Each part will have its own unique struggles through winter. Some winter riding is surprisingly easy on components such as cold “dry” snow. Some winter riding, most commonly seen by commuters, is wet, slushy snow mixed with salt and magnesium chloride that wreaks havoc on all moving parts of your bike.
Thankfully any quality bike component should be perfectly safe to ride year round with some basic prep. I’ll break things down by component below.
Rim Brake Rims: Winter can be especially hard on rims when using rim brakes. The salt and sand that get picked up act as a grinding paste and wear away at your braking surface. To minimize this damage, you should do your best to regularly clean the rims from road debris along with picking out anything that happens to get stuck in your brake pads. You should also consider switching to a rim friendly brake compound such as the Kool Stop Salmons as they are much gentler on rims and also stop better than standard pads in wet weather.
It is good to get into the habit of checking rim wear if you regularly ride in wet conditions. Generally, rims are considered “worn out” after 0.5mm of braking surface has worn away but it is always best to check with the manufacturer as each rim is certainly different there. BikeTestReviews has a great article on the subject.
Disc Brake Rims: Winter riding is one area that disc brakes are a huge payoff. There is not much to do to maintain rims on a disc brake bike other than wash them as regularly as you wash your bike which will not only keep the rims looking nice but it will also go a long way to keeping your bike in good condition.
Regardless of rim type, it’s never a bad idea to confirm the rim tape on the tire side of your rim is in good shape. Winter is not really much harder on rim tape than any other season but changing flats when riding in snow is definitely more of a pain so its worth a little extra time to help mitigate future flats here.
Spokes / Nipples: This is another area where there is not a whole lot you can do beyond keeping things clean the best you can. One trick I do like is to put a drop of Triflow or some other penetrating oil on the spoke nipple where the spoke goes into the nipple and also where the spoke nipple goes into the rim. After putting the oil on, I give the wheel a quick spin so it can work its way in a little easier and then wipe off the excess. This will help prevent corrosion from nasty roads and trails.
Hubs: Your hubs are the main area you want to focus on in prepping your wheels for winter. There are a lot of areas that moisture and grit can get in and cause damage. If you are in an especially cold climate then you may also run into issues with the freehub not engaging properly.
Freehub: While some freehubs are less sensitive to the cold than others, it is always a good idea to give them some preventative care so you are not left stranded with a hub that wont engage. Most freehub issues in the winter come from either the cold causing the grease inside the freehub to thicken not allowing the springs to push the pawls back into the drive ring. The solution here is pretty simple thankfully. Serving your freehub and replacing the grease with either a freehub specific oil or temperature stable, thinner grease can work wonders here. We love Dumonde Tech freehub oil and grease. Both are stable to extremely low temps and last a long time.
The other freehub issue that is common in the winter is dirt can get past the seals keeping the pawls from being able to engage fully. Similar to above, making sure things are cleaned, properly lubed and your freehub seals are in good shape will minimize any chance of problems here.
Bearings: If you are using cup and cone style bearings (Shimano, many older bikes and some newer less expensive bikes typically) then it is a great idea to start the winter with freshly greased bearings. Not only is this good practice overall but making sure there is plenty of grease inside will help ward off moisture that can damage the bearings prematurely. Any waterproof grease should work well but we are partial to the Phil Wood Waterproof Grease
If you have cartridge bearings, there are two schools of thought and both options are perfectly fair. You can carefully remove the seals from the cartridge bearings and make sure they have plenty of grease if you like the proactive route. The other option, since cartridge bearings can easily be completely removed and replaced with minimal risk to damaging the hub if they fail, is to simply not touch them until they are completely worn out and then just replace accordingly. Hub bearing failure is rarely catastrophic so this is usually a safe option if you don’t like spending time maintaining your gear but there is a slightly increased risk of something completely failing and leaving you stuck.
Hub service procedures vary a lot by manufacturer so I won’t go into specifics on how to disassemble them but a quick YouTube or Google search should get you the info you need to take care of those things yourself. Most hubs are pretty simple to work on and require minimal special tools.
We hope this helps you keep rolling smooth throughout winter. If you have any questions at all about maintaining your wheels through winter feel free to send us an email or leave a comment below and we will always do our best to answer. Happy riding and stay warm!