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I plan on riding my Merida Matts 40-D in mountains like these:

The temperatures are usually around -20 °C and I was wondering whether anything can break on my bike due to the freezing conditions. Is there anything I should take special care of before/after any such riding?

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Read this: – ChrisW Oct 8 '11 at 19:09
I'd be more worried about whether the bike would brake rather than break! :) – GordonM Nov 15 '12 at 7:40
up vote 18 down vote accepted

-20C is -4F, cold enough to be uncomfortable for humans, but not particularly cold for mechanical equipment. You will notice that lubricants get stiffer, but generally they warm up rapidly when you ride and the stiffness will be gone in a minute or two. Hydraulic fluids, et al, should be good to -35C or below, though they will stiffen before that, noticeably increasing the response time of the brakes.

Steel and aluminum do get more brittle at colder temps, but not to a noticeable degree above -50C or so. Plastics and composites, on the other hand, are a bit more unpredictable -- most plastics get noticeably more brittle below about -25C, though no doubt there is a wide variation depending on the specific materials involved.

You will notice that the tires get stiffer, and people have reported difficulty with the tires becoming rock hard and spinning on the rims at low temps (eg, -20F). Also, of course, rubber brake pads get harder, and rim brakes become much less effective.

There's really nothing in a bike that isn't in a car, and cars can handle -35 or -40C. And the places where you have trouble with cars is mostly the battery and fuel system, components you don't have on a bike.

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Just thought I'd note that plastic car parts tend to start breaking (door handles,, mirrors, etc) as high as 5C and it gets a lot worse below -5C. – Brian Knoblauch Nov 16 '11 at 15:21
@BrianKnoblauch -- If that were a serious problem none of the cars in Minnesota would have handles and mirrors. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 20 '11 at 22:06
I've replaced snapped off during Winter time mirrors and door handles here in Ohio. Surprised you don't see more of it in Minnesota... – Brian Knoblauch Nov 21 '11 at 13:55
Maybe we don't side-swipe each other as much here. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 21 '11 at 20:50
No sideswiping involved. Interior mirrors that snap off when you try to adjust them and door handles that snap simply by trying to open them in the Winter. – Brian Knoblauch Nov 21 '11 at 21:11

I live in Yakutsk, Russia, where the temperature sometimes drops as low as -45 °C.

I don't think anything can break if all your parts are in good condition. But I think you shouldn't let your bike stay out in the cold for too long. I suspect the oil in the suspension fork can freeze, temporarily changing it into a rigid fork.

You will need ice tires if you plan to ride on ice, but not if you plan to ride only on snow. For snow riding, knobby tires are fine, even if the snow is hard as concrete.

DOT4 or DOT5 hydraulic fluid will surely be fine. Mineral oil also shouldn't freeze, but I have no experience with brakes with oil.

Don't forget: your tire and fork pressures should be a bit higher because of the low temperature.

And last, but not least, choose your clothing carefully. Especially your gloves and shoes. Layer your sweatshirts so that you can remove a layer after about twenty minutes of riding. A windbreaker is very helpful.

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I expect you should have ice tires.

Your brakes aren't user-serviceable, are they: so I'd ask whoever maintains them, about e.g. whether you have the right, sufficiently new and well installed brake pads. I bought a similar bike (i.e. alu and disc brakes) in Toronto in February for commuting, with the LBS assuring me it would be road-worthy. You have front suspension though as well, which I don't.

Apparently hydraulic brake fluid should be OK to at least -30C.

Beware of having to try to change a tire in that cold.

At -20 at riding on hills it might be difficult to choose the right clothing.

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On a ski hill, the wind can make a big difference to how cold it feels. – ChrisW Oct 8 '11 at 16:58
Actually, I don't have ice tires - why would I want to kill all the fun? :D – Richard Rodriguez Oct 8 '11 at 17:02
On the very evening (late afternoon) I rode home from the LBS with my new bike in February after dark, on a bike path, I rode onto a puddle that was frozen and flat: and the front wheel skidded and I hit the floor in half a second before I could react. That needn't hurt at low speeds with winter clothing, but sheet ice for example is barely ridable without the right tires. You can get off and push though if you get stuck. Are you going to take your bike up on a ski lift? – ChrisW Oct 8 '11 at 17:13
Do not underestimate the dangers of falling on ice. You fall MUCH faster than in any other case, and ice is incredibly hard. The possibility of serious injury from a simple case of the bike sliding out from under you is substantial. – Daniel R Hicks Oct 8 '11 at 18:15
@RiMMER - I've ridden on snowy hills (not mountains - jealous!) before, and it is fun - But not because you're loosing control. Use the biggest knobby tires you can find, and have a blast. Note that your experiences with skiing or snowboarding are different - your center of gravity is much higher on the bike, and you will hit harder. Also, ask for permission - My local ski resort allows my buddies and I to bike in the summer, but the wheels tear up the groomed snow a lot more than skis or boards, so we have to stay off the main slopes in the winter. – Kevin Vermeer Oct 9 '11 at 0:02

I commute on a bike and I have on numerous occasions ridden my bike when it's around -15 °C. I haven't really thought about the bike to be honest and have not seen any damage to it.

However, the wind chill effect can be quite problematic and I have often had to shift hands and have one of them inside the jacket to prevent freezing.

Good luck!

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Riding with only one hand on the handlebars is dangerous, especially in the winter. Get yourself some proper gloves and glove liners. Your life is worth the money. – unforgettableid Nov 14 '12 at 23:16
so true. It is hard to get gloves that can take the cold though. believe me, I have tried. :-) – elgrego Jan 13 '13 at 20:08
Have you ever tried either pogies or chemical hand warmers? By the way, if you reply, please write @unforgettableid at the beginning. :) – unforgettableid Jan 14 '13 at 1:50

Perhaps. There are two main areas of a bicycle prone to damage in truly cold temperatures.

The first is your freehub. When the grease in a freehub gets thicker, it can prevent the hub from full engagement. At best this means when you pedal forward, nothing happens. At worst, you can get partial engagement and chip/destroy the teeth inside your freehub, destroying it. Winterize your freehub or risk this type of damage.

The second is suspension. Most suspension is designed to dissipate heat and doesn't deal particularly well with the cold. Cheap elastomer suspension will often crack and disintegrate, leaving a springing non dampening system behind. Oil and air systems often have seals that can deform in the cold or crack, rendering the suspension non-functional for either the short term or permanently.

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