike has a few rust-colored bolts and cable noodles anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  15. My main transportation bike lives outside, mostly under a carport at home (near enough the edge that heavy rain will get it wet), and completely exposed to the elements while locked outside during the work day. It is a Suteki "ten speed" from the 80's converted to fixed gear. The only routine maintenance I do is spray some oil on the chain when it starts to squeak. It doesn't seem to mind its outdoor life, although it is somewhat dry here in Texas, and it doesn't get exposed to salt from the ocean (I am inland) or the roads (no snow here).

    A new bike should do no worse. Decent paint, or powder coat will protect the frame just fine, and most components are aluminum, which is pretty resistant to corrosion problems. That leaves nuts and bolts. Decent plated nuts and bolts are pretty slow to rust, and extremely slow to develop more than minor surface rust. If nuts or bolts are a real problem, they may be replaced with stainless, replaced with better plated ones, or well covered in grease. This is one reason to put grease on threads before installing.

    ReplyDelete
  16. You can spray this: http://www.amazon.com/T-9-Rust-Protectant-Ounce-Spray/dp/B001447PEK/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1328723473&sr=1-1-fkmr0 to the inside of the bike frame (take off the seat post and spray inside, and also spray into the vent holes in the frame) to protect the frame if it is a metal frame from rusting on the inside. The outside is protected by the frame paint.

    When putting your seat post back on be sure to coat it with a layer of bicycle grease. This keeps the seat post from rusting to the inside of the tube and also helps to keep out water from working it's way in between there. Also when working on your bike you should always use bicycle grease on any metal to metal contact areas between parts so they don't rust together. This means greasing all bolt screw threads. A lot about how long a bike will last is related to how well it is put together, as in if the connections between metal parts have been greased.

    Nicer quality bikes have components made of stuff that is less likely to rust. Cheap quality bicycles have more steel in their components and are much more likely to rust. A lot of the difference between different expensive bikes comes down to how long they will last.

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's too bad Consumer Reports doesn't AFAIK do bicycle reliability reports in the way they do for cars. I don't think any of the cycling magazines have the right combination of funds, expertise or inclination to write reliable reports. It wouldbe great if some relatively independent web site established on ongoing poll of relevant parameters. Apparently such services are subject to gaming, but I think that it would be a start.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. But before any of that can happen, I think there needs to be a distinction between (a) bikes as toys, (b) bikes as sports equipment, and (c) bikes as transportation. Unfortunately, even based on responses I get to posts such as this one, there seems to be a resistance to this kind of distinction in the American market. But how else can a bike be rated as durable enough for everything transportation entails, if it is not categorized as a transportation bike in the first place?

      Delete
  18. Many old bikes out there are both rusty and functional, in the sense that their brakes and transmission are in working order. Some even call that "patina"...
    I guess the difference between your bikes and the others would include better chromes and multiple coats of paint and varnish. But then again thats only aesthetics.

    Things weren't necessarily all that good before, my '74 Raleigh Sports has probably been sitting in a garage for the past 30 years, I have always attached it to a covered rack, and yet it does have its rust and scratches.

    I would personally live with it if the bike is structurally sound - as opposed to changing the bike (!), and would simply perform the basic maintenance every few weeks.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I have two Flying Pigeons. The first that I purchased three years ago looks good but the chrome looks to be very poor quality and I wouldn't dare leave it outside. The second I bought recently to get the 28" rims with the correct number spoke holes to use on a Raleigh Tourist. It arrived with surface rust on chrome parts right out of the factory box. They even come with ordinary steel spokes and spoke nipples. If it's raining I use the seeming indestuctible Pashley, no problems yet, although it goes from the garage at home to the garage at work. I have experienced allen bolts rusting on a $3000 Cannondale mountain bike through ordinary trail use, never left outside, so it's not always what you spend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So I wonder where do the Chinese leave their Flying Pigeon bikes. I find it hard to believe that they keep them indoors, inside compact apartments!

      Delete
  20. Ok, this car comment ties into this post.

    Cars from a certain country tend to implode when warranty is up; cars from another tend to be value-oriented and require little maintenance.

    While I understand you dislike maintenance, it is ok to promote self-maintenance.

    This is exactly the same analogy as your fear of road riding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, it is fine to promote self-maintenance. But it is also useful to know that Bicycle X requires it, whereas Bicycle Y does not.

      Which countries are you referring to in the imploding vs good value distinction? I am rather ignorant in this respect.

      Delete
    2. Even a Linus you can patch and make it run semi-forever with the right chemicals. But I see you are quietly making a case for a "true" transport bike of quality.

      Audi, BMW, Porsche are known money pits. Japanese cars have tended to be more reliable, also South Korean. Older Volvos are ok, newer ones forget it. By "reliable" I mean not only is the frequency of repair less, but the $ shelled out is less at each occurence.

      Delete
    3. GR JIM - Exactly. My in-laws have a younger Volvo that is in the shop at least once a month and a Kia that only ever seems to need tires and brakes, which I guess are being worn out so fast due to the Volvo's inability to stay together. Honda's are immortal. I had a Mitsubishi that I put 300k on before it had it's first (and only) serious maintenance issue.

      Delete
    4. I own a cheap make car - a Kia - and it has had very few problems since the warranty period expired, but while under warranty quite a few things went wrong (and were promptly fixed, no charge to me), and it is now over 8 years old.

      Delete
  21. I don't have time to read all the comments thus far, but I will share my thoughts on what makes a bike resistant to weather. A couple of thoughts:

    1) cheap bikes are made with cheaply plated hardware, which will rust very quickly. Rust absorbs and retains moisture, which spreads and leads to more rust, and rust migration to other parts of the bike. More expensive city bikes will use stainless steel hardware which will resist rusting, but at the cost of increased weight (and cost). Expensive road bikes are not likely to use stainless parts because of the weight penalty.

    2) cheap bikes are made with cheap cables, which might not be waterproof. the cables may also be galvanized steel instead of stainless, and will rust and seize up when exposed to too much water. More expensive bikes will come with better quality cabling, which will remain reliable longer.

    2) "outdoors" can mean a lot of different things-- leaving a bike out in rain is a lot less damaging than leaving it covered in salty slush. From late spring through late fall, I leave my daily rider out full-time. At home it is locked up to my fence. Even when it rains, the wetness is only transient, and parts dry. Without salt ions present, water is not very effective at promoting rust. From leaving my bike out 8 months of the year, I haven't noticed any parts rusting except the chain, which is a consumable part and should be replaced with regular frequency anyway. (You can get zinc-plated or stainless chains, but they're expensive, and since chains wear out anyway, regardless of the rust resistance, why bother with the added cost? Just replace the chain once or twice a year...

    I do draw the line with winter-- I will not subject any of my bikes to being covered in snow and salt, which will drive rust at an alarming rate. When a bike is covered in snow, the moisture is not transient like rain-- the parts don't have a chance to dry off. moisture is trapped on the surface of parts, and that moisture is also dissolving the layer of salt from riding the bike on salty roads. The salt ion solution is attacking the steel parts as the bike sits.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Cleaning your bike twice a year, then applying a coat of wax on the paint and chrome surfaces, grease on the bolts, and lube on the chain, will keep it looking pretty good.

    I also rinse of my bike weekly or biweekly in the winter depending upon the weather -- if it is snowy and slushy all of the chemicals used on the street are on my bike, and they're highly corrosive. Just a pail of warm water, carefully dispensed, removes the bulk of the corrosive materials.

    I've been employing this strategy on my commuter, which essentially lives outside, for a number of years. The bike looks pretty good -- a little dinged and weary from contact with parking racks, etc., perhaps, but that just makes it look good, IMHO. No big rust issues at all. Regular care and use is the answer -- don't "ride hard, put away wet" -- like the horse, your bike won't fare well if you ignore its care.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The Indian-built Eastman DL-1 is now 7-1/2 years old. It begins to show rust. But then it began with the worst paint I've ever seen on a new anything. The tubes are visibly not round or straight. The lugs are full of unfinished hammermarks and spatters of brass. And then it has these gaping holes in the frame where the bellcranks for the rod brakes lived. Rain and salt just flow in. In general it looks like domestic market 3rd world detritus from a bygone era. A little bit of surface rust.

    In another year or three I'll strip the frame and have to decide if I rattlecan it or pay 75 for a basic powdercoat.

    Despite the fact that the bike looks like hell I think someone in New Delhi knew what they were doing and actually cared. There are well-promoted brands that rust so quickly the scrap metal trucks in the alley know to put that 6 month old bike on the bottom and not bother with trying to sell it from the top. The bike recyclers will not take them.

    The chain has been oiled either 2 or 3 times. No chaincase, OEM cheapo chain. Once it got a bit rusty from a damp basement while I was busy with other bikes. The original Michelins had to be replaced because I wore through them. I put air in the tires and am nice to the Brooks saddle. Once when it had really a lot of road salt on it I treated it to a short spray on the end of someones quarters at the carwash. Otherwise just ride it.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm afraid of my bike being stolen when left alone in certain areas, but I've never been worried about the weather affecting it. We have secure outdoor parking at work so my bike is generally locked outside 5 days a week for 9 hours a day for the last 6 years.

    It's just a production Giant Cypress. I haven't noticed any particular damage to the bike. Mostly I notice the sun fading on my black pannier.

    A coworker has some sort of generic mountain bike he bought at a big box store 20 years ago. Always parked outside like mine and still going strong ( although most of the parts have been replaced at least once by now).

    ReplyDelete
  25. I live by the ocean, and even though I store my bikes inside, the sea air does take its toll on my steel commuter. I do weekly maintenance and everything is fine, but most of the bikes I see in my neighborhood are completely rusted (granted, most of these bikes are ill cared for beach cruisers!).

    As far as rain goes, I can't imagine six months of leaving a bike outdoors would do that much damage. I've rescued bikes that have been left outside for years, and have been able to get them back in working shape.

    Really, with regular maintenance, I think any bike should be fine. A cheaply made bike won't last as long as a well made bike, for a number of reasons, but as long as it's cared for, it should be fine. I'd be curious to see exactly how "damaged" her bike was.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Regarding the above post - I do not do any regular cleaning of my bike. I do lube the chain about every 3-4 weeks, I pump up the tires every couple of weeks, and it gets a bath in the spring to get the road salt and winter muck off of it. About twice a year I put some light lube on the cables and various pivots.

    And, of course, I replace cable, tires, brake pads as needed.

    My coworker with the 20 year old bike does even less.

    So for a bike to show weather damage after 6 months is pretty bad. it must be a hot house bicycle!

    I have noted in the past that some very cheap department store bikes used cheap steel for various parts that would rust quickly. Maybe that's what happened?

    ReplyDelete
  27. My Pashley, which I've had for just about a year now, lives outdoors 24/7. When I'm at work it's locked out by the street, completely exposed to the elements. I'll put a waterproof cover over the saddle and grips when it rains. At home it's on the front porch, with a roof overhead, but exposed on all sides. I've not done one bit of maintenance and it looks like new and rides even better than it did on day 1! I've been very impressed with the quality of this bike. Your post about your previous Pashley and how it held up to the winter that you rode it through was a selling point for me.

    My Kettler Alu-Rad is also a trooper in the winter. That's what I was riding last year. It sat out in the rain and snow, got coated on ice, covered in mud, ridden through a flood and I've never had a bit of trouble out of it. No rust on the chain. No rusty bolts. The frame, handlebars and brake levers are aluminum. Not sure about the other parts.

    My Fuji however is spoiled and lives indoors. I've had to treat it for rust before, so since I don't use it everyday (or every week even) I keep it inside.

    ReplyDelete
  28. The non-stainless steel bolts on my bikes tend to get surface rust on them over time, along w/ any scratches I don't touch up. That's it.

    Re. the lock: If you regularly lock up at the same place, leave the lock there instead of carrying it with you every day. Then you don't have to worry about forgetting it. That might mean buying a second lock though.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I had a Bianchi steel mountainbike that was left outside several winters but the rust got to it over time, cables went bad (my fault for not changing them), screws of all sorts such as adjustment screws for the gears etc rusted or got stuck. I didn't use that bike alot for some years and during those years I believe the deterioration was much faster.
    My aluminium CX which I ride through salty snow mush everyday now, doesn't seem to suffer from rust on the steel parts but on the other hand I am fidling around with it alot so I guess the rust around screws etc doesn't get enough time to form to a significant extent. This could of course also be due to more stain resistant steel in the steel parts or the fact that I applied silocon grease to the screws during the fall.
    The place I live now has a large elevator which makes it much easier to take the bike inside so I do that for safety reasons.
    The parts that are most susceptible to rust are screws and nuts unless they are made from stainless steel or galvanized, and also the spokes if they have low chromium content. The frame also of course if the paint chips.
    Add salt and even alot of stain resistant stuff will rust given enough time. When the bike is taken inside, if it stays wet and salty it will rust even faster (chemical reactions are always faster in higher temperatures). If there is just a little bit of water on it, the water will evaporate quickly however, reducing rust.
    That steel rusts quickly is not a sign of bad quality steel but just a sign of low chromium or nickel content.
    Chromed parts will rust faster unless the chrome coating is unbroken, the steel and chrome will then form a galvanic cell where the steel will give up its electrons.
    Bike chains that are used will not show rust since any rust starting to form will be removed during riding.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Bicycles, much like cars and children, should only be kept indoors. If you ever need to take them outside (although you really shouldn't) make sure that there is no precipitation and apply plenty of sun block, especially on exposed metal parts.

    But why do people insist on bringing their bikes outdoors?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...because a bike should be ridden?

      Delete
    2. Because like people they need their vitamin D and exercise.

      Delete
  31. Interesting discussion. I feel as though we're talking about a couple of different topics, though. I think the blogpost was mostly concerned with weather and the elements; many ppl have claimed that they don't store their car outdoors due to the vandals and thieves in the neighborhood. While that is a valid concern (and more so as the bike's cost increases), it isn't really about weather.

    I've also seen references to specific components on the bikes rusting. While it is nice to have a bike that comes with better cables/housing/chains, these are all consumable items that are likely to be changed within the first year anyway. All chains and cables will rust fairly quickly if not maintained (or kept under a full chaincase); all chains and cables are going to rust eventually, regardless.

    More important, to me, is that the frame and key long-term components (eg, the crank) do not rust excessively. Paint or plating of good quality will help in the case of steel stuff. If I was seriously looking to store a bike outside, though, I think i'd want it to have aluminum cranks. As for the paint, GRJim already mentioned nail polish, and I gotta say that if you find, sand, and apply nail polish to any little chips or rust bubbles quickly, it will slow the spread.

    Which leads me to my final point: we're talking about a true transportation bike, which you use to carry a lot of crap thru all sorts of weather, and leave outdoors. A little bit of surface rust shouldn't bother the rider if that's the function s/he has chosen for the bike. Even a lot of surface rust shouldn't concern you when you're talking about a beast of burden, as opposed to a beloved pet. Ditto for weird splotches of not-exactly-matching nail polish. If the drivetrain and brakes work, and the frame is structurally sound, rust should be a non-issue. If you bought a "transport" bike to impress ppl and take pictures of it, then rust will be a big deal-breaker. Otherwise, there's no big deal.

    If your chain and cables are rusting and impeding performance, be sure to keep em properly lubed and clean. Replace as often as you need to, which will be infrequently if maintained properly. Surface rust on rims won't matter if you're running hub brakes; if you're running rim brakes, you'll want aluminum rims anyway. If the bike is going to be outdoors alot, I'd prescribe aluminum components, quality chain/cables with enough lubrication, and keeping the frame rust at bay with frequent touch-ups. Oh, and you'll probably want to skip the leather seat, too.

    -rob

    ps- I don't keep any of my bikes outside over night, but the elements aren't a concern. (Except maybe the criminal element.) I don't hesitate to leave whatever bike I'm commuting on outside, except for sundays. I work at a coffee shop all day on Sundays, and I like to keep my bike on-stage, in case a regular wants to test-ride it.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I keep my daily rider outside under cover at night and she seems to be doing fine so far. It is my reinvented dl-1 with aluminum wheels. Everything else is made of steel and is doing fine. I did go through and thoroughly remove rust and did paint touch up with her recent overhaul. And my awesome mechanic waxed her too.

    ReplyDelete
  33. My current commuter (the same one from way back when we met) is now deep into it's 3rd Winter, and though I do bring it inside overnights (more for security) it does spend all day and evening outside, regardless of weather, and for a good portion of it's first full year of use it was outside 24/7... all I've done is occasionally clean it (usually in the Spring), grease the hubs every now and again, and replace the chain and break shoes as needed... still holding up like a champ.

    Of course, it's not a "traditional" city bike.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have a Trek Belleville that lives outside most of the time. It has done wonderfully. There is a tiny bit of surface rust on a couple of bolts, but none on the chain or other major components. The lighting system still works flawlessly.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I would recommend amsoil heavy duty metal protectant, retail price $7.90 at your local auto parts store. Can spray it on everything that corrodes. Makes a great, oil-free chain lube too.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I hate to contradict Velouria on any point, but most automobile experts will agree that cars are generally far more durable than when I was a kid in the 1960's. 100,000-mile cars were wonders back then, other than in the two extremes of expensive models doted over and rolling garbage cans for those of us who had no choice. I'm currently the owner of a 10-year-old 140,000-mile Hyundai Elantra, an econocar that falls in neither category. If you maintain them religiously most--certainly not all--modern cars can last a very, very long time.

    But this is a bicycle blog so apologies for the long car post. As for bikes, I was downright abusive to the no-name 10-speed I had back then and it complained very little, despite lots of rain- and snow-riding with surely neglectful upkeep.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Most Dutch city bikes (and I am not talking Dutch-style, just bikes from Gazelle, Batavus Sparta, etc.) use several layers of paint. They don't always tell that anymore, but most citybikes have four layers of paint with an outer layer of clear powdercoat.

    That makes for a really strong corrosionresistant frame.

    However, my almuninum Gazelle has been standing outside 9-5 for the past 4 years and is still as good as new. I only take it inside at night and put it in the garage.

    With a full chaincase it can resist all-year round use, even in winter with the salty sludge.
    The only part that corrodes is the aluminum kickstand. The paint has flaked off and is covered in a thick layer of corrosion.
    The fun part about almuninum though is that once a layer has been formed, it won't rust any further.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I received a Pilen for Christmas; in fact it arrived on Christmas Day. It was a hot, sunny day. My dad suggested we put it in the garage. I boasted that it was made to store outside, but meekly agreed to put it undercover. Two hours later we had intense thunderstorms with hail the size of golfballs. Houses and cars were wrecked across Melbourne.

    Let's just say the bike isn't stored outside when I'm at home....!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you saved the poor Pilen!

      Delete
    2. The Pilen frame isn't made from stainless steel either which is good to be aware of.

      Delete
  39. yeah- my public did not seem to survive being driven to cape cod well. I was worried to put it on the rack but figured- bikes are made to be outside right. I now have a few scratches which piss me off. I know- you get what you pay for etc etc, but I would have thought it could have withstood 4 hours ( round trip) on a rack and some reg use.

    That said since I have a garage- I store everything inside. I left the sorte outside when I was trying to sell it ( and had the two trikes thus not enough garage room) but kept a tarp over it mainly to keep it looking good since I was selling it. I know I could have left it outside and it would be fine. I was more worried about vandalism than the elements. And the canvas canopy... The boxcyle also would stand outside well. But the canopy is not built in and a PITA to put on as a parking for the night everynight so that stays inside to keep the box dry.

    B and I fight over garage space. No cars allowed- it's a wood workshop but my bikes take up a bit of space and he often sands without moving my bikes which makes me angry or worse moves my bikes and they aren't moved gently. I keep threatening to purchase this to install on the driveway http://www.thebikebarn.net/ it could easily fit the trike and the public.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every day for the past year I park my 1960s era amica folding bike at the train station in all types of north east weather sometime unattended for days at a time when traveling. All steel bike. No rust anywhere except a slight bit on chromed fenders. I attribute this to the composition of the steel which was apparently of better quality 50 years ago. Assume this Italian bike was made with German steel.

      Delete
  40. My Jamis spends most of its free time locked up under a tree without any problem. I put an ugly pink shower cap over the saddle if it's wet, and if I expect several days on end of rain I might bring it into the garden shed, if nothing else to keep the Carradice bag from saturating.
    The only weather-related problem I've had with it in the past year has been if I've gotten it soaking wet and the temperature drops below freezing, I get ice in the cable housings. This causes a bit of drag on the brake cables, and sluggish shifting in the gearhub (and one time I was stuck in fifth gear for a whole morning, but I'd been riding through floodwaters the day before and it dropped to 14F).
    The bike is a Jamis Commuter, with an aluminum frame and an impressively durable paint job. Most of the components are aluminum and of decent quality, or I've broken them and upgraded them with better stuff.
    The one step I took to winterize the bike was to overhaul the rear hub (Nexus 8-speed). It's got a combination of several different lubes in it now, including white lithium grease, Phil Tenacious Oil and heavy marine-grade grease on the outer bearings. That last causes a bit of drag, and wouldn't suit a go-fast racing bike, but for a bike that's ridden in everything including hurricanes and floods, it's something worth having the extra protection.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Well the paint job's supposed to protect the frame material; and really we're only talking about steel here. But I protect the interior of my frame before a build with JP Wieggle Framesaver. Goes in the head tube, seat tube, BB shell, and chain stays. Of course stuff needs to be properly lubed when first assembled, and then it's basically maintenance. So maybe, these bike you mention that are failing, were not properly prepped in the beginning.

    ReplyDelete
  42. with technology these day I would hope a frame would last longer than I. Be it steel, aluminum or carbon. Hell, my '72 Raleigh was fine and it was my daily commuter all year long through Minnesota winters for 3 years. I had it outfitted with a Nexus 8 with roller brake and a front SA drum brake. Never an issue regardless of temp and road conditions. I ended up selling the bike because I stopped commuting do to work issues. I sold to someone who in turn is riding it daily. It will outlast us all with a bit of care. There is no reason a new bike shouldn't do the same. A little linseed oil in the tubes might be a good idea for steel but other than that any bike should last.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I keep my bikes inside and they are fine as a result, I don't live in snowy conditions so salt is not an issue, it is more in summer when I go to the beach that there is salt involved, which I usually wipe off. My daughter has a Schwinn Coffee and it has lived outside for a while and the rust on it is terrible. Interesting to compare the chromed handlebars of it to older handlebars, which, in spite of being decades older, look much better!

    ReplyDelete
  44. There are so many words and paragraphs here and it's my bedtime and I can't read this much, but I would LOVE to know the Cliffs Notes version of which bikes cut the mustard and which ones are rusty little weaklings like my Linus Dutchie.

    ReplyDelete
  45. While living in Florence this past summer, I rented a Bella Ciao from the landlord from another flat I had stayed in previously. The month I rode it was (apparently) a weird one for weather, with unusual cool patches, a fair bit of rain and rampant humidity. When I asked her about maintenance, she told me just to make sure it was at least locked in the downstairs entryway of where I was living. I kept it inside the flat at night to avoid theft, but it spent the rest of the day usually (7AM-10PM) outside, and never had an issue while I rode it.

    Back in the states I've only ever borrowed friend's bikes. Most of them are Electras, fixed gears of mixed/unknown-to-me origins, and Publics. I've noticed the ones not holding up the best down here (It's a humid, salty sea-side city, our city) are the ones that are kept outside. After the Bella Ciao, which was the first adult, transport-intended bike I'd ridden, I'd definitely cast my opinion hat towards bikes being hold up to at least being left outside regularly for a few hours during the day. It's limited experience, but there it is.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Hi Just my 2 cents. I have owened a Devinci hybrid "Copenhagen" (made in Montreal Canada, a big shout out the guys who built her) for about 13 years. This bike is all aluninmun and rust is not a consideration. In its entire lifetime (and I bought it brand new off the rack) It has NEVER spent one night outdoors. As I type this it is 10 feet from me leaning agsaint the wall. Quite safe. And I live on the 3rd floor of a "Walk up" I'm glad its aluminum, but were it a steel bike the same rules would apply. My bike does not sleep outside. :)

    ReplyDelete
  47. As one who restores bicycles I have seen my share of dame to bikes from the elements. And yes even Aluminimum will "rust" I find it unprofessional that the LBS told your friend to purchase a new bike rather than fix the damaged bike. However, that aside, the LBS would rather sell a bike than fix one.

    Tri flo can be strayed into the tubes. As well as on the external parts. Allen bolts can rust and will need some measure of protection. Nail polish works here making the center a diferent color protects it and makes the bike more your own. After a rain, baby wipes remove the salt and grime...then wipe the frame and parts clean with a soft cloth. The damage is done when you dont wipe it off or take the garden hose to the transmission. Hope that helps....Great job on the site!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A great solution if you want/need to keep your bike indoors (whether because of weather or theft) is a folding bike. They're considerably easier to navigate through narrow hallways and staircases than non-folding bikes and take up much less indoor space. And with Montague, at least, the wheels are full-size and the components are industry standard, so you can still customize pretty much whatever you want.

      Delete
    2. I've been admiring the Parabike for some time and I see Montague bikes around Boston. My biggest issue is that unlike, say, Brompton, there is no method of attaching fenders, baskets, racks, etc. without interfering with the fold. So while I see them as great MTBs for taking in a car or on the subway to the trail, their usefulness as transportation bikes seems limited.

      Delete
  48. I suspect that the cheaper bikes are using "hi-ten" steel which is both heavier and more prone to rusting than regular Cromo steel or the Reynolds 520 cromo steel (which is essentially rust proof).

    Over many years I have had a number of mid-level bikes (which would cost $350-$600 in today's dollars) all of which spent a signficiant part of their lives outdoors - the oldest was a 1971 Raleigh Record and the newest is a 2004 Giant Cypress hybrid. All were made out of Reynolds, Cromo or aluminum like my current bike. None vey had any rusting problems on the frame or components in spite of not covering every scratch with nail polish and very infrequent washing. On some of my cheaper bikes there might be a bolt that developed some rust but that was it.

    ReplyDelete
  49. My Pashley lives in a shed but this is my second or third winter riding it and even though I try to wipe it down regularly, especially after sleety, slush rides, salt has eroded the rims a bit but this has not affected the ride at all. Some of the bolts and threads and the pedal crankset are showing signs of rust but I have never greased them. I probably should. I have already replaced the shifter it came with after one year, but that was unrelated to weather. I replaced it for a metal one.

    ReplyDelete
  50. My Pashley lives in a shed but this is my second or third winter riding it and even though I try to wipe it down regularly, especially after sleety, slush rides, salt has eroded the rims a bit but this has not affected the ride at all. Some of the bolts and threads and the pedal crankset are showing signs of rust but I have never greased them. I probably should. I have already replaced the shifter it came with after one year, but that was unrelated to weather. I replaced it for a metal one.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I have a couple of old bikes that live outdoors 24/7. Now that being said if I lived in a city area I would keep them indoors. I can get away with not worrying about them as much when they are home because 1 I live on a dead end street 2 I keep it tucked under the back porch from the road you can't even tell we have a porch.

    Now when I am out I won't leave my bike unlocked when she is out of my sight. I just don't trust people had one bike stolen from my front yard one time and it was laying down on the ground.


    Oh and as far as rust is concerned I keep the frame waxed mostly and try to keep the rims clean. Yep it has it's rust in spots but to me that just adds character to her I'm not one to have a bike as a trailer queen type of ride ya know?

    ReplyDelete
  52. To clarify, the post was about steel bikes deteriorating, not aluminium and you cannot compare the two. No alu does not rust and is ideal for winter bikes in that sense if you can stomach the ride. Most modern bike parts are alumium to save weight but the nuts, bolts etc are steel and not even stainless steel.
    BUT, aluminium will corrode, sometimes much more quickly than you'd imagine. I have seen frames destroyed in a few years of use! Alu cranks, cassettes etc also can wear out and corrode very quickly if ridden in winter salt, grit, dirt etc...because they are softer than steel.

    My husband is looking at getting a linus and I am dreading it. They have upgraded for 2012 with 4130 frames, but that does not mean the paint jobs are going to be any better. They are stylish, have internal geared hubs and are selling like hotcakes. But without enclosed chaincases, the drivetrains are still going to suffer. I finally got my dream vintage green raleigh sport which has been neglected for sure and only has a bit of surface rust. Can't wait to transform her with drum brakes and a 5 or 8 speed hub. Take that flimsy modern cheap bikes!

    For what it's worth, it is important to clean and oil your chain regularly and wipe down your bike-especially if it is a cheaper one and you are riding in slushy snow with salt all over. I have yet to try, but I want to get into waxing my frames, using framesaver etc..

    It would be very interesting to find out which bikes are consistently a problem for durability.

    ReplyDelete
  53. I've heard a lot of people complain about cosmetic rust on the Linus bicycles, so I looked up the frame specs:

    "Durable Hi Tensile steel frame with Chromoly
    down tube"

    There's your answer. Hi Tens steel is very prone to cosmetic rust. Any scratches through the paint and you will have rust. And even at lugs and/or welds without scratches you can get rust unless the paint job is very well done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ohh. I'm glad I got my public when they were still using Chromoly for the frame. Late spring they switched to Hi Tens.... I don't know very much about it but I had a feeling that it was a drop in quality...

      Delete
  54. I've had my Surley Cross-Check for 10 years now. During that time I've ridden it all year round including some very wet Winters. While I've tried to keep it inside at home as much as I can, I stored it outside for 2 years when I lived in a small studio apartment.

    Through all that the only maintenance issues are due to my habit of not bothering to clean the bike after wet rides and neglecting to get a tune-up or overhaul for 6 years. I had to replace the chain and cassette the last time it was serviced and I will need to replace the front rim due to wear from the brake some time this year (the perfect excuse to get a dynohub wheel).

    ReplyDelete
  55. I tell folks in the shop, "The best way to kill a bike is to leave it outside in bad weather regularly." The type of bike doesn't matter(frame material, etc), when the level of exposure to the corrosive elements of weather is high, metal oxidizes. Once a certain number of parts have corroded solid, you have a dead bike.

    ReplyDelete
  56. What do you all think about the Tidy Tent or the YardStash? I have a small balcony and want something beefier than a bike cover. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  57. jvt is the person that makes the most sense here. All bikes will die if left outside (especially if your area has snow). I have seen bikes die after a week of being left out in the snow. Only exception are probably full titanium bikes (frame and components). But than again why leave a 5 thousand dollar bike outside.

    Also higher end racing bikes will have less tolerance to being left outside than mountain bikes, and commuter specific bikes.

    ReplyDelete