The road to a successful winter of riding is paved with good intentions, but then again, so is the road to idleness. A reputable manual on training reads “to see yourself as the cycling maestro that you have always dreamed of becoming, do the training”. Practice certainly brings the rider closer to perfection which is why the notion of ‘putting the miles in’ during winter is so important. Yet without goals, targets or training plans, it’s somewhat difficult.
We all cycle for varying reasons, in differing guises and levels of speed and success. But even if you’re a casual winter cyclist and ride when you can (or feel like it) the more you ride the more you enjoy it. Being in condition for the new season means more enjoyable mileage the further down the road you get. And you don’t need to be a racer to have training plans or riding goals. Whether breathing out of your derrière for an hour at full gas around a circuit or rolling through the lanes at leisurely pace to a cake stop, either way, training will get you to where we all want to be as riders – a fine-tuned machine come springtime.
Here’s the author of the aforementioned manual, Guy Andrews:
“Although I wouldn’t recommend it as a performance enhancing substance, the winter is all about LSD. Winter ‘training’ is about building a base, a foundation, an anchor point – call it what you will – because you can’t shoot a cannonball from a canoe. Long Steady Distance [LSD] is what the winter months are all about, laying down a base level of fitness that will keep you trim and ready for the harder part that starts in the spring.
Strangely the long sportive rides of the summer are ideal for this (which is often why riders these days tend to be faster in the autumn). That underpinning fitness you get from many hours in the saddle only comes with some consistency of effort and volume – why it’s always been called ‘getting the miles-in.’ The pace is old school fashion too – not too slow and never too fast, not so you’re out of breath but just so you can still hold a conversation – it may sound a bit unscientific, but it works. So, for now, don’t worry about power meters and heart rates, just get out and ride."
- If it’s cold, wear more. Don’t be tempted to ride hard in order to warm up, you’ll just get cold again and [usually] sick as a result.
- Spin. Learn to ride smaller gears, just use a 39 ring from November to January. Big gears are for sprinting and compact gears are for mountains.
- Go mountain biking or cyclo-crossing, just do something different to what you do in the summer – it will keep you sharp and teach you how to handle a bike.
- Chat with your mates, go to the cafe, find the local club run and join a group ride at least twice a week.
- Don’t make ambitious plans you can’t stick to, just ride nice and steady and long, whenever you can.
- Oh yes, buy some mudguards.
This is very much a traditional approach, more about riding rather than giving it full gas training. But, as modern lives (not old school ones) make so many demands on the amateur rider beyond the bike, finding time to enjoy LSD on a regular basis isn’t easy. Family and work commitments mean more riders are adopting intensive training approaches. If you tailor it to your lifestyle, you’re in control of your empire. Which is key. If you’re lacking ‘spare time’ use commutes, turbo sessions and even interval training to improve your fitness.
The other major part of winter riding is preparation: during the summer, throwing on jersey and bib shorts and rolling out just after lunch seems as easy as filling a bidon. But when the nights are long and the mornings are frosty, motivating yourself to crawl out of bed and pull on several layers takes more strength. So make a commitment to the ride, check and embrace the weather, your kit and bike to be 100% correct the night before. And also, know the difference between a problem, and an excuse. Just think, are there really any barriers between you and the great outdoors? It is possible to ride in the snow and the dark if you have the right kit, equipment and preparation.
Also, make your riding time as enjoyable as possible. Vary your routes, maybe even try cyclocross. And whilst many enjoy the solitary struggle of training alone, sometimes a good way to get out there and battle through the inevitable bad weather is with other people. Riding with friends not only makes the regular training route more interesting, it can also aid you in pushing yourself that little bit more. Ben Lieberson, US Continental rider and Rapha Travel guide, explains:
“The addition of good company can really be a big help getting those hard yards in wintertime. Some comrades to brave the conditions and share a few chuckles with will help keep your mind off the temperatures and take you further.”
Ex-pro Michael Barry, in the pages of the wonderful Le Metier, distills the efforts modern bike racers have to go to in winter to maintain or build foundations for the form required once the racing season arrives.
“During the off-season, we grow mentally and physically stronger, as we step out into the cold weather to ride for hours in the rain or snow […] in conditions that keep most people indoors. In extremes I learn about myself, and my limits.”
So do like Mr. Barry describes: test yourself, put yourself out of the comfort zone and escape from the ‘wooly-mice’ syndrome that Tim Krabbe refers to in the The Rider. Pushing yourself is what makes the difference between going through the rotations and evolving into that ‘maestro’.
Vital items to make the most of your winter mileage.