We’re yet to meet a cyclist who prefers cycling in winter. It is an awkward and unpredictable time of year to be on a bike, especially in the UK – do you fit heavyweight tyres, or risk it on the slicks? Do you buy a whole new bike to ride through the winter and store your ‘nice’ bike in the shed? Or trash the one you have and buy a new nice bike in summer? It’s a minefield!
Of course, if you can look beyond the cold, wind and rain, there are a lot of great things about cycling through the winter months. Here’s a few of our faves.
Some cyclists will baulk at the idea of riding in wintery conditions. If you summon up the courage to take on the wind, those other riders who stayed indoors will worship you!
Once you’re back from your ride you can hit the shower, open a pack of biscuits then sit back and watch the Strava Kudos roll in!
Beat the Christmas bulge
Which leads us nicely on to food! Who doesn’t just love hearty winter food? We all do, and that’s why it is so easy to put on weight over winter. But if you’re regularly still out on your bike, you should be able to get away with it. You can put those additional calories to good use and as long as tasty treats such as mince pies, gingerbread men, etc., are just that; a treat, then you shouldn’t see any (too much) weight gain. Once again, imagine the pleasure of leading your paunchier pals over the finish line – thankful for those extra miles you put in while they were cramming their faceholes with turkey and cake.
Get fit, stay fit
This is the most obvious one. We’ve probably all had a year when we failed to maintain a regular cycling routine for a period of time, for whatever reason. We all know what is lost in terms of fitness in this time. We also know what it takes to get up to the same level as before is a bit of an Alpe d’Huez; AKA, ‘a long uphill struggle’.
If you’re struggling for motivation then think how much fun it’ll be dropping all your regular riding buddies on the climbs at the start of next season. Or even better, remember the Sufferfest motto, “I Will Beat My Ass Today, So I Can Kick Yours Tomorrow.”
The five Ps!
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. For the pros winter is when Grand Tour campaigns really begin. It’s when all the hard and focussed training takes place to prepare for the following season.
After the last race of the season, pro cyclists typically spend about a month on what’s referred to as ’off-season’ when they will invariably take a break from the bike, go on holiday and eat unfair amounts of guilt-free unhealthy food. After this well-earned break has passed though, it’s back to target-setting, long-training days and number-crunching data.
Two-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome has recently spoken about the nature of preparing for a Grand Tour assault, describing the eight months between November and July as time in which to live a very full-on lifestyle bent solely on getting into tip-top condition for the start line (in Normandy on July 2nd, 2016).
Most of us amateurs have no aspirations of racing, but we can all benefit from building a base for the following spring and summer. Perhaps you are building towards a mid-season trip to take on some Alpine climbs, or improve on your time in a 100-mile sportive. Take a leaf out of the pro book and start preparing now.
Hit the target
Fewer daylight hours mean there is less time to be productive. If you want to be a better rider next year, the winter months are where you can work towards specific targets – better technique, greater efficiency on ascents, better cadence – with greater focus.
The best way to do this is to break down your main objectives into smaller more palatable targets. This way they are far more likely to be achievable and see you becoming a better cyclist by the time the thermometer unfreezes itself and the mercury begins to rise again.
Any ride is easier when shared with others, and nothing is more true of winter riding. They say that you save 20-30% of your energy when riding in a group, which is always much appreciated on long, wet and windy rides. And when you get home, you can pat each other on the back, sharing in the adventure you’ve had together over mince pies and brandy butter!
Never underestimate how fun it is to be smug. Drawing open the curtains to see horizontal rain in a desaturated world conjures up doubts in even the toughest cyclists. But with a belly full of porridge and coffee, layered up in lycra – even if you only manage 20 minutes in the cold – you have ample reason to feel smug on your return. You will feel good about yourself, you will collect ‘Hero points’ from other cyclists, and family and friends will look on in awe, jealous that you are single-handedly winning the Battle of the (Christmas) Bulge.