Gearing Up

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Biking in the winter can be rewarding — just make sure you know how to keep your bike in good shape.

Yeah, that’s right. SFU has a bike tool co-op.

Located in TC319 Rotunda on the Burnaby campus, the Bike Tool Co-op (BTC) is stocked with a whole variety of new tools and parts to help you keep your bike healthy. They’ve got Burnaby bike maps and other information about the bike trails at SFU — and it’s all free to SFU staff, students, and anyone using our school’s bike trails. Pretty sweet, huh?

The story of how I came to be involved with the BTC is a long one. I was traveling around Europe after a field school in Prague this summer and, inspired by Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont, I decided to spend 10 days in the Irish counties of Cork and Kerry, biking along 448 kilometres of amazing coastline.

Biking provides an honest-to-goodness beautiful way to see the world.

I’d gone biking plenty of times before, but I was hardly a serious cyclist. Now, I was attempting 10 straight days on the road. I’m the kind of person who is undeterred by a lack of preparation and experience — and the kind that doesn’t check the weather report. I undertook this journey in the only two weeks of the summer that it rained in Ireland, with little knowledge about how to fix a bike and without waterproof clothes. By the end of my journey, my brake pads were shot and my chains were so rusty they had practically disintegrated.

It was a miracle, or a testament to good Deutsch inner tubings, that I didn’t have a puncture on top of that. I survived by being careful within the confines of recklessness — which is to say, by sheer dumb luck.

I now want to bike across the great span of Canada, and the BTC has become a place for me to learn some necessary practical skills for such an odyssey. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or someone who can’t ride a bike without training wheels, the BTC is a great place to learn more about the ins and outs of serious cycling. As long as you’ve got a keen interest and a willingness to learn about bikes, you’ll be fine.

Biking provides an honest-to-goodness beautiful way to see the world. You move at a different pace from the rest of the walking and driving population; fast enough to feel your heart pounding, but slow enough to immerse yourself in the moment. You’re completely exposed to the elements, which is only something you can truly appreciate after experiencing it yourself.

The rain in Ireland pinched my skin a million times over. The wind passed through me like a ghost in a rage, and cycling along winding, narrow roads in the thick fog stirred a wicked disquiet within me. You’ll never realize how small you are in such a big, big world like you do in those hours on the seat of a bike in a hounding storm. Despite the obvious discomfort, I’d do it again in a heartbeat; it was the most alive I’d felt in a long time.

Cycling in the winter inspires those same feelings and experiences. If you’re willing to spend the time learning to fix and maintain your own bike, you’ll save money and time, and gain a serious amount of confidence as a cyclist to boot. So, without any more babbling on my part, here are a few tips on how to keep your bike in tip-top shape for the upcoming merry season.

Four easy things you can do to maintain your bike in the winter

I know what you’re thinking — why the macaroni and cheese would anyone want to bike in this weather, especially when we all have U-passes, or even the luxury of a heated car?

But winter is no reason to stop pedalling — especially in Vancouver. Whether you’re biking to school (which, if you are, I congratulate you because Burnaby Mountain ain’t no easy feat) or for recreation, you’ll save money, stay healthy, and bypass nasty traffic jams.

Dress appropriately: Don’t do what I did. I didn’t care enough to invest in waterproof clothes, and spent countless days looking like I’d just wandered out of a sewer. When riding in the winter, layer your clothing and wear a windbreaker. Because of how fast you’re moving, the wind around you will wick heat away from your body faster than you can say “bacon grease.” Your grandma will also appreciate you wearing earmuffs and a scarf.

Lube up your chains: Winters in Vancouver are very wet, and rusty chains make for a lot of pain. As the chains are one of the most expensive parts of a bike, regularly maintaining the chains and getting rid of rust will keep them working more efficiently and for much longer, and save you money in the long run.

Wash your bike (immediately after riding, whenever possible): Bikes accumulate a lot of dirt and muck, so it’s best to give yours a wash while it’s still wet, rather than after the muck dries and hardens. Salt-sprinkled roads lead to rust, which is the parasitic fiend of the bike. So wash your bike! It’s always more fun hosing it down with warm water than vigorously taking a rag to it.

Check your brake pads: In the winter, the roads are generally more slippery, which means that brake pads will likely wear out more quickly. Of the 10 days I spent cycling in Ireland, half of them were in the rain; by the eighth day, my brake pads were completely shot and it became very dangerous to go downhill. So make sure to keep an eye on those brake pads!