Unfortunately, some of us don’t have much of a choice when it comes to bike storage. Whether you live in a small apartment with no extra space or you lack a garage, a bike rack outside or an open patio might be as good as it’s going to get.
But leaving your bike outside doesn’t come without consequences. Learn what happens to your bike when you leave it outdoors along with a few tips for what you can do if this is your only option.
BIKE PARTS MOST LIKELY TO SUFFER
If you have to leave your bike outside for an occasional day or two, or lock your bike outdoors while you’re at work for a few hours, there’s probably nothing to worry about. The problems that occur over time with corrosion and damage to your bike’s components usually begin after you’ve left your bike outdoors for a week or more. Rain, snow, humidity and intense sunshine are common elements that can begin to degrade and ruin your bike, eventually turning your bike into an unusable heap of rusted metal.
Here are a few common problems that occur when your bike is left outdoors for extended periods without any protection from the elements:
- Seals: On older bikes, seals become less effective over time. This allows water and moisture to seep inside your bike, affecting the bearings on your headset and bottom bracket, wheel hubs and other drivetrain components like your shifters and rear derailleurs.
- Steel bike frames: While rain and moisture aren’t good for any frame material, rust can develop quicker if your bike frame is made of steel. Even if it doesn’t show on the outside, the frame can start to rust on the inside, compromising its integrity and making it less safe.
- Chain: Stainless steel chains on more expensive bikes rust slower when exposed to rain and moisture. On lower-end bikes, the metal components start to show signs of rust much sooner.
- Bolts: The metal on your bolts might not be the same as the metal on your other components. The stem and stem bolts are one common combination. When the bolts and metal on the stem begin to corrode from rain or moisture, it can cause them to seize up and get stuck, making the bolts difficult to remove when you decide to replace them or remove a part.
- Cables: If your bike has steel cables exposed outside the frame, rain can cause them to oxidize, which eventually negatively impacts the quality of your shifting and braking.
- Rubber and plastic: Other than the seals, rubber and plastic parts can be broken down over time from the sun and humidity. Cable housing is one common part that is affected by the sun and can be a problem once the weather turns cold and rainy. Rubber and plastic on bicycle seats, brake hoods and tires can also deteriorate.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR BIKE
Exactly how long it takes for corrosion to happen depends on where you live. In rainy or humid climates, it may only take a month for some of your components to show signs of rust or corrosion. In milder climates, where moisture isn’t as significant, it can take several months for the degrading process to begin.
Rather than watching this happen and doing nothing about it, try to take as many precautions as possible to preserve the life of your precious steed. Here are a few things you can do:
- Buy a tarp: While you won’t want to wrap your bike in a tarp and create a pocket of moisture, using one to create a roof over the top of your bike to shield it from the sun and rain is a good idea when possible. A waterproof bike cover is another option.
- Invest in a shed: If you have a patio with some space, a bike shed might be a better option than a tarp to protect your bike from the elements.
- Monitor your seals: If you know you’re going to have to leave your bike exposed to the elements, consider getting new seals for your bike — especially if they’re more than five years old. This helps keep rain and moisture from getting inside the frame and components.
- Grease your cables and bolts: Greasing parts that commonly seize and oxidize helps to some extent.
- Remove rust: When you start to see signs of rust, try to remove it as soon as possible to keep it from spreading. WD-40 and other oils help. You can also scrape rust off without damaging the parts by using a thin sheet of tin foil.
- Buy an indoor bike hanger: Even if you live in a small apartment, there are still ways to store your bike indoors. Instead of decorating your walls with paintings and pictures, why not show off your expensive bike by hanging it on the wall? It’s the best way to preserve the life of your bike and keep from having to replace damaged parts on your drivetrain.