Winter training for cyclists: The key to staying motivated
It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not for the faint hearted. But winter training can be a great way to stay in form, keep fitness levels up, and shed the extra pounds acquired over the festive period.
If you lack motivation, the ‘cycling + suffering = glory’ thing is taken to a whole new level during winter months. Roads that you usually fly down can be transformed by a 20mph+ headwind. Tricky climbs can be taken at a canter. Throw some rain, snow, sleet or hail into the mix, and it’s a whole new ball game.
Wearing the right kit
Having the correct clothing is absolutely vital to winter training. Nothing stems motivation to ride than continuously getting cold while out on the road.
For basic kit, we advise purchasing a good pair of arm warmers. That gap between the sleeve and the glove can be extremely distracting if not fully covered. It can also render your hands and fingers numb, which can only have a bad effect on your bike handling.
Inappropriate kit can leave you shivering, or have the opposite effect and make you extremely sweaty. The sweat will often eventually make you cold when you stop or hit a long descent. Either way will leave you feeling uncomfortable and cold!
This is where layering up can help. By having multiple items of clothing, you can strip down some layers when too warm and also add them back on when it gets cold again. When choosing clothes, the best place to start is with a warm long-sleeved base layer (merino often being the best). This importantly helps keep your core warm. Your core temperature dictates how your body reacts to the cold weather.
If you combine your base layer with a winter specific jacket, waterproof layer and thermal tights, you’ll be able to get through most of your winter training without feeling the cold.
If you’re unsure you’ve got the kit right, a tip is to see how warm/cold you feel at the start of a ride. You shouldn’t be warm when you first get on the road. Feeling that bit of chill at the start is good, because you’ll quickly warm up as you ride. If you’re already warm before turning the pedals, you’ll find you quickly start to get too warm and begin sweating early on your ride.
On a winter training ride, the first thing to typically become cold first is your hands and feet. This is due to your body working on keeping the core warm as a priority. Experiencing the thawing out of your hands and feet in the shower after a ride is enough to kill anyone’s motivation to get outside training.
A pair of good quality winter/windproof gloves and a pair of winter/waterproof overshoes will help to keep your extremities warm. The main cause of cold feet is often water getting in shoes from either rain or spray from the road. When it’s freezing temperatures winter specific cycling boots are very effective in keeping feet warm and dry.
Light up your winter training rides
Daylight is limited in the winter months, so it’s always a good idea to have a set of lights at your disposal. It’s easy to misjudge the light and be caught out riding in the dark, so a front and rear light are recommended. Even using lights in the daytime is suggested as it’s often dull enough to warrant them for extra safety.
For recommended bike lights, read our guide to finding the right one for you here. If you’re looking for more tips around visibility, we’ve also written a guide on bike safety visibility & bike lights.
If you’ve ever turned up to a group ride without mudguards, you’ll know the kind of abuse you’ll receive. And to an extent, this is with good reason. The water spray and dirt kicked up as you ride can cover your whole body, face and water bottles. You’ll also get water spraying up from your own rear wheel onto you, soaking your backside making for a highly uncomfortable ride.
Mudguards stop the majority of the water and spray soaking you and your bike, so they’re highly recommended for winter training. If you’re soaked from early on in your rides, you’ll quickly lose motivation to keep heading out on the road. Mudguards will also help keep your drivetrain and bike cleaner, ease the pain of bike maintenance and part wear from the dirt and salt on the roads.
Punctures and tyres
Trying to change a puncture in the cold is grim, especially with cold hands. You don’t want to be spending ages at the side of the road on your winter training ride.
Opting for tyres that offer high puncture protection, but also one that is not too tight around the wheels is recommended. A tyre that reduces the likelihood of a puncture is obvious. But, when a puncture does occur, having a tyre that is easy to remove and put back on the wheel will save you time, limiting the time spent standing still and getting cold.
Try something new
The winter months are a great opportunity to get off road and try something new. Mountain biking can be a great way to rediscover that initial love for the bike. You can see things you never would on the road and work on your bike handling skills. If you’re not sure where to go mountain biking, take a look at MBUK’s trail guide.
Stay covered during winter training
Whether you stick to your road bike, or you decide to take up mountain biking, be sure to stay safe. With the cold weather comes icy conditions that can be a nightmare for bike safety. We offer bike insurance to suit both disciplines.
So remember, if you’re out on the road this weekend and riding into a 30mph headwind, the rain lashing your face and you think to yourself, “What am I doing?”, take a deep breath and think of Sean Kelly….