Cycling is an amazing sport to get you into shape and to keep you fit. You don’t need to be a pro cyclist to see the benefits of the activity. Whether you want to become a bike commuter or a weekend warrior, you need to decide where you will store your bike. If you live in an apartment where the space is confined, but you have a balcony or your garage is too small, you may be thinking whether it’s a good idea to keep it outside.
Can bicycles be stored outside?
Bicycles stored outside show signs of decay faster than bikes stored indoors. If this isn’t possible, you can extend its life-span by protecting it from the elements and giving it more frequent maintenance, paying special attention to the bolts, chain, derailleurs, bearings and tires. The more rainy and humid climate you live in, the sooner your bike parts will suffer.
Now that we have identified the most vulnerable parts of the bike you need to pay attention to, let’s see how you can best take care of your bike while it spends the night under the sky.
There are two guiding principles:
- Minimize exposure (especially from rain and sunshine)
- Maximize protection
The main problem with exposure is the constant change: the temperature changes, rain and sunshine change.
The degree of these changes varies depending on where you live, but in some extreme cases, it may be 32 F (0 C) and raining one day and a nice sunny day with 60 F (15 C) the next. Your bike may be exposed to 5 F (-15 C) for several weeks in the winter and over 100 F (38 C) in the summer.
Your bike’s material shrinks in cold and expands in the heat. This is invisible to you, but it’s real and it causes stress and decay to your bike over time. The first signs of this decay are on the tires, seat and grips of your bike, which are made of rubber or synthetic material.
Also, constant humidity will lead to corrosion more quickly. When I lived in beautiful rainy Ireland and kept my bike outside, it only took the weather just over two years to significantly damage it despite only having used it a handful of times.
The more you’re able to minimize exposure to the elements and keep the temperature stable the longer your bike’s lifespan will be.
Even if you have no room for your bike inside you don’t need to leave it under the open sky overnight. Here are some ideas to protect your bike while not in use.
Not all solutions are practical for everyone, but even some protection is better than no protection at all.
Garden Shed / Bike Shed
Having a garden shed or a dedicated bike shed is the next best thing after keeping your bike in a heated indoor garage. It offers complete protection from snow, rain and sunshine.
This is not the cheapest solution, and it mightn’t be feasible for you if you have nowhere to put a shed. This is not a solution that people who live in apartments can use.
A bike cover is a convenient way of protecting the bike from water, sunshine and UV radiation. It’s not as effective as a shed or something that has hard walls as the wind may lift it up. Also you may find putting it on and taking it off every day a pain in the neck.
If you decide to get a cover for your bike, make sure to get a heavy-duty one. Some cheaper bike covers don’t offer sufficient protection and disintegrate within weeks. Find one that you can tie down and it won’t be easily blown away or lifted up by the wind. This one on Amazon is strong and it also offers good waterproofing.
A balcony roof may not offer full protection, but it keeps rain and snow from falling on your bike. It’s better than nothing and it doesn’t cost a penny. This solution may not extend the life of your bike significantly, and you’re better off with an extra bike cover, especially during the rainy season.
Bicycle Storage Room
Some people who live in apartment blocks are not even aware that there is a room to store bikes inside the building. Sometimes it’s located in the basement or in a less busy area of the first floor (aka ground floor for folks in Europe).
If you’re unsure, ask the facility manager of your building, and you may get a pleasant surprise.
This is the best solution for those who live in an apartment and want to store their bikes indoors.
A few words of caution, though before you leave your bike in a common storage room. Consider this room as any other common area where your bike can potentially be stolen. Use a proper bike lock and follow best practices (here’s an article I wrote about how to lock your bike properly). It’s better to have your bike to decay than to disappear.
Also, remember to remove any valuable items you keep on your bike such as lights, bike computer, helmet etc.
Apartment Bike Storage
You may end up deciding that the best place for your bike is in your apartment. Here are two creative ideas for storing your bicycle even if you have very limited space.
SteadyRack (check availability on Amazon) – Mount this on the wall, and it will allow you to store any bike with tires diameters of 20 to 29 inches without even having to lift up your bike.
Wall Mounted Rack (check availability on Amazon) – This wall mounted arm can hold a bike up to 50 lbs (23 kg). It can save you space, and if you have a nice bike, it also becomes a decoration on the wall.
Even without riding your bike, rain can wash off the chain lube relatively easily, especially if it’s a thinner type of lube intended for dry weather use.
By lubing your bike chain more frequently than you would otherwise, you can prevent rust from building up on your bike. Applying proper chain oil regularly, extends the life-span of not only your chain, but also of your entire drive train.
I wrote another post specifically about chain oils.
Lube Cables and Derailleurs
Cables can also become stiff when left exposed to the elements. If you have V-brakes or cantilever brakes or cable disc brakes this could lead to inefficient braking. Hydraulic disc brakes won’t be affected, since their principle of operation is different.
Stiff shifter cables and derailleurs can lead to imprecise shifting, and in certain cases you won’t be able to shift at all.
You don’t need to soak your cables and derailleurs in oil, but applying a drop at pivot points goes a long way.
Loosen and Grease Bolts
Having seized bolts on your bike is a nightmare and can be prevented by loosening and giving it a little grease or lubrication. This can be done every 4-6 months.
Bicycle bearings are designed to take a lot of beating, but if you don’t take care of them for a long time, they will show signs of wear.
Unlike the more exposed parts of the bike (derailleurs, pivot points, cables), they need less attention. Problems with bearings usually take longer to develop, but they are also more costly to fix. The more time the bike spends parked outside, the more often you should re-grease the bearings.
Most people don’t do this at home as it’s a more complex task, but it is part of a normal bicycle tune-up (read about tune-ups in this other post), and it should be done minimum once a year.
Regularly checking the tire pressure can be the difference of having to replace it every 1000 miles or every 3000 miles. Heat and cold weaken the sidewalls. If you ride with low tire pressure the weaker tire side walls start to crack and before you know it, the tire needs replacing.
Check the side-wall of your tire to see the optimum tire pressure or pressure range, and shoot for 80-100% of the maximum recommended pressure. This won’t harm the tire. In fact, it will make it last longer.
Your tires lose air over time. If you keep your bike outside you should check its tire pressure every week.
One of the best purchases you can make for your bike is a floor pump with a gauge like this one on Amazon.
If you can keep your bike indoors it will last longer. If you can’t keep it indoors, you prolong its life by finding ways to protect it from the elements and with regular maintenance.