What Happens When You Leave Your Bike Outside…
Don’t beat yourself up – there are plenty of reasons you might end up storing a bike outside to contend with the elements. Ideally, we would all have indoor space in which to shelter our bikes under climate-controlled conditions. But as the owner of a tandem that refuses to play friendly with my apartment stairs, I can attest that even beloved two-wheeled machines are sometimes too beastly and inconvenient to invite inside.
So how long can you leave a bike out before your components start to degrade? That depends on a several conditions, says Daniel Slusser at SRAM. First off, how old is your bike? A newer bike – say, something from the past five to 10 years – is more likely to have better seals on hubs, headsets, and other parts that block out corrosion from moisture, particularly if the bike is higher-end. It also depends on where you live. Bikes parked in places with a lot of rain or humidity are more likely to corrode more quickly.
Slusser says just leaving your bike out for a couple days isn’t a big deal – even if it’s left in the rain. But after a week, you’ll start to see visible damage.
“The chain will start to rust – especially if you live in a wet area,” Slusser says. “It’s a slow process and will vary a little bit based on what level of chain you have on your bike. Higher-end chains have more stainless steel parts so they don’t rust as quickly as lower-end chains.”
From there, all your parts will degrade. With heat, your plastic and rubber parts will start to break down. The colours will fade and the plastic will become brittle. That’s not too much of a concern in cold weather, but when temperatures drop, you’ll have more issues with rust and seized parts.
“Bolts can seize up because you have dissimilar metals together and eventually they just corrode and get stuck,” Slusser says. “Your bearings will also start to seize and congeal or break down. Then your cables will corrode – the steel cable inside will get oxide on it, and you’ll have lots of drag to degrade your shifting and braking. The sun will also degrade the plastic parts on your bike. One in particular is the sheath on outer end of cable housing—that will break down and crack, and you’ll see all the wires from the housing come out.”
The timeline of damage depends on whether your bike is in direct sunlight or humidity. In the worst-case scenario, it might take about a month for all that corrosion to go down. In a place like Johannesburg, where the weather is damn near perfect, and if you have mid-range components on your bike, it could take three to four months before you start seeing anything like that on a bike protected from sun and rain.
That said, you can do something about it…to some extent. Having a tarp over your bike can at least shield it from the rain and sun.
“If I was going to do a tarp, I wouldn’t lay it directly on the bike; that can act like a tent that traps moisture in there,” Slusser says. “If the tarp was suspended above it, like an awning situation, that would be better.”
You can also delay corrosion with a little extra layer of grease along the seals that can act as a second barrier to prevent water from getting in.
“Try preventatively lubing your cables and bolt heads – even the threads of the bolts where they interface with other parts,” Slusser says. “You can put grease on those and that will prevent them from seizing up.”
Once rust sets in, there’s still time to resurrect your parts if you act fast.
“Most of the time, the rust isn’t going to be too bad, and you can usually take care of it with putting some oil on it,” Slusser says. “I don’t bother to scrape it off. If you have a beach cruiser with rusted chrome fenders, one trick you can do is take balled-up aluminum foil and rub that on there, and it will help remove the rust. It works like a wire brush, but it doesn’t leave a bunch of gouges. But use thin aluminum foil, not the super-heavy duty stuff.”
The bottom line: Leaving your bike outside for a day or two won’t do major damage. You may see signs of rust after a week of neglect. After one month in bad conditions, your beloved bike parts will start to degrade. The money you’ll spend having to replace corroded parts could have been spent on an easy storage solution such as a small-space gravity rack or a vertical hanging system. If all else fails, provide your bike with some shelter in the form of a tarp awning to prevent deterioration.
This article originally appeared on bicycling.com.