Winter Cycling Requires Motivation
Staying motivated over the winter months has to be the hardest thing as a UK cyclist. When it’s cold, windy and normally raining it’s so easy to just put off your riding time and sink into a nice warm and comfortable lack of training rut. Often the promise of a session on the turbo trainer becomes a reason not to join friends on that cold morning ride, and if you don’t enjoy the turbo trainer sessions your riding time slowly reduces to almost nothing.
If you want to keep hold of that fitness you’ve built up over spring/summer/autumn, it’s vital to keep riding over winter to avoid loosing all of it and starting from scratch again in the new year. Whilst a week off the bike due to illness or Christmas commitments will not see any major de-training for most people it is important to keep doing some exercise. Whilst improving fitness takes dedication, maintaining existing fitness takes a lot less than you might think. So even if you can only fit in a short session on the turbo, a run before dinner or can only face a few days a week commuting by bike; it’s worth making all the small efforts to maintain overall fitness. At worst you’re maintaining, at best you’re improving, the most important thing is that you are still riding!
There are 7 challenges to overcome in the winter months: Cold, Dark, Wet, Windy, Snow, Ice and Corrosive road salt.
For ice and snow, I will never recommend anyone head out into the ice, that’s a sure fire way to have a horrific crash and injury. Snow is not that bad if you have mountain bike or cyclocross tyres. It feels a lot like mud until it gets too deep to ride through. If it’s snowing and you want to ride, head out on the mountain bike, you’ll have a lot of fun!
Cold, dark and wet can all be overcome very easily by what’s know as “the correct gear”. Mudguards, waterproof overshoes, insulated and waterproof gloves and many clothing layer options to balance temperature with rain protection and breathability. Bike lights are now as bright as a car headlight, so the open roads are now open all hours; though you might want to limit your distance to fit within your light’s battery life.
The correct gear is the easy bit, and buying it acts in overcoming the most difficult bit, the motivation and desire to get out there on the cold wet rainy morning. You’re going to need to test those new bits that you bought as a reward for cycling through winter. If you really ask yourself why you haven’t ridden as much over winter as you did through autumn it’s because you don’t want to and have found enough excuses to satisfy your conscience. The more you head out into the winter weather the less you are scared of it and the more normal it becomes, rain always sounds worse than it feels, and wind is a good work out, and that’s the point of training rides right?
Here are a list of logical answers to the daily winter mind battle with motivation, you know you’ll love it when you get out there, you just need to get out there first.
“I’ll not be cycling today because it’s raining” – But you’ve got full windproof lycra tights that were designed to keep you warm in this weather and will dry very quickly should it stop. Why did you buy waterproof shoe covers if you’re not going to use them? You have a waterproof jacket that you take everywhere stuffed into a pocket/saddle bag, now is the time you wear it. That collection of cycling caps you’ve been collecting are made for this very moment, put one under your helmet, peak down, and let the rain run off the peak away from your eyes.
“I think it’s too cold to cycle today” – But you’ll be warm and possibly even sweating in 5 minutes time, and after that your core body temperature will feel warm for hours. You’ll warm up quicker cycling than you will by taking the car, and you’ll have to scrape the ice of your windscreen and that takes ages.
“It looks dark outside, perhaps too dark to cycle?“ – Cycle lights have never been so bright, Some might say too bright! For under £100 you can get an amazing set of lights, good enough to see and be seen on even the unlit back roads and off road tracks. That’s £100 towards your safety and your enjoyment, this is not an excuse anymore, get on your bike!
“It’s windy today, looks like hard work” – Is it gale force winds? Is it dangerous? No? Then it’ll be a good work out, long grinding miles of seated effort. It’ll feel like an alpine col (only without the stunning view) get out there quick, the mountain has come to you!
“The roads are covered with salt, and it’ll ruin my bike” – Not if you wash it it won’t. By far the best thing you can do in these conditions is to make the most of your mileage, if your bike’s already dirty and you’re going to have to wash it, ride all day. Ride until your bike lights are nearly flat and wash your bike by head torch; for a thorough wash feels deserved after making the most of it.
For me personally it’s the salty roads that frustrate me the most, I want to cycle everyday but do I have the time to wash down my bike and wheels everyday? Organisation has been to key to an efficient process. Keeping a bucket ready with cleaner, degreaser, dirty sponge and clean cloth means I can be finished washing before I’ve cooled down from my ride. Spray the bike with cleaning products, fill the bucket with warm water, wash it all off, oil and put away. Paying particular attention to the wheel rims and the bottom bracket area where most corrosion will take place. The whole process can take as little as 10 minutes, and will only get quicker with practice. Wheel rims can corrode enough to fail (spokes tend to pull through corroded and weakened holes in rim or nipples seize and snap) in a single winter, so it is important (unless you’re made of money) to keep it up.
Another way to avoid the pain of constant washing is to purchase a winter bike. Set a strict budget and scour ebay or local free adds like Gumtree, the aim of the game is cheap and not something you’ll take much care over, so don’t get carried away. If it survives the winter it makes an ideal bike for locking up outside pubs and shops for the rest of the year. The simpler the better for maintenance reasons, fixed wheel bikes make excellent winter hacks as there is almost nothing to go wrong and the parts are cheap and bombproof. Brakes don’t work well in the wet? Riding fixed means you can use assistance from your legs to slow down and even skid no matter how wet your rims are. A heavy cheap road bike makes an excellent winter trainer too, hauling that up hills will make your best bike feel like a rocket ship come spring time.
If you’re still struggling to find the motivation through winter, then here are a few ideas to replace the lost sessions:
Spin class at a local gym – It’s warm, it’s dry and it uses all the same muscles, only the hugely wide saddles are really uncomfortable!
Turbo trainer – Famously the most boring form of training, but it’s what you make of it. New smart trainers add some competitive interest to many, if that appeals you’re going to get very sweaty. A fan and some entertainment is essential. They are perfect for seated interval sessions. Why not try Fartlek sessions to a music playlist, sprint hard for the chorus of each song, and easy for the verses. Though useful items of equipment to have, care must be taken to ensure the turbo session does not become an excuse not to cycle outside for 3 months.
Mountain bikes/Cyclocross – Take the off road option, mud is just mud all year round. It is no more corrosive in winter than summer, and rinses off quickly with water. It’s also a real slog to cycle through and improves your bike handling skills.
Velodrome – Team GB has been dominating the velodrome since 2004 and the result of that is that there are a few new indoor cycling centres dotted around the country, the most recent one being in Derby. Manchester, Newport, Glasgow, London and Derby are all indoor tracks and are warm, dry and amazing things to ride on. If you’ve never tried to ride those hugely banked corners it is a great feeling.
Running – Exercise is exercise and a little running will keep your bones strong and use a few different muscles to balance muscle development a little better. It’s also quick to fit into your day and requires no cleaning of bikes or expensive equipment.
Core, flexibility and strength – Injury prevention for common cycling issues normally comes down to a weak core and/or a lack of flexibility in the legs and hips, think of these sessions as maintenance for your body. Strengthen core muscles and lower back and improve flexibility by trying a yoga/pilates class or if you don’t like the sound of that call it stretching and bodyweight training exercises, it’s the same thing just with a more masculine name.