Winter Training Tips
For many of us, the clocks going back marks the demise of our beloved hobby for several months. The arrival of colder days, drizzly afternoons and darker nights means relegating our cycling clobber to the back of the wardrobe, until next Spring rolls around. But it shouldn't have to be his way! Winter cycling might not be as simple as throwing on a jersey and jetting out the door but with a bit of extra prep, wintery rides can be just as enjoyable and even more rewarding than our toasty summer jaunts. So here's some tips for winter 'training' (although I'm banning the use of that word!)
1) Choose the right gear
This might seem like an obvious one but having a warm head, hands and feet are key things that will keep you happy on any ride.
Let's face it, we live in the UK and our chances of getting wet on a winter ride are high but this doesn't have to ruin the experience. Taking a spare pair of gloves in a plastic bag or a waterproof pocket can be a lifesaver, if you do get caught out in a downpour. Also, you won't regret investing in a good pair of overshoes- there's nothing worse than squelching feet!
Layering up is also important. It's tempting to put on big fleecy jumper or coat, however, you're likely to be sweating, so layering up with thinner items will help wick away the sweat, instead of making you damp and cold, which will make for a much more comfortable ride. Small, lightweight layers like a wind proof gillet are great as they can be stuffed down into a back pocket and make a huge difference when keeping up your core temperature.
Not only will you appreciate this as you'll be protected from the upwards splash from the road but your fellow riders will too! There's nothing worse than cycling behind a friend who is constantly spraying you in the face with road muck. They also have an added benefit of keeping a lot of the dirt off your bike so it's less challenging to clean afterwards. If you don't want full front and rear guards, you can get very small horizontal protectors ('ass savers').
3) Coffee and cake
Whatever your vice is, always plan a cafe stop. Not only is this good for refuelling and thawing out, it's an incentive to keep pedalling. And you know when you get there whatever you choose, you'll have earned it!
4) Always be prepared!
If you prepare for the worst showers and icy winds - then the reality is likely to be much better! Sometimes the weather can play tricks on you, it might look warm and sunny from the comfort of your front room but the chances are it'll be a lot nipper when you're out in the saddle. Also, things can change very quickly, so best to think like a scout and be prepared!
Taking a bit of money and a phone is also advisable, so if things do take a turn for the worse, you can always jump on a train or call someone to get an emergency lift.
Punctures are an annoying fact of cycling life at any time of year but they're more frequent in winter. However if you’re prepared with a spare inner tube, a good hand pump and of course the knowledge of how to change one, this is half the battle. I also find that stashing a pair of tweezers in my bar bag can really pay off if the culprit is a thorn or another sharp, difficult-to-remove object. A good set of hardy, puncture resistant tyres are also well worth the investment and can help avoid hours of frustration and numb hands.
5) Spinning / turbo training
Getting back on the saddle after a long time sheltering indoors can feel miserable. And sometimes the great British weather can make conditions pretty treacherous. If you really can’t get outdoors and you’ve got the space (and money) consider using a turbo trainer to keep active when the weather is grim. Or get down to your local spinning classes - you'll spend less time in the saddle but at a much higher intensity, so your cycling fitness will definitely reap the benefits.
6) Never underestimate a commute
Every kilometer counts, long rides in the countryside are great but a normal commute can easily add up to 80 km in a week. Regularly cycling the same roads also give you a great chance to see how your fitness is changing by using apps like Strava. You can join The BHF Strava club and share your rides with other near by cyclists.
7) Mental attitude - don't think of it as 'training'
Getting yourself outside and into the elements is often the hardest part. So many people get bogged down in 'training' but that word itself makes it feel like a drag- so ban it. What you're really doing is getting outdoors, having a good time and enjoying the freedom to go wherever you like! Try to see the improvement in fitness as an added bonus.
And on those tough climbs or windy days it’s important to keep perspective, picture your happy place and think of how smug you can be when it's all over and you’re enjoying a warm shower and Sunday dinner!
Emma is an amateur triathlete, Ironman finisher and is currently cycling the length of South America.