Ellen Noble was born in Maine, on America’s east coast, where the winters are sub-zero and a quality snow shovel is a necessity. But as the temperature drops, the US under-23 national cyclocross champion doesn’t stop riding. As soon as the weather turns you’ll see her racing through rain, sleet and snow off-road, on gravel trails and often through copious amounts of mud. Ellen has developed some tricks to keep her riding in the winter months and braving the elements. She shares them below:
Change your attitude
“When the weather gets really bad, I psyche myself up for riding. I find little fun things that will make the ride a treat, not a chore. For instance I love to make soup, so I make sure that after long rides I have a hot bowl of soup waiting for me when I come home. Café stops are all-important too, especially if you’ve got a couple or friends to ride and chat with. Misery loves company, you know.
Think of it this way, even if the weather is bad you’re going to see some incredible stuff that you’ll never get to see if you ride the trainer indoors. I grew up on the coast and in the winter you notice how dark the sea gets and how the beaches are covered in snow – truly gorgeous stuff. No matter how nasty you think a ride might be there are little rewards that make the effort worthwhile.”
Technique and tyres
“There are a few winter riding tips that go a long way. One is to search out wider tyres, something with a bit of tread or ‘siping’ (siping is the name of the zig-zag pattern on tyres to give more grip in the wet). Right now, on road rides, I’m using a 30mm-wide tyre. They can handle a little bit of off-roading but their real strength is their grip and confidence in bad conditions.
If you’re riding and commuting all winter and want to be ready for anything, then look for a good ‘file tread’ tyre. This is a minimal tread that won’t slow you down on the road, will offer grip on trails and means you’ll still be able to keep up on a group ride. They’ll give you confidence without slowing you down.
Braking is something that takes practice, even though it feels like second nature for anyone who knows how to ride a bike. Less is more. You need to understand that when you grab your brakes you can make your wheels lock up. Proceed with caution – if you’re going around a turn and the weather is freezing, you shouldn’t lean your bike over, like you would when cornering in the summer. In most cases you’re better off just riding it out, and your tyres will find some traction soon enough.”
Practice makes perfect
“If you want to get better at something, then you have to be ready to devote some time to practicing. I can honestly say that for a long time, I didn’t like the idea of needing to practice. I felt that someone who had been racing her whole life should be able to figure things out. Now, on any ride, after intervals or whatever, I’ll mess around trying to jump my bike, or ride along a log, anything that can improve my skills.
Think about what you want to get better at – muddy corners, riding over roots, whatever – and then dedicate some time to doing it over and over again.
One of my mantras recently has been ‘train your weaknesses until they become your strengths.’ We have this really long curb by our house, and I spent hours upon hours, across multiple days, trying to ride along that curb. I figured it out after hundreds of failed attempts. It feels pretty good when you get it right.
It’s OK to not get something the first time.”
Use winter to explore
“I don’t often plan my winter rides because I’ve come to enjoy the adventure of just riding. Instead, I just go out and take the turns that look good and after an hour or so I work out how to get myself home. Embracing your sense of adventure is very liberating but it has taken time for me to appreciate the value of exploring on my bike. As a professional rider I travel a lot. I really look forward to going to a place where I don’t know the roads because it gives me an excuse to explore.”
Layer up to stay warm
“I used to be big on finding the ‘right’ jacket but I’ve figured out that a big jacket isn’t always the best thing to wear – you’ll probably be warmer and more comfortable with a good number of layers.
Some of my favourite things in my cycling wardrobe are my merino base layers. They do a lot of work without using a lot of material. If it’s really cold out, I’ll wear a long sleeve merino base layer, such as the Women’s Long Sleeve Base Layer, underneath a turtleneck base layer like the Women’s Winter Base Layer, then wear a thermal jersey and jacket on top. Don’t underestimate how versatile a couple of base layers can be.
Also, I love my Pro Team Softshell Jacket because it’s the most versatile jacket I’ve ever worn. It’s warm, waterproof, windproof – it does everything I need it to and it’s not bulky at all.”