Yes, I admit that I am (normally) a fair weather cyclist and in previous years I rarely cycled between the months of October and February (and even March was sometimes a struggle). This invariably meant that I spent the early part of spring each year trying to get fit again ready for the summer months. Under this regime, the first few rides each year are real killers and I hate that aspect of cycling or mountain biking when you aren’t fit enough. So, this year, partly encouraged by a successful cycling trip in Kent in October, I have resolved to continue cycling over the winter. Yikes!
With this in mind, here are my five tips for winter cycling. They help me and they might help you.
1. Be realistic about the distance on each trip
Unless you are very motivated and/or a club cyclist, it’s probable that you will not cover the same distance as you do in the summer. That’s fine. For myself, I’m aiming for trips of 1-2 hours each time because I think this will retain my basic fitness and will be a good starting point for ramping up my fitness in the spring.
2. Keep it local
Similarly to the distance, I’m being conservative and keeping my winter cycling rides local so that I don’t get stranded 30 miles away with a puncture when it’s freezing cold and/or tipping down with rain. Of course, I can fix a puncture and change an inner tube but I find it’s psychologically a lot easier to do this when closer to home.
- Some of my cycling routes are featured in Cycling in Sussex: Off-road Trails and Quiet Lanes and Surrey and West Sussex Cycle Tours.
3. Set a routine
Yes, the weather will be bad sometimes but I’ve set myself a minimum of one ride every week. That’s not too demanding I know but I’ve kept it low so that I achieve it! I’m lucky because I work from home so I can sneak off during the week for a ride. If you don’t have that flexibility and cannot find time during the week, you will need to be pretty organised at weekends to achieve the weekly ride. I suggest setting aside a time on Saturday or Sunday in advance. And, if you can meet up with friends, there’s nothing like some group encouragement.
4. Get some winter layers on
I don’t have much hyper-technical clothing but I wear several layers ranging from thermal tights and light layer or T-shirt to a long sleeve cycling top, finishing off with either fleece (not really waterproof) or a wind-resistant and waterproof top. Don’t forget gloves, thermal socks, and head or face warmers. By gloves, I don’t mean those cool-looking fingerless ones that are great for the summer but instead woolly, Thinsulate or similar, gloves. Your hands will get frozen otherwise!
5. Choose your battles
I ride a mountain bike and that’s great for local off-road routes (for example, this cycle ride near Horsham). I’ll be cycling some muddy trails over the winter. At the same time, when it’s raining heavily, I probably won’t be riding that very muddy and slippery field that I know. I want to stay motivated and the only way for me to do that is to feel ‘on top’ of each ride. Similarly, if it’s icy or snowing, take it easy – to avoid accidents please!
Anyway, these tips will help me keep going over the next few months. In the spring, I should have a much higher level of fitness than usual (I hope).
» See also Motivation for Cycling