So what if the East River is iced over and the mercury refuses to climb into the double digits? Commuting on your bike through snow can still be faster and more enjoyable than waiting on an overcrowded subway car. Here's how make sure your two-wheeler is ready to face Old Man Winter.
Clean It, Lube It, Rub It Down
Your bike is going to be exposed to not just the normal mix of road grimes, but ice and slush and road salt as well. If left on exposed metal—be they nicks in your frame's paint or a suspension fork with magnesium sliders—these salts will cause the components to quickly rust. As such, it's imperative to keep your bike clean and salt-free as much as possible.
Start by giving your bike a good cleaning. Wipe the frame down with a mild soap and water mix (Simple Green works well), use rubbing alcohol to remove road grime from the wheel rims, and rinse everything well. If you want, you can apply a thin veneer of car wax to the frame to help protect the paint and shrug off dirt.
Drive chains wear at a faster rate in the winter, so you'll need to pay extra attention to them. If your chain is fairly new and pretty clean, you can probably get away with just wiping it down with a rag soaked in mild solvent (again, Simple Green is a solid choice). If the links are caked with mud or road sludge, you'll need to scrub them. You can either manually scrub them clean with a bristle brush and bucket of solvent or your can buy a self-contained mechanical scrubber. Either way, don't use WD-40 to clean, only to unseize parts while on the road.
The same goes for the other moving parts of the bike. Give them all a good scrubbing and then apply a heavy-grade lubricant like ProGold Xtreme or Slick Lube Extreme 200 to keep the drivetrain in top shape. Brake and transmission cables should receive a light coating of lithium grease to prevent them from sticking. Your wheel hubs will need cleaning and re-packing about once a month as well, though that should be done by a bike mechanic if you don't have much experience doing so yourself.
And depending on how bad the weather gets and how many miles you put on it, that chain may need to cleaned and re-greased every week this season. You'll also want to wipe down the bike after every ride, especially on snow days, to avoid salt build up.
De-Fender of Rooster Tails
If you ride on snow-covered or rain-slicked roads, the momentum of your turning wheels will throw plumes of water and ice behind them as you move. To keep this disgusting slushie from covering your backside, you'd do well to invest in a set of fenders.
Just like a car's fenders, these devices protect the rider (and the underside of the bike) from wheel spray. Fenders can either be installed if your bike's frame is compatible or, if you only want a seasonal solution, you can use a strap-on rear fender like the SKS X-Tra-Dry.
Spike Your Tires
If you'd like to stay upright on your bike for more than a block, you'll need a tire with with far more grip than what a smooth-tread street slick can provide. Look into knobbed off-road tires or, if you are routinely riding on iced-over streets, you may even need some studded winter tires.
Whichever you choose, just make sure they aren't so thick as to rub against the inside of the fork or prevent the brake caliper from fully closing (or upgrade to hydraulic discs). And if you're in a pinch, you can always rely on the Zip-Tie method—literally loop Zip-Ties around your wheels at regular intervals for extra grip—for short commutes.
Dress the Part
It gets dark at, what, 4:30 these days? Combine that with falling snow, oblivious jaywalkers, and distracted drivers, it's easy to miss the guy on the bike. Make yourself seen by wearing lots of bright colors and reflective gear. Mount at least a front and rear light on the bike itself and augment that by wearing any other tail lights you might have.
And don't just throw a parka on over a t-shirt for your morning commute. Dress in layers, sweat-wicking gear on the inside, insulating layers in the middle, and waterproof stuff on the outside. Full-finger riding gloves are a must as well. To avoid getting frostbite on your lower extremities during the ride, wear thick socks and protect your feet from puddles and freezing spray either by tying a plastic bag over your shoes (free, though it doesn't work with clip pedals) or by investing in some neoprene booties that fit over your clip shoes. [Participation - Beginner Triathlete - MEC - Bicycling - The Bicycle Chain - Wired - Top Image: AP Images, Clean: senee sriyota, Fender: Maros Bauer, Tires: Iryna Rasko, Rider: AP Images]