January 3, 2021 | 3months | GENERAL
Let's start with the most obvious tip of all - get yourself entered into the Cyclone Challenge Rides and give yourself a long-term goal of getting really fit and enjoying a great ride in beautiful Northumberland. Enter Cyclone Challenge Rides
But there’s a serious point to be made here. Motivation is crucial if you are to keep cycling regularly through the winter months. Getting kitted up and going out in cold and damp conditions requires an effort of will and therefore it’s a good idea to have one or more long-term goals to keep you interested.
Upcoming events and races are obviously helpful. But you can also set yourself shorter-term goals. Keeping a regular tally of the miles and minutes opens up the possibility of weekly or monthly goals. Perhaps fifty miles a week, or four hours would work for you. Some riders do less, some do more. But by keeping track, you make a deal with yourself to keep things going.
Monthly goals are less vulnerable to a spell of bad weather and you can even get ahead of your targets and reward yourself with a couple of days off.
Come the summer and you can flip the motivation question on its head: all those winter miles can be turned into confidence and pre-ride motivation ahead of a special event. You’ve done the hard work and can enjoy the ride in the knowledge that you’re in great shape.
Become a weather guru
Weather forecasts are the butt of a lot of humour in this country, but they’re actually pretty reliable these days and they can be a great ally when you’re planning your week’s training.
Most modern weather apps give you a “week at a glance” view, allowing you to target the drier days for your longer rides. By mid-winter it makes more sense to ride when it’s fine than to stick to a schedule irrespective of the weather. So target those sunny or dry days and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how frequent they actually are.
Try to bear the wind direction in mind too. Winter is generally windier than the rest of the year, so it is more of an issue. We always try to plan our rides so that we go “out” into the wind, when we are strong and fresh and return with the wind, helping us home when we’re tired.
Some cyclists get pretty obsessive about the weather and you can understand it as our climate throws a lot of variety at us and the enjoyment of cycling is strongly related to it.
If the weather becomes settled into a wet or cold rut, there are still some cycling options – here they are:
If it’s Icy, ride off-road
If you have a mountain, gravel or cyclo-cross bike, head off-road onto the frozen trails, away from the traffic and other road hazards. You’re in control of your own destiny, with no vehicles to dodge, you should be going slower, so that also means you are warmer, and you can brush up on your bike handling skills. Ironically, the absence of smooth surfaces (tarmac, concrete etc) means that you are less likely to encounter sheet ice and where it does occur it should be very obvious. If possible, ride with someone else and carry a phone and spares etc as normal.
If it’s cold or wet stay local, stay low and climb
Depending on your local terrain, if it’s very cold or wet, keep your ride local by clover-leafing around you home. This way you are not faced with a long ride home in the cold. If you live in a hilly area, staying in the valley bottoms keeps you out of the worst of the rain/snow and wind if the weather is very inclement. Hilly terrain also allows you to build up a lot of heat at low speeds – climbing for a few minutes really warms you up, so plan in more climbs that usual.
Many riders identify a local “circuit” of perhaps 3 to 10 miles, usually on quiet roads and simply do repeat laps. It sounds boring, but you can keep things fresh by alternating fast and “steady’” laps, reversing direction or riding with others. Keep it short and sweet – keep your morale up by riding shorter, sharper sessions. There’s nothing worse than a long grinding ride in the cold – exchange that three-hour ride for a couple of really brisk one hour rides on successive days. As we’ve already mentioned, identifying safe routes and circuits near home makes it easier to plan your rides.
Indoor training used to be a last resort for many cyclists, but the advent of the Zwift “virtual reality” cycling system has changed that forever. Zwift is an online application that allows you to hook up your indoor trainer to the internet and race with and against other people. It includes graphics that bring your online cycling to life. Thousands of cyclists have made the investment in the last couple of years and although the initial outlay is akin to buying another bike, the benefits of a reliable and, most importantly, interesting, inspiring and engaging experience make it all worthwhile.
In days gone by, indoor training was viewed as a painful chore that tested the mind as much as the body, but Zwift has successfully circumvented the boredom and created one of the biggest culture changes in cycling for decades. Most larger cycle dealers can now demonstrate the system for you and provide you with all the kit to make Zwift happen for you!
For those looking for a budget indoor cycling option, a classic turbo trainer or set of rollers can still provide a good workout. And you can get round the boredom by shortening and splitting your sessions, morning and evening.
Running and Gyms!
Many cyclists take little or no other forms of exercise. But this isn’t always ideal, especially as you begin to get older. Poor weather gives you a great excuse to try some other forms of exercise that may give you a more rounded fitness.
Strength and conditioning work at a gym, or in the garage at home, can also benefit your cycling. For both running and gym work, winter is the ideal time of year to get stuck in. A 30 minute run can equate to almost double that time on a bike and has the advantage that you don’t have to clean the bike afterwards so, all-in-all, it’s very time efficient. And don’t forget Yoga and Pilates, both of which can benefit your core and flexibility. There are many youtube videos to guide you through these disciplines at home.
Make Winter Your Growth Period
As cyclists we tend to dream of summer, warm days in the saddle and long evenings to ride our bikes and perhaps take part in races or other events. The days and weeks flash by and you may end up forgetting completely about your fitness and the bigger picture of how good a cyclist you are. This is all perfectly natural.
And that’s where Winter offers you a significant opportunity. Without the distractions that summer presents you with, Winter actually gives you the time to take a step back, analyse your cycling and do something about your weaknesses.
There’s plenty of time to experiment with training techniques (including yoga and strength and conditioning work in gyms) and to assess their benefits. Many pro riders swear by the “off” season as the time they actually make the most progress as riders, working hard on weaknesses and honing techniques during a time of relative peace and quiet.
Try setting yourself the goal of being a more complete athlete by the start of Spring and seeing if it has broader benefits for your summer cycling.
What’s The Quickest Way To Get Quicker?
For some riders, getting a quality bike-fit is a game changer. Having a “bike-fit” is a relatively new phenomenon. But, for some, it’s the single most effective way to find extra speed and efficiency. Results can be almost instantaneous and, in many cases, big improvements can be made.
A well known bike-fit specialist we know keeps us up to date with his recent clients and, contrary to what you might think, many of the riders he works with are highly experienced and successful racing cyclists. A significant proportion of them end up making big changes to their riding positions, despite years in the sport.
Of course, many of us are actually riding in a decent position and it might only be a matter of making a few tweaks. But if you experience any form of regular discomfort on a bike, a trip to a bike-fit specialist should be a priority. And, if you are buying a new bike and are uncertain about sizing, most bike fit services include advice of this kind.
Endurance road riders are probably the group of cyclists who most benefit from bike fits as they are often “stuck” in the same position for hours at a time and any issues have time to turn themselves into pain, discomfort and even injury.
The single biggest issue is usually saddle height, but there’s so much more to bike fits, including:
- Crank length – bikes tend to come with standard lengths, but if you are short or long-legged for your height, you might benefit from a change of cranks.
- Saddle design – women-specific saddles are now well established, but saddle options grow every year and the science of fitting should guarantee a more comfortable ride for most
- Bar width – can improved comfort but also dramatically reduce drag.
- Saddle angle – another area for fine tuning in conjunction with a saddle that suits your body.
- Stem length – can produce huge improvements in shoulder comfort. Over-reaching leads to neck and shoulder pain and fatigue, which are horrible on a long road ride.
- Shoe fit – not just the correct size, but also the correct insole can really help. Shaped insoles can correct natural tendencies for ankles to turn in or out, again giving greater efficiency and reducing injury risks.
Our final tips centre on time management. Most of us have limited leisure time and therefore cycling time is also limited. That’s where planning ahead really helps. As we said in our comments on the weather, planning at least a week ahead when you are going to ride really unlocks the best use of your time.
Share your plans with family so that you don’t have the stress of last minute misunderstandings or objections from your loved-ones. Your passion for cycling isn’t always shared and you’ll need to be diplomatic and sensitive if you are going to get the time you need.Try training when the rest of your family have commitments of their own. Accept that early morning rides are necessary if weekend commitments start to get in the way. Include cycling in your commute or perhaps, on family days out, take your bike in the car and cycle home afterwards.
Of course, your best bet is to get the rest of your family cycling too – challenge them to join you on a few rides, then enter them for a family cycling event, like our Tyne 6 Bridges rides on 2 July. Family cycling is a wonderful, healthy way to share time together. But, beware, growing children have a habit of becoming faster than their parents and they also suck up a lot of the family cycling budget with their growth spurts and demands for new bikes!