Winter. Good for football, not much good for anything else. It is fair to say that winter is not the most pleasant season for cyclists. Its short grey days bring an early darkness, biting winds, sideways rain, fading bike tans and a complete lack of motivation to ride.
Now, I’m not talking about the ‘winter’ experienced by our northern states. Those lucky enough to live anywhere north of Sydney don’t know what a real winter is. If the temperature dips below 25 degrees they start pulling on their jumpers. Now, I’m not saying they’re soft or anything, but, well…they are a little bit.
No, I’m talking about the dreaded winters that the good folk of Victoria and Tasmania have to endure each year. Canberrans too. Despite all the hot air that comes out of our nation’s capital, it is a bloody cold place as well. Colder than Ballarat some say, and that is saying something.
So, how do we of the colder climates stay motivated to ride when the weather takes a turn for the worst? How do we summon up the courage to unlock the shed to get our bikes when the sun hasn’t shone for a month and the frost on the grass is still an inch thick, even though it’s two o’clock in the afternoon?
Well, it all comes down to intestinal fortitude really, but there are some things you can do to make your ride a little more pleasant on those dark, winter mornings (or afternoons).
Open your wallet and invest in some good wet/cold weather gear. You’ll want a base layer to go beneath your jersey and a water proof jacket to go over the top. Winter brings cold winds and rain so don’t skimp on the jacket. It is vital if you want to keep the wind out and stay dry at the same time.
Your fingers and toes always suffer in the cold too, so good, warm gloves are essential, and shoe covers will keep your feet drier and warmer. Honestly, this is important. There is nothing worse than cold toes while you are riding. I always wear a thick, fleecy head band as well, one that I can pull down over my ears. I find the cold wind whistling through my lobes gives me a splitting headache, so the headband has become an essential part of my winter kit.
If you rug up properly – with good quality gear – you can ride along in a toasty state regardless of the weather.
Follow a program
In summer you’ll often look out the window, see what a glorious day it is, and just want to ride. In winter you’re more likely to close the curtains, crank the heater up and flop onto the couch, even if you have gone out and bought all the gear I talked about in the last section.
So, what you need is a program. Sit down at the start of winter and map out a training schedule. It may be as simple as wanting to ride 100 kilometres per week. Maybe you just want to do a series of short 30 kilometre jaunts just to keep the legs ticking over. Perhaps you want to do more, or less, it is entirely up to you.
But whatever sort of riding you want to do over winter, write it down. Set some goals. You are more likely to get up off the couch if you have a schedule to adhere to. I like to set a weekly goal, usually a set number of kilometres. I’ll go through my work roster, check out my family commitments, and then plan my rides for the spaces in between. The distances and routes I take depend on how many kilometres I need to meet my goal for that week.
Enter a mass participation event
A good way to stay motivated during winter is to make it essential that you do ride. Enter an event, a big one, and start training for it. For Victorians, the ‘Round the Bay in a Day’ event is perfect. This ride has 200 kilometre plus options and takes place in the spring. To be able to complete it comfortably you’ll need to be on your bike during the colder months.
Mass participation rides are popping up everywhere these days so it is not hard to find something to train for. It’s amazing how the threat of being dropped can get you out on the bike when everyone else is safely indoors watching Netflix!
If you’ve read all the above and still don’t feel inclined to take on the weather outside, then maybe you need to bring your bike inside. Be warned though, your significant other may not be as enthusiastic about this idea as you are.
For this option you need to buy a trainer. Trainers come in many shapes and forms. The basic (and cheapest options) latch onto the back of your bike. You pedal furiously, your back wheel spins on a roller, and you get nowhere. You do sweat a lot however!
If you are doing this inside, make sure you spread an old sheet or rug beneath your trainer and bike. Not only will this catch the sweat that is going to pour from your body and create a puddle on the floor, it will stop the grease and oil and grit that will invariably fall from your bike from staining the carpet.
While riding on a trainer gives you an excellent work out, it is also as boring as bat shit. Make sure you have a good play list on your iPod, or download a few cycling podcasts to listen to while you are pedalling.
I’ve actually taken to watching movies while I’m on the trainer. I balance my iPad on an old music stand which I set up in front of my bike. Trainers are noisy though, so you’ll need headphones if you want to hear your movie properly.
To make training on a trainer more exciting you need to spend lots of money and buy a smart trainer. These brilliant pieces of technology have variable resistance which can simulate hill climbs and head winds. Linked with programs such as Zwift, they are about as close to real riding as you can possibly get without going outside.
It is also more social. You hook up your smart trainer to your iPad or computer and ride in the virtual world, on virtual courses, with other people who are doing the same thing. You can race them, participate in bunch rides with them, or just cruise around by yourself. All the while your smart trainer is adjusting the resistance on your bike depending on whether you are climbing, descending or drafting behind someone.
It really is amazing, and addictive, technology. Still doesn’t beat being outside though.
It would be neglectful of me to finish this article without a word about riding safely during the winter months.
If you do manage to get outside, be aware of the conditions. If it is a dark, wet, miserable day, please make it easy for motorists to see you. Buy a decent set of lights, front and back, and install them correctly. Wear brightly coloured, reflective gear. It doesn’t matter if fluoro orange is not your colour, hospital gowns probably don’t suit you either, but that’s what you’ll be wearing if that car doesn’t see you!
Don’t forget that the roads will be wet, which means they will be slippery then usual. Heavy rains can wash debris and gravel onto roads as well, so don’t go bombing around the s-bends of your favourite descent.
Keep your bike in good nick. Winter riding will mean more maintenance. Keep your bike clean, keep your chain and cogs clear of grit and lubricate, lubricate, lubricate.
Right, I’m off for a ride. Hang on, is that rain I hear on the roof…