Winter is a time of festivities, holidays, and cheer – but in many parts of the world, it’s also a time of snow, slush, and freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, this means that winter is far from the ideal time to train, as a cyclist.
And while you may be tempted to simply avoid the outdoors, and train inside on your bike trainer or your stationary bicycle, you don’t have to abandon the great outdoors entirely. In this article, we’ll discuss some of our top tips for cyclists who are training in the winter.
1. Gear Up Properly (And In Layers)
When cycling in the winter, you have to balance your desire for warmth with the cooling effects of sweat. That is to say, bundling up in a heavy fleece or coat may seem nice – but if you start to sweat too much, and the sweat begins to wick away, your body will actually begin to feel cold and clammy.
You should invest in cycling-specific clothing, like tights and long jerseys. Instead of simply wearing one heavy outside coat, dress in multiple layers. Dressing in layers of windproof, thermal gear will help you avoid excessive sweat, and also protect you from the chilly winds of your bike ride.
You may even want to consider something like a balaclava or a ski mask to wear under your helmet, if it’s cold enough. The wind moving over your skin can cool down your face and nose very quickly, and you don’t want to risk frostbite.
Clear glasses are also a good idea, as road grit, salt, and other debris tend to get kicked up more frequently in the winter, and sunglasses are a bad idea if visibility is low.
Your hands also deserve special attention. Many winter cyclists prefer products like Bar Mitts, which are thick neoprene “gloves” that fit over your handlebars. They’re thick and warm enough to keep your hands safe and warm, and keep you more comfortable in the winter.
Cycling overshoes are also a good investment. These fit over your cycling shoes and extend farther up the ankle, and are usually made from neoprene or some kind of windproof, fleece-backed technical fabric.
Outfitting yourself with the right gear – multiple layers of lightweight, cycling-specific clothing with overshoes and thick gloves – will make the winter climate surprisingly manageable.
2. Your Warm-Up in Cycling Is More Important Than Ever
If you’re warm when you get on your bike, you’ll stay warm as soon as you start working hard and breaking a sweat. But if you get on your bike “cold”, the wind and the low temperatures will make you feel absolutely frigid – until you’ve worked hard enough to raise your core temperature.
Get dressed for your ride, and consider having a hot drink – even just hot water – before heading out. You could also do some basic dynamic stretches, or even some exercise like jumping rope for a minute or two – just to get yourself going, and get warm.
Then, once you’re good and warm, get on your bike and get going! This will help protect you from the worst of the cold.
3. Maintain High Visibility – Particularly When It’s Dark Or Overcast
Most drivers aren’t great at sharing the road with cyclists in the best of weather. But in the winter, drivers really don’t expect to see any cyclists on the road. This means that your risk of being hit by a driver in the winter could be higher.
To help you avoid this, focus on visibility. Make sure you have lights on your bike, and that they’re on whenever you’re riding and it’s not sunny. Wear reflective or brightly-colored clothing, and make use of reflectors. You could even consider wearing a high-visibility vest over your cycling gear.
The sun sets early in the winter, and rises later. In many parts of the country, it could set as early as 5pm – so you need to be prepared for maximum visibility in the dark.
4. Consider A Shorter “Circuit” Or “Loop” Ride
A 25-mile “out and back” ride may be a great idea on a breezy, sunny autumn afternoon. But it’s not exactly ideal for winter riding. If something goes wrong with you or your bike, it’s going to be a much longer time before you can get help.
The weather can also change quite quickly. If you find that you’re out of energy and feeling cold – and you’re far from home when bad weather is approaching – this can be a recipe for disaster.
Consider finding a shorter, 5-10 mile “circuit” nearby your home, which will allow you to bail out of your ride if things aren’t going well. This will give you (and your loved ones) peace of mind.
5. Pay Attention To How The Wind Is Blowing
If at all possible, try to ride in a direction where you’ve got a headwind blowing against you on your way out, and ride home with a tailwind. This way, you’ll be able to take on the headwind when you’ve got fresh legs, and the tailwind will help you cruise on the way home.
This is doubly important in the winter. Icy winds during the second half of your ride can chill you to the bone, particularly if you already feel quite tired and sweaty.
6. Ride With Some Friends
There’s safety in numbers. (And misery loves company!) A group ride in the winter has a number of benefits.
First, there’s a feeling of camaraderie among those who choose to ride outside in the winter, because you’re all doing something that, to most people, (even some cyclists) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Second, you can pass the time more easily by talking with each other, which is always enjoyable, and helps take your mind off of the winter chill.
And, finally, you can take turns drafting off of one another, which helps shield you from the worst of the wind.
Riding in numbers also makes you safer when it comes to dealing with drivers on the road. Drivers are more likely to notice you – and less likely to behave aggressively towards you – if you are in a group of 3, 4, or even more riders. Group riding also makes it easier to deal with potential mechanical problems like a thrown chain, flat tire, or another issue.
7. Take Care Of Your Bike After Your Rides
The combination of road salt and moisture is incredibly corrosive. Even if you have a carbon fiber bike, chances are you still have plenty of metal components on your bike. As it drips dry in the garage, this metal can be seriously damaged by corrosion.
If you choose to ride in the winter, make sure you clean your bike regularly – including the chain, gear set, frame, brakes, wheel rims, and any other part that’s exposed to road salt and grime from the road. You also need to lube the chain and gear set regularly, to make sure they’re shifting properly.
Road salt isn’t the only issue, either. The snow and slush often carry quite a bit of road debris, which can clog up and damage important parts of your bike.
So, after each winter ride, wipe your bike down with a clean cloth, and consider cleaning it more thoroughly about every 2-4 weeks. You may also want to take it into a bike shop for a tune-up at the beginning and the end of the winter season, to make sure that everything is in good shape.
8. Know When Biking Outdoors Is Simply Not A Good Idea
Look, even the most passionate cyclist should know when biking outside is not a good idea. Whether it’s currently snowing or sleet is pouring down on the roads, there are times when cycling outside is simply not feasible.
As a rule, we’d use this adage. “I’ll ride in the wet. I’ll ride in the cold. But I won’t ride in the wet cold.” Freezing rain, sleet, and snow can make it very unsafe to ride your bike. Grip conditions are poor, you may quickly become too cold, and it’s simply not worth putting yourself through such bad conditions.
When this happens, make sure that you have a stationary bicycle or an indoor bike trainer to turn to. Let the bad weather pass. Once things have calmed down a bit, you can think about getting back out there. But in the meantime, you’ll be riding inside. So grab a magazine, toss on a TV show, or load up Zwift, and do your best to enjoy the warm, dry conditions of training indoors.
Follow These Tips – Stay On Your Bicycle This Winter!
As you can see, cycling in the winter is not impossible. It just takes some careful planning, the right gear, and a common-sense approach to safety. So don’t just sit inside all winter. Make it a point to get outside a few times, and enjoy the unique (if bone-chilling) experience that outdoor winter cycling has to offer.