Keeping cycling through the winter can be challenging at times, I know I’ve been washing a lot of wet, muddy cycling kit over the last few weeks from the dirty and gritty winter roads. In addition to the increased dirt levels, heading out in almost freezing temperatures it not exactly appealing either! I think of winter training as character building – of course when the ‘character building’ aspect gets a bit too much I normally include a prompt coffee and cake stop in a warm café!
Here are some simple tips and ideas for winter cycling to hopefully help keep you riding and training through the tough winter months.
Winter kit – fleecy layers & wind proofing
Cycling can be an expensive sport, but I do recommend investing in a set of good quality winter kit. Winter cycling kit tends to be fleece-lined and have wind-proofing properties: throw in a good thermal or merino wool base layer and hopefully it will help keep you warm and comfortable on those chillier mornings. Here’s my top 10 must have kit list for winter cycling:
- Winter gloves/mittens – keeping your hands warm is very important to keep you operating the brakes and gear changes. If you’re comfortable with the mitten style cycling gloves these can help to keep your fingers warmer a little longer as it doesn’t separate your fingers like normal gloves.
- Wind-proof/waterproof overshoes – like with your hands, if you get cold feet during a ride it's very hard to get them warm again and they can remain unpleasantly cold for the duration of the ride. Overshoes/socks help keep your feet warm and dry… and your cycling shoes clean.
- Thermal bib tights with a good quality chamois – fleece lined bib tights are a must for me, and investing in a pair that have a good quality chamois in them can only help to make your ride more comfortable for longer.
- Long sleeve thermal or merino base layer (sits under the bib of the tights) – I prefer a merino base layer under my winter jacket.
- Winter cycling jacket – wind-proof and shower proof ideally, thick and fleece lined but with the usual pockets on the back you get with a standard cycling top, slim fitting so as not to act like a kite and slow you down.
- Packable lightweight rain jacket – a lightweight rain jacket can be a good additional layer to carry with you, if you get caught out in a downpour it can offer an extra layer of defence from the wind and rain. Keep it in your back pocket until needed.
- Buff – to help keep the chill off your neck and face.
- Skull cap or headband – keep your ears and head warm with a thin fleecy skull cap layer.
- Clear or rose coloured glasses – you should wear glasses all year round for cycling. It may not be sunny but this can help keep any grit out of your eyes while you ride. Winter glasses are either clear, or often a light rose colour which can brighten up your view.
- Of course don’t forget your helmet!
Winter bike accessories
Or how to avoid a wet muddy bum!
- Rear mudguard – if you ride in a group and have a mud guard on your rear wheel you will be a very popular wheel to follow! Not only can it stop you getting a wet muddy bum it also stops the water and grit flicking up off your wheel into the person following you. Generally only used through winter.
- ‘Ass-saver’ – a cheap small plastic temporary mini mudguard that easily attaches to your saddle and can keep some of the wet mud off your back.
- Robust winter tyres – Winter can mean there’s a lot of extra muck and grit on the road, investing in a good quality set of robust tyres for winter will hopefully mean you spend less time repairing flats.
From a safety point of view there are also a couple of things to take with you:
- Front and rear lights – when the daylight hours aren’t long or the light is limited during the day it can be a good idea to have at least your rear light turned on making it easier for cars to see you.
- Mobile phone – always take this with you, because you never know when you may need some help. Keep it in a small plastic bag to help keep it dry. This is a good idea when you're cycling all year round, not just in winter.
- Puncture repair kit – I never leave home without this on any ride no matter how short, and make sure you do know how to change an inner tube! There are plenty of YouTube videos out there that will show you how.
Have some good routes planned. Some winter routes can be more treacherous than others when conditions get a little icy, so having some alternatives can be good. Also it's good to knowing where the good coffee stops are, which are great for a quick warm up!
Having a regular group or friend you ride with can also help to get you out on the bike. Not only does it give you a bit of company and moral support, sometimes the pressure of having a meeting time and someone waiting can be enough to help you get out of a nice cosy bed in the morning!
Turbo training – for when you just can’t bear to go out in the cold!
Turbo trainers are not everyone’s favourite piece of equipment; a lot of people can find them boring and tedious. Personally I am on the turbo anywhere from 1 to 3 times a week depending on the weather outside. Even an hour on the turbo a week with a well-structured and focused turbo session can be hugely beneficial. I’ve found the key to beating the boredom on the turbo trainer is using timed intervals to structure your sessions, sticking to those times and some good tunes playing in my headphones!
At very least you want a turbo where you can adjust the resistance, and if you have a simple bike computer that can read your cadence then even better!
Here’s an example of a structured session for a 1 hour turbo session focused on cadence:
Throughout the following session, focus on keeping a smooth pedal stroke throughout the entire revolution and no jumping about in the saddle, you will need to adjust your resistance in order to maintain form and find the sweet spot that lets you hit those high cadences.
Cadence is very important in cycling – if you have a low cadence but push a hard gear, generally speaking this is using a lot of energy, or if you're someone who has a really high cadence you are probably guilty of not using a strong enough gear! A good cadence and appropriate gearing can help you maintain a good speed for a longer period of time, great for longer distance rides. A good average to aim for is between 80-90 RPM.
Overseas training holiday – once the UK winter has become too depressing!
If you really can’t handle the UK winter anymore and you are lucky enough to be able to do so, an overseas training week can be an amazingly rewarding experience and cycling everyday can help you come along in leaps and bounds. They are not just for pro riders: there are training weeks out there that cater for all ability levels with some very spectacular scenery!
I’m very fortunate that I get to escape overseas a couple of times a year for training with my job. Majorca is one of my favourite places to go: it is perfectly set up for cycling with great quality roads, considerate locals and nice long climbs.
Lastly don’t forget why you're doing this, if you’ve taken on a cycling challenge for Bloodwise you've probably been affected by blood cancer in some way, whether it be yourself or a loved one. Hold on to that thought and all the good your fundraising is doing, and let it keep you going through the tougher days.
Even the best athletes have bad days on the bike – listen to your body and rest if you need too, but don’t let the cold weather stop you!
A bit about me:
I’m a Coach and General Manager for RG Active.
RG Active are a leading mass participation providers of specialist sports coaching and training and we are really pleased to be working with Bloodwise to support their fundraisers and athletes training for their different challenges.
RG Active assist thousands of people every year achieve their chosen sporting endeavours be it a first ever 5k run, learning to ride a bike, open water swimming or the chance to represent their country in triathlon at the highest level. All our coaches promote and encourage an active, healthy lifestyle and believe everyone can make a positive difference in their lives through sport.
For more information on RG Active visit www.rgactive.com