Top Winter Tune-Ups for Portland Bike Commuters

This post was submitted by evo Portland, a BikePortland business subscriber.

(Photo: evo Portland)

For the dedicated rider, bike commuting is a year-round affair. Sure, there are plenty of fair-weather commuters who hang up their bikes as soon as it starts to rain, but for those really committed to riding their bikes to work, there is no offseason. Instead, Portland’s winter bike commuters must re-asses and prepare for less clement weather. It’s a good idea to get your bike tunes done each spring and fall anyway, whether or not you’re a commuter, the change of seasons offers the perfect reminder to go over your bike and make sure it’s still running smoothly.

Road bike tuning every fall might seem unnecessary, after all, the bike is running fine, why pay to mess with it? But with most things, and especially with bikes, an ounce of prevention saves a pound of repair. The wet winter season puts different demands on your bike, and it’s worth having a good Portland bike repair shop go over it and make sure it’s ready for the change of seasons.

Your four main concerns going into the winter are bearings, drivetrain, brakes, and tires. And a good local bike shop can check and tune all four.
Bearings are one of the most obvious weak points when riding in the wet. A poorly sealed bottom bracket, or headset won’t cause too many problems during the summer. But as soon as you’re riding in wet conditions every day, the bearings will start to rust, and eventually seize. That will manifest itself as grinding or crunching sounds when your turn the handlebars, or spin the pedals.

Any good bike shop will include a bearing check in its typical road bike service package. They’ll check all of your seals, and clean and re-grease your bearings. Along with the obvious headset and bottom bracket bearings, it’s a good idea to ask them to check your pedal bearings as well. These often fly under the radar, but are just as susceptible to water damage.

Along with your bearings, it’s a good idea to get your drivetrain tuned up in the fall as well. Your chain is a “wear component” that means it’s designed to wear out and not work eventually. It wears itself down, to keep from wearing down the more expensive cogs that turn it. But if you don’t replace your chain when it’s worn out, it will eat away at your entire drivetrain. So it’s always worth the small price it costs to replace a worn chain on time, instead of waiting until it’s caused much more expensive damage. A good shop will replace your chain, and adjust your drivetrain to make sure you’re shifting smoothly. While you’re there, ask them what their preferred winter lube for Portland is. Wet weather is much harder on chains, but a good winter lube will help protect it and keep it from rusting.

Next up, brakes. Your brakes might just slow you down, but when you need them, you really, really need them. It’s easy to coast along without thinking about your brakes all summer. But when winter hits, they need to be working well and consistently. If you’ve got disc brakes, the shop will check your pads and rotors, and replace them if need be. If they’re hydraulically actuated, they’ll also bleed the lines. Often small air bubbles in the lines aren’t an issue until colder weather brings them into the calipers and suddenly your brakes don’t work like they should. If you have cable actuated brakes, they’ll check the cables and replace them if they’re too worn.

Finally, tires. Everyone wears different shoes when it’s nice and sunny in the summer compared to wet and rainy in the winter, why wouldn’t you do the same for your bike? If you’re running road bike or commuter slick tires, ask your bike shop what tires they’d recommend with better traction for the winter. Tires are the most affordable way to make a huge difference in how your bike handles in the rain. Getting a tire with bigger knobs and more traction goes a long way toward keeping you safe when commuting in the winter. And on the random chance you’re having to deal with snow or ice, a studded tire might be the way to go. This will get you the maximum amount of traction and safety.

You don’t have to stop riding your bike to work just because the seasons are changing. Just take your commuter bike into a shop for a tune up, and ask them to check your bearings, drivetrain, brakes, and tires. With a good service you can ride all winter long.

— evo Portland Store (200 SE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd – website)

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Paul H
Paul H
4 years ago

Just a heads up: knobs don’t help you on wet asphalt. Bike tires are practically incapable of hydroplaning, so stick with your slicks if they have good rubber.