Winter Hibernators

With temperatures now falling below 40˚F, there is no denying that winter will soon be here. As I rode through a stretch of frozen mud this morning, it finally began to seem real: The snow, the black ice, the heavily salted roads - it's all coming. And once it does, I will be putting most of my bicycles away, keeping around only those equipped to take on winter's fury.

The bicycles destined for "hibernation" are those that have derailleur gearing: my roadbikes, and, sadly my mixte. The ones staying are my 3-speed loop frames with internally geared hubs and chaincases. I will also tentatively keep my fixed gear bike.

Everybody has a different philosophy regarding what makes a bicycle suitable for winter. Having seen countless cyclists struggling with derailleur bikes last winter in Boston - as well as many bikes abandoned, their drivetrains iced over or rusted - I am pretty comfortable with my decision to only ride internally geared hub bicycles once the snow arrives. While I am sad to put away my beautiful mixte after only a few months together, I would be even more sad to ruin her with salt and crud while she is still so new and shiny.

What are your thoughts on "winter bikes" versus "hibernators"?  Do you put any of your bicycles away for the season, or ride them all?


  1. It's probably ill-advised but I'll likely be riding my vintage Motobecane mixte through the snow and ice. I'll keep it inside during the night when it's coldest, but there are days where it peaks around 16 Fahrenheit. Should I give the derailleur and chain daily WD-40 baths to keep the rust off?

  2. The rod brake bikes definitely get put away for the winter!

  3. Well, since I'm down to just my mixte right now (the Pashley won't be arriving until sometime in Jan/Feb), I guess that's what I'll be riding! Luckily our winters aren't too messy (I say that now...)

    Nice ammo bag!

  4. Hi Velouria,

    In my early twenties, circa 1991, I purchased an 18 speed derailleur mountain bike. It was heavy as sin but rode beautifully. I cycled three miles to and from work daily in the Canadian winters; more then I did summertime due to the icey roads and a fear of dumping my motorcycle. I would don coveralls each morning as I was in the service and needed to be presentable for morning inspections.

    The 18 gears worked well up until 2006. Living in New Enland with my three daughters. The outer chainring's teeth became bent, due to an entanglement with the little ones' bicycles.

    I regret letting go of that faithful ride, but am now the proud owner of an internal geared and front hub generator Raleigh. Someday my dream bike would be an Azor work bike for daily winter/summer commutes and a touring bike for speedier weekend fun rides.

    I agree that when you have enough bikes to make a choice, some should hibernate.

    Best to you and yours,


  5. Amy - once your Pashley arrives, you'll love it as a winter bike!

    cycler - Really? I would think that in the winter it would matter less, since you'll be cycling more slowly.

    The Skald - I have not used WD-40 in that context, so can't advise. How long have you been riding your bike in the winter?

  6. after we had quite a serious winter over here last year,and practically ruining my vintage Koga Miyata and its gearing,("") this year I will decide to keep all my derailleur equipped bikes inside. To keep the Koga working, I had to give it daily baths of wd-40,but this is really no option,so I would say,internal gearing and protective cover for your chain works best.
    this will mean that for coming winter I only have a fairly new Giant mens tourer bike with internal gears (inhereted from my dad)this bike features automatic gearshifting wich is really cool and makes it a fairly rare bike.
    since 1 bike for us bike-a-holics is usually not enough and makes us feel uncomfy.. I am planning to built a cheap singlespeeder out of an old french mixed frame I bought in France last summer,hopefully the snow will stay away for another 2 weeks!

  7. I am quite excited to see what my Retrovelo is like in the snow and to compare the experience with the ghosts of bicycles past. I dread winter, though.

    Mixte not yet built up so the frame is presently living in our metal shop and is not creating any do I ride it in crap weather/do I not? dilemmas.

  8. neighbourtease - My friend Anna in Vienna (from Cycling is Good for You) rode her Retrovelo last winter and it handled well. Those awesome fat tires!

  9. We are fortunate here in Colorado in some sense (at least outside the Rocky Mtns - they are a problem all their own). Despite its reputation of a lot of snow, this part of the state actually experiences fairly moderate levels of snow (for the most part) and what does fall generally melts within hours (again, for the most part). This allows me to keep riding what I like throughout the winter months. Pretty awesome when I stop and think about it. The worst parts are watching for icy patches that are easily missed when the roads seem clear (areas under trees or that are always shaded don't melt), and the freezing temps. I'm actually excited that things are getting cooler... I think I rode more during last winter than I did during the summer because I can deal with the freezing temperatures much easier than the super hot weather.

  10. @Velouria This is my first winter seriously commuting via bike. Last year I lived on campus and was relatively close to everything. Now it's about a 2 mile commute, which I made for the first time in the snow this morning. It wasn't too bad where the snow was packed, but I don't really trust old Slepnir's brakes on steel rims. Ha! and my derailleur doesn't actually work anyway. I'm stuck in the highest gear.

    @Peter-Jan How did the WD-40 work out for you? Did it do a decent job in preventing the rust?

  11. My philosophy is the same as yours. It's good to have different bikes for different purposes. My beautifully painted mixte goes into hibernation for winter, not only to protect her delicate nature (she gets beat up enough riding through Chicago in the spring, summer and fall) but also because of her derailleur and brakes. My Dutch bike is perfect for winter, with internal everything and studded tires.

    p.s. Love that striped skirt.

  12. Regarding several comments above, WD40 is a really bad thing to put on a bike chain (or derailleur for that matter). It strips away any lube you had on the chain and then mostly evaporates to leave a very thin oily residue which is rapidly washed or worn away, and so leads to a metal on metal condition. Its OK to use WD40 on a squeaky door hinge but its not at all suitable for the heavy and harsh action of a bike chain. Better to stick with a good bike chain lube, and reapply it often in the winter especially, as the elements and harsh road dirt and salt conditions will degrade even a good lubrication much quicker than in summer.

  13. Saw this on the Casual Bicyclist's forum on Ravelry today, and thought you might be interested in seeing this design, especially since you're discussing bikes with internal everything to protect it from the snow.

  14. Good decision. I’ll leave my bike at home and walk if they start to cover the whole city in salt again.


  15. Hello Velouria, I emailed you awhile back about winter and bikes and here we go again with winter! We had a little taste of winter and I kept on riding and so many people stopped and talked to me, congratulated me for riding as if I was crazy or super human.
    For years I rode mountain bikes(as many of us did due to lack of anything else available and totally oblivious to the lovely bikes we used to ride) and had a winter bike that wasn't as nice as my other mountain bike. In Saskatchewan sand was used instead of salt so there was no salt to worry about. And it being a cold dry place, once it stopped snowing and roads and bike paths cleared it was easy going and my derailleurs survived.
    Vancouver was easy because it rained and never snowed while I was there, and there wasn't a lot of gunk to mess up the bike. But later I moved to a rural area further afield that does get snow sometimes. It mostly rains in the winter which makes the highway mucky and I often end up riding on a mud shoulder-plus the highway people regularly spray the roads with salt even if there is a hint of frost. So it all makes a mess of bikes. I totally messed up a few bikes and fear ruining the parts on my surly this winter. I have had some almost accidents due to derailluers jamming up, brakes wearing out too fast etc..
    While I keep meaning to set up a winter bike I have not done it yet due to lack of funds etc.. I have too many bikes but none winter worthy!! A bike that was meant to be a winter bike has turned into a precious bike because it is a french bike with original and in great shape FRENCH components. So, no that can't go outside now!
    Last winter was absurdly mild so I rode my surly through the winter with little damage, but this winter looks like it will be a doozy. Most of my bikes are good weather only and already tucked away inside. I really recommend putting away the pretty bikes depending on your weather. It's hard if they are a great ride, so it might be fun to have a similar feeling bike with cheaper components that you can replace as needed. However as I said derailleurs can be accidents waiting to happen when gooed up with salt, dirt and snow crud. I would personally love an internally hubbed bike with chain case and all like a dutch bike-but one that can climb hills. And to have a set of snow tires ready just in case it snows here again.
    I try to keep my bike clean but it's a losing battle. Another thing is to use framesaver or boeshield to protect your frame and components. Some people wax their bikes or put linseed oil on everything.

  16. Zweiradler - bikes with full chaincases and stainless components are almost entirely immune to the salt problem. I rode my Pashley almost every day last winter, left it outdoors for hours, and it looked new in the spring. We had opened the chaincase up at some point after a year of ownership and the chain was spotless. It's really quite amazing.

    Melissa - Thanks, I've seen that video. Though I don't usually like "concept bikes", this one is the nicest and most practical I have seen, by far. Wouldn't mind taking that for a spin at all.

    Skald - If you don't use your derailleur, have you considered converting to a single speed, or 3-speed hub?..

  17. california del norte says "all you need for winter is fenders ". in san francisco we don't hibernate, but we wear scarves and gloves. xoxo ramona, from the left coast.

  18. I noticed the OYBY panniers in your photo. I've always liked the look of them. What's your take? Are you going to review them?

    For Los Angeles: I finally got my fendered 1x5 bike (with chain guard) together. Rear deraileurs aren't a problem here as snow and ice are only found above 5,000 ft (we visit it). We do get rain, and Santa Ana winds are notorious resulting in roads strewn with palm branches and other debris.

  19. In answer to The Skaid:

    the WD-40 doesn't really work to prevent rust, its just a drastic way of keeping your bike and parts working for a short period of time,I agree with what Bif said, the rust won't be stopped as WD-40 actually makes the parts dryer in the end, therefore giving rust a chance. For me it was just a drastic measure to keep the bike working for some weeks, but you don't want to know how my Koga ended up looking after some weeks,its sold now, but I won't be using a precious bike like that for extreme conditions again..its really much better bet to find yourself a good working bike with internal gearing and even a chaincase,but of course that all depends on your budget and availability?

  20. Winter is when I put the steel away except for an occasional ride. That is the one reason I have an aluminum "beater," Jamis Commuter. I don't have to worry about the chemicals, salt and slop with the IGH, aluminum frame and SKS fenders. This will be the first year I try studded tires, I've ordered a pair of Nokian A10 and look forward to the snow.

  21. I'm putting everything in storage. I'm not up to bicycling this winter. But I can't wait for spring.

  22. california del norte says "all you need for winter is fenders ".

    in california, that's probably true. but on the east coast, an additional factor that must be considered is salt. fenders will help keep salty slush off the rider, but not off of the bike's drivetrain or wheels. salt spray will corrode aluminum and steel, as well as chains and other metal parts (pedal spindles, nuts and bolts, axles, etc...). it helps to have an IGH with full chaincase, but even then, your bike is not "immune" to the corrosive effects of salt. for winter, i prefer to have a dedicated "beater" bike-- one on which i don't mind parts rusting and deteriorating. i just picked up this winter's beater, and it's a derailleur bike. i don't worry so much about derailleurs getting caked with snow and slush; as long as everything is lubed properly a derailleur should still function unless it gets completely packed with slush that is then allowed to freeze into ice. sure, an IGH is still more preferable, but you still have to make sure that your cables and shifter are properly sealed and lubed. almost all of my winter-induced bike mechanical problems have been caused by poor cables that have taken on water and frozen. i've never had a derailleur freeze up.

    all my nice bikes will be comfortably hanging in my basement this winter, and the only bikes that will see salty slush are my tandem (gotta have the kids biking to school!) and my beater, an old mtn bike with 55mm wide studded snow tires and fenders!

  23. bif said: "Regarding several comments above, WD40 is a really bad thing to put on a bike chain (or derailleur for that matter). It strips away any lube you had on the chain and then mostly evaporates to leave a very thin oily residue which is rapidly washed or worn away, and so leads to a metal on metal condition. Its OK to use WD40 on a squeaky door hinge but its not at all suitable for the heavy and harsh action of a bike chain. Better to stick with a good bike chain lube, and reapply it often in the winter especially, as the elements and harsh road dirt and salt conditions will degrade even a good lubrication much quicker than in summer. "

    i agree 100%. someone once did a comparison of different corrosion preventative applications on sheets of steel left out in the rain, and WD-40 was about as bad as the negative control, which was nothing. there are a slew of bike-specific lubes out there with all sorts of claims of water resistance and rust protection; i can't even begin to make sense of them all and which ones are better than others. i don't even know what brand of oil i use on my chains, but it's dyed blue and scented like banana (which annoys me to no end) and seems to be pretty effective. i only have to reapply it once every few months.

  24. Those look like vintage Swiss ammo bags to me (what does OYBY stand for). Did Amy make them or did you rig up your own attachment? mine are in the basement waiting for me to decide how to attach them since ideally I would like them to snap on and off rather than be fixed. It actually occurred to me a few weeks ago that they would be a great fit for the military bike

  25. OYBY = Out Your Back Yard, a guy who makes these. They are Swiss ammo bags, but with added rack hooks and other things. It's one guy, and he also blogs about not-so-extreme outdoor adventure. I really hope Velouria reviews them.

  26. Yes, it is an OYB pannier - I will post a review shortly.

  27. I suspect that Mr OYB is not Swiss.

    How could anyone put a large crass logo onto a bag that is an expression of minimalist perfection (form + function) perfection ? and the coloured embroidered logo option is even worse!

  28. Oh come on, at least wait for my review to bash the bag : )

    Also, you can get an original bag without the patch (or the rack-ready modifications) and modify yourself. Here is the info from Bobbin & Sprocket.

  29. Sadly, all of my bikes hibernate during the winter, as I still haven't found a way to deal with riding in -30 wind chills. It seems that no amount of clothing protects from such biting wind and inhaling deeply when cycling for more than short distances results in painful lung complications. Even though I live in a very avid cycling city, when the temperatures drop to those levels (usually January onward) there is nary a cyclist to be seen. Last winter when I was living in England the weather was much more manageable and riding in a little rain or snow as long as the temperatures remain reasonable is fine with me!

  30. As much as I miss riding my favourite bike
    I just cannot bring myself to ride it through
    the salty slush. So my winter ride
    has hub gears and a chaincase.

    Cathy rides a Gazelle all year round,
    so it is simply a matter of installing
    the studded tires when the snow begins
    (which was two days ago here in York, UK).
    -12C on Saturday morning!

    I must say though that I love
    riding in the snow. It transforms my
    familiar neighbourhood into a new world.
    Mind you I'm lucky in that I can avoid
    motor traffic almost totally.

    John I

  31. For two years, my primary bike was a 21 speed Univega Activa Trail (uprights, then North Roads, then drops). In the two years, I only encountered gear troubles once, and that was when I was doing 10 miles through 6"+ of slush and snow. The garbage packed in the freewheel enough to ice over every gear but my primary, and it was a nuisance that I couldn't shift.

    But again, it only happened once.

    Last year, I swapped between a bunch of fendered derailer equipped bikes, as well as my Phillips 3 speed. Being that I was in a different location, and there was more powdery snow and ice than deep snow and slush, I didn't see much of a difference.

    To me, a winter bike is one that I don't mind getting a rusty chain or salt grime on the gears, and that I can deem reliable. That largely depends on the location. The Univega was perfect last winter, as was the Phillips.

    To me, a winter bike needs wide tires (35+c) more than a certain type of gear system to be viable as transportation. It might be different in a city, but for country roads, I just changed by riding habits by shifting gears more frequently to prevent excessive buildup on the freewheel.

  32. Three of my five get put away. The custom lugged Ellis, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, and sadly, the Xtracycle. All are derailer equipped. We have six months of sand and salt and winter here in Northeastern Minnesota. I can handle the salt. It's the sand that eats bicycle components.

    I keep riding the Surly Pugsley for off-road snow adventures in winter. And this fall I put together what I think is the Ultimate Winter Commuter Bicycle for the conditions I face. I call it the Surly Belt Check.

  33. I agree with the comments above about WD 40. We have used it and similar chemicals in our tool shop for years but ONLY as a solvent. It is good for cleaning the chain and gears etc. (but Tri_Flow is much better) imho. Always use a good chain oil after cleaning with one of these products to lube the chain/gears and do so often:-) It would be a good idea to do this treatment also before putting your non winter bikes away till spring.

  34. I find that in the winter, I ride mainly my "beater," whatever it happens to be, and my fixie. For years, they were one in the same bike.

    For commuting, I definitely want to have wider tires with thicker treads, and fenders. And the nice thing about fixies in the winter is their simplicity.

    So...My road and mixte bikes will probably spend the winter indoors. When the weather's lousy, I prefer to ride something without a derailleur, as they and multiple sprockets require more cleaning and maintenence.

  35. @Velouria and Peter And others

    Thanks for the advice on WD40, I had no idea! I'd really like to get my hands on a 3speed hub and some disc brakes, but budget constraints mean I have to make due for now. Ideally, I'd love to have a garage full of bikes for all occasions, but alas, this year I'm stuck on a vintage street bike. I real want to buy a sturdy commuter and then spend the winter restoring Slepnir so he can have a triumphant return with the spring!

    Oh, and @MFarington have you checked specialty outdoor outfitters? They should have things like subzero coats and skimasks. You can also buy these sleeve-type things that attach ton your handle bars and are really well insulated for winter rides. Try looking into snow-cyclist gear? Hope that helps, it doesn't get nearly that cold in my town. We bottom out around two below.

  36. I can relate to MFarrington, and the problem with subzero clothing is that once you are on the bike, it is very easy to overheat. Last winter I had a huge problem with this, but I am hoping to do better this time.

  37. Great timing on this post, I've been thinking about this a bunch. It's not bad yet, but once we get a ton of snow and then a bunch more salt on the road, I'm hesitant to use my vintage bikes (despite them having internal gear hubs). I'm afraid of the salt most of all and the havoc it will wreak on the paint and on the frame where the paint is chipped or nicked.

    So I will be switching to my beater mountain bike for my commutes although I don't love that bike. But I'm willing to sacrifice it to the salt and it has larger tires with better traction. I actually got a pair of cheap plastic fenders for it to make it winter commute ready.

    For now, no snow yet and I'm enjoying whatever's left of my commute with my preferred bikes.

  38. Oh Simply Bike! But the Raleigh Lady's Sports handles so well in the winter, it would be a real shame not to ride it IMO. Think about it at least...

  39. On the subject of clashing, to my eye the colour of the bike and the colour of the bag are not harmonious. The mixte is in the watery shades of pastel green/blue and the panniers are very much olive. Wouldn't those panniers in both mood and colour look far better on the Ciao Bella?

  40. I'd recommend building up on older MTB frame. There are many early examples, several lugged options, that make pretty comfy winter bikes or loaded down commuters. This winter I'll be riding a Schwinn Mirada frame, TIG welded (not my first choice), built up as a fixed gear as it has deep horizontal dropouts, and should provide great traction in the snowy weather. It's super comfortable.

  41. Got a Dutch one and it's not too well-fitted for winter. First, conditions are difficult. Lodz, Poland is neither Copenhagen nor Amsterdam and even though there are some bicycle paths, they're not cleared of snow at all, or it's done very crappily so that my tires [Schwalbe Delta Cruiser and Road Cruiser] always get stuck in boggy snow. I can ride only on clear paths or beaten-down snow. Brakes work correctly, both front [calliper - perhaps I'll test Sturmey-Archer X-FDD with drum brake someday?] and rear [coaster]. Got many problems with my rear wheel because of its badly-working pre-SRAM Sachs Spectro S7, and 40-635 rim/tyre my fender is too small for and friction occurs. That will no longer be the case as I'm going to have a new rear wheel built. It's gonna have an Alesa steel rim [dislike aluminium ones...], "vintage" and overhauled Sachs Super 7 and Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre, 37-622.

    What else? I've noticed that snow tends to accumulate everywhere: on rims, center kickstand, hubs, rack mount, rear fender... Pretty annoying. I've built a compressor out of a truck air tank, some tubing and two fridge compressors quite a few years ago - not only can I use it for inflating tyres, but also for cleaning a bike with a blowing gun.

    And that's what the bike looks like: - description in Polish, but you can still take a look at pics. The "weird contraptions" are: black box - accu + indicator flasher + alarm siren + mains charger; white box - controls for lights, indicators, horn and voltage / current indicator. The lamp has an incandescent bulb for short light and power LED for long light, the latter has a yellowish colour simmilar to traditional bulbs so the light doesn't look out of place. Quite powerful, anyway :).

    Me and Flying Dutchwoman at Critical Mass 26 Nov. 2010:


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