Winter cycling is an acquired taste. For some of us, fortunate enough to live a rideable distance from work, year-round cycle commuting is a necessity. Knowing nods are shared at traffic lights as we wait, bravely suited up in full deep-winter kit each and every morning like seasoned soldiers in a war with the elements. Others are in it for the performance gains, putting up with terrible weather on the understanding that the summer will eventually arrive, filled with effortless sun-drenched rides that never seem to end. Some cyclists wait all year for the winter and the mud-filled excitement of cyclo-cross. Whatever your reason for riding, there are always going to be challenges at this time of year, from keeping your spirits high, to making sure you’re optimising your time on the bike.
PUDDLES DEEP, MOTIVATION HIGH
Riding outdoors in the winter is mostly about motivation. Clearly getting to work on time is a key motivator, but how do you stay motivated to ride and train in harsh conditions at other times? The first step in raising motivation to train during winter is to actually examine why you’re riding at all.
Maybe you have a big event you’re aiming at next year? It’s an old cliche, but winter miles / summer smiles is a valuable mantra when you really don’t feel like leaving the house. Sure, the next three hours might not be the best of your cycling life, but if it makes the difference between a tough day and a fantastic day when it rolls round to your big summer goal, it’ll be well worth it.
Perhaps your winter riding is less about next season’s goals and more for your mental health? Speaking from personal experience, I can certainly say I feel a lot more clear-headed and happy when I’ve been for a ride. Sometimes dragging yourself out of the house can seem like an unappealing prospect – even something insurmountable – but the rewards after make it worthwhile. Remind yourself, this winter ride is about feeling good for the next few days, even if the physical sensation is a bit uncomfortable for the next two to three hours. That smug self-satisfaction of completing the effort can make it all worth while, you can even reward yourself afterwards, guilt free!
Finally, don’t force it. You can only make yourself go out riding so many times before it becomes something you dread. Listen to your body and your mind – and if you really don’t want to ride, just don’t.
KEEPING WARM AND DRY
This is a crucial one, really. Invest in good winter kit and don’t be swayed by flashy summer-weight jerseys that are all of a sudden popping up on the Wiggle sale. You’ll soon find your attitude to riding outside is flipped on its head if you’ve got good kit.
If there’s one standout bit of gear we’d recommend, it’d be some thick, water- and windproof overshoes. Happiness on the bike, we always find, builds from the feet up. It’s very hard to enjoy a ride if your toes feel like they’re about to snap off, and they are much, much harder to warm up again after a chilly descent than your upper body or legs.
Of course, there’s myriad other kit options too – from thermal bib-tights, to buffs, lobster gloves and skull caps that fit under your helmet. Waterproofs are also key if you’re going to be doing your riding in the UK, so make sure you invest wisely there too. Yes, cycling is an expensive pursuit, but this is one area where spending a bit more really does make a difference.
One important thing to remember – you will warm up when you get going! If you’re nice and toasty for the first 2 minutes of a ride you’re very probably overdressed. Our biggest tip would be to layer up, this way you can remove or unzip as you warm up then pile back on if you get cold.
TOP TIPS FOR TOASTY TIMES
We asked some of our sponsored riders and winter happy friends for their top tips for staying warm and motivated in the Winter and this what we found;
Think Victoria Sponge - Layer!
Layer your core by using: a base layer that wicks away moisture, a mid layer with thermal properties to retain heat and outer layer with windstopper fabric to block cold air and wind.
Warm Feet are Happy Feet
Keeping your feet dry is the key to them staying warm. Warn feet are happy feet. A quality shoe cover that’s waterproof and uses windstopper fabric to keep cold air out. Some of our riders recommend a layer of tin foil between sock and shoe too! You’ll look like an astronaut, but no one will see!
Use The Force – Luke Warm Water
It’s really hard to persuade yourself to drink when it’s really cold, but hydration is just as important in the winter. Try filling of your bottles (preferably an insulated water bottle) with warm tea. Or use warm water with our Hydration Drink Mix.
Eat for Victory
It’s always important to eat before a ride, you need the fuel for exercise, but it’s important to remember to keep eating during the ride. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s too much hassle with gloves in. We recommend opening your energy bars before you set off!
Faster, Harder, Warmer
Increasing the intensity of your ride will keep your core temperature elevated, but remember to wear good moisture wicking fabrics. Wet, sweaty clothes will not help you stay warm
KEEPING FUELLED AND HYDRATED IN WINTER
Your body is going to give you fewer cues to drink when it’s cold and/or rainy, but you still need fluids while you’re exercising. You won’t have the same sensations of being soaked with sweat as you might if you were, say, scaling the Galibier in August, but rest assured your body is still using up that liquid.
Some people set their GPS device to beep once an hour as a little reminder to eat and drink, but using the total miles ridden as a prompt (drink every five miles, for example) is another way of keeping on top of it. Don’t have a GPS? Treat it like a drinking game and take a sip every time you pass a town sign.
The trick – as always with nutrition on the bike – is little and often, which can be made more challenging in the cold weather for a number of reasons. Firstly, have you ever tried to open a bar, energy gel or other packaging while wearing deep winter gloves? It’s likely that your winter training will be focused on volume and low intensity, rather than punchy speeds and intervals, so don’t be afraid to stop and unwrap some sustenance safely. Keeping pedalling isn’t worth the risk of toppling into a ditch, left glove in mouth, as you try to gnaw open a bar while simultaneously steering with one hand. Or simply follow our tip from above and open your bars before you set off. Easy!
RACING FOR WARMTH
One sure fire way of staying warm is to see the winter as race season, like many muddy cyclocross racers do! The muddiest and most mayhem-filled of the cycling disciplines, ‘cross was devised as a way to keep pro riders fit when there was no road racing in the calendar. It’s since grown into its own thing entirely, with many focusing their whole year around peaking for these crazy, frantic one-hour races in parks, playing field, sandpits and scrubland.
For a taster of the madness of CX, we recommend watching Benedict Campbell’s great film – For The Love Of Mud.
If it all gets too much, book a long weekend in one of Europe’s cycling meccas for around February time and you’ll have something to both train for and look forward to. Sunny spots in Spain are enduringly popular in the winter, from Girona in Catalunya where the pro riders reside, all the way down the mediterranean coast to Andalusia, via Calpe and Denia in Alicante. Nice, Mallorca and the Canaries also offer plenty of good winter riding if you don’t fancy the Spanish mainland. Prefer something off the beaten path? The Mani Peninsular in the Greek Peloponnese is absolutely gorgeous at this time of year.