We all know that cycling is good for our health. It keeps us fit, and unless anything goes wrong, it can help us to live longer.
So how can we beat the winter blues and get motivated to ride throughout the year.
If you have cycled regularly through the summer & into autumn, you will have built up a fair bit of fitness. You’ll have been riding longer routes, maybe a little quicker and probably be a bit stronger on the hills too. However, as the rain comes down, and the temperature plummets, it’s tempting for bike & rider to go into hibernation until spring. All those fitness gains could be lost, meaning that come March or April all the hard work has to start over to bring fitness levels back again.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. You may have heard the phrase ‘Winter miles = Summer smiles’. It’s true. This doesn’t mean that you need to continue to go out on all day rides out into the middle of nowhere right through the winter if you are not that way inclined. But there are a variety of ways in which you can keep a base level of fitness going that will kick start your fitness in spring. Cyclists that continue to ride through the winter will ride stronger much earlier in the season than fair weather only riders.
Here are some suggestions to keep your base fitness up through the winter.
1. Cycle commuting
Commuting by bike is cheap and easy. If you live in a crowded city like I do, it’s often quicker too. Most towns and cities will have some kind of cycle network, which may help you avoid the busiest roads, or steer you away from the roads completely. If you commit to bike commuting regularly, consider getting a rack for your bike so that you don’t have to carry bags on your back. Rucksacks can make you sweat more, which if you don’t have shower facilities at work might be unpleasant.
2. Social Rides
Look out for groups organising social rides locally. These might be to local cafes or pubs. They might be short rides, or a bit further afield. Most ride leaders take account of winter weather when deciding on destinations & routes, so you should be in safe hands.
3. Dress for the weather
The problem isn’t bad weather, just the wrong clothes. You can ride your bike in most weather without issue if you are wearing the right gear. But, where do you start?
First, consider the type of riding you are most likely to do. If you are commuting say 5 miles each way to work and from work, you are likely to be on your bike for around 30 minutes at a time. The most important items of clothing would be a waterproof jacket (ideally with some hi-viz features), full finger winter gloves and possibly some waterproof over trousers. What you decide to wear underneath will completely depend on how hard you intend to ride. I will often wear my normal clothes on my commute, with just a change of top for the office. For this kind of riding, you don’t need to spend a fortune on the outerwear. The kind of winter clothing offered by Aldi & Lidl is perfect for commuting. It is practical, inexpensive and does what you need it to do.
If you are going to continue to do longer rides, then you might want to consider spending a bit more on your outer layers. Mid range items are available all over. Brands such as dhb, Altura & Endura all produce great waterproof and winter kit. You might want to consider overshoes (for warm toasty toes), a higher quality breathable waterproof jacket, and waterproof gloves. You can really go to town in this price bracket. Don’t forget base layers too – layering up is the best way to control your temperature for rides where you might start early in very cold temperatures, then warm up as the day goes on.
Finally, if you are really serious about riding frequently, it can be worth splashing the cash in certain areas and buying the premium brands. If you want function and style, many people swear by Rapha. Personally, I love Castilli for their winter kit. My leggings have a fleece lining, and keep me at just the right temperature throughout the winter. And I wouldn’t be without my jacket. Look out for the winter gear in the sales – spring is a good time to buy. There are bargains to be had.
4. Lighting the way
If you are committed to riding throughout the year, it’s inevitable that you will ride some of the time in dim light or darkness. Front & rear lights are a must.
If you are only planning on riding in areas with street lights, then your lights are primarily so that you can been seen by other road users. Ensure that your lights are bright, and the batteries are fully charged. General bike lights are not expensive, but don’t go too cheap. Ultimately you want to be seen and stay safe.
As soon as you start riding in areas where there are no street lights, then the stakes change. You need lights that you can see with. These need to be bright enough to both light up the road in front of you, but also the edge of the road. You may come across the terms ‘lux’ or ‘lumens’ to describe brightness.
It is possible to spend relatively little for rechargeable lights, and you can pick up very bright Cree lights for little money. The cheap ones serve a purpose, although may not have the quality of more expensive offerings. Either way, you will be able to see where you are going.
Back to lux & lumens though. For a light that you will be able to see by, I would recommend a minimum of 50 lux, or 150 lumens. If you are planning on riding dark country lanes, you should be looking at lights that can go brighter than this, 70 lux, or around 300 lumens. Most lights have a range, so for example, if you were to buy a light that had 3 levels, 150 lumens, 300lumens & flash you would cover it all.
Some lights advertise 900+ lumens. These are best left to mountain bikers as they are too bright for the roads, and will upset motorists being blinded by the light.
5. What else?
If all of this fails, and you just can’t drag yourself out on the roads due to bad weather, how else can you keep your fitness up? How about going to the gym? We are blessed in Hampshire to have a wide range of gyms at an equally wide range of prices. Almost all gyms will run spin classes. These are excellent ways to not only keep pedalling, but can actually improve your performance and technique. You can go flat out without worrying about traffic, potholes or keeping the bike upright. At the end of the class, if you are fit to drop, then rest assured you’ll be thankful by spring.
Like all things, different types of classes will suit different people. My gym has a spin class that has a huge video screen in, and the class is a route through futuristic worlds, with really loud music. Since I always prefer to be on a real bike, I find this works for me as I get totally immersed in it. I actually look forward to my weekly spin class now.
Let’s be honest, we all like cake. And cycling allows us to continue with this indulgence guilt free.
What better reason can you think of to keep pedalling all year round?