Considerations for winter training when cycling

Training over the winter can be difficult as restricted daylight hours often places more importance of weekend sessions. Colder weather and slippery roads, can make training a little tougher, so here’s our guide on how to get the most from your winter cycle training.

Keep it fun and add a social element

After an end of season break it can be difficult to get back into training even for the more seasoned athlete. With next year seeming so far away it’s easy to put off getting back into a routine. However, the sooner you do get back into training the greater your fitness going into next year will be. The easiest way to get yourself motivated to head out into the cold during the winter months is to train with a training partner or club ride. The social element of the ride will pass the time more quickly and give you something to look forward to, and of course there’s always the lure of the cake stop.

Make sure you hydrate and fuel properly

When it’s cold we often feel like we don’t need to drink as much. While we’re probably not going to be sweating quite as much as we would at race intensity in summer, we’re still losing water through vapour as we breath as well as through metabolism. Even if only small sips, ensure you’re drinking regularly. The colder weather makes us use more energy to stay warm too, it’s also harder work riding into winds and if you have a winter training bike that is heavier then that too is taking more energy to propel you. Have a simple breakfast before you head out and take some solids with you to have on the way or when you stop for a hot drink. It’s always a good idea to take a couple of emergency energy gels with you in case you do feel your energy dropping. Some people like to utilise ‘fasted training’, especially in the winter during lower intensity sessions. We’d recommend you limit fasted rides to 90-120 minutes and if you’re heading out for longer then plan to fuel shortly after 90 minutes. This is also good for longer distance athletes looking to train their bodies to take on fuel while on the move.

Choose the right kit

Modern kit technology as well as the wide range of brands available means we have a better selection than ever when it comes to making sure we stay warm and dry on our rides. Traditionally we’ve been told that layering was the best way to ensure we insulated ourselves. The issue with layering however, is that the more layers you have, the less breathable those layers are to evaporation. So, it can be harder to regulate your temperature and for sweat to evaporate. Modern fabrics and insulated jackets now mean that you can head out in the coldest of days with just a base layer and a jacket, and perhaps a jersey if you know you feel the cold. This means you’re more comfortable and feel less like the Michelin man as you ride along. Layering is still great on those changeable days when it can be cold when you set off but be considerably warmer by the time you finish. For these kinds of days, removeable layers such as a gillet, arm warmers and a lightweight packable waterproof jacket is a great choice.

Watch those extremities

There’s no point keeping your body toasty and warm only to let your head, hands and feet freeze. Starting from the top down; a headband or skullcap is essential once the temperature drops below 5 °C. Even a thin layer covering your forehead and ears will keep the worst of the wind chill off, while still allowing you to regulate temperature through the top of your head. A buff or neck warmer is a fantastic versatile piece of clothing since they’re stretchy so can be worn around the neck, pulled over the chin or right up over your mouth, nose and ears when it’s particularly cold. Keeping the chill off your head and neck will make your winter riding a lot more enjoyable.

A good set of winter gloves is very important since the wind chill from riding speeds can make for very cold and painful hands. The dilemma here is that while thicker gloves keep your hands warmer, they may also impair your feel for the bars and control of the bike. You want to make sure your hands are warm, while maintaining some dexterity in your fingers. Windproof fabrics will trap some heat without being too thick. Leg warmers or over-tights will keep your working muscles warm which is important since it’s a large area to lose heat from. Shoe covers are essential in the colder months. Because cycle shoes tend to be tight, thick socks can often be counter productive since they’ll compress and reduce circulation. Shoe covers will insulate your entire shoe and ankle and add some element of water resistance too.

Ensure your bike is ready for winter

Looking after your bike will make sure it looks after you. Keeping it clean and in working order will mean you have fewer mechanicals, gears will shift better, components will last and it’ll be generally nicer to ride. Check your brakes and tyres and keep brake surfaces clean, this is especially important as stopping distances are longer in winter and if you’re in a group, having poor brakes could put not only you but others at risk.

Running your tyres at a slightly lower pressure can increase the contact area with the road and make your ride a little more comfortable. Around 10 psi lower than you’d normally ride in summer is enough but don’t go below the recommended lowest pressure (written on the side of your tyre) otherwise you may increase your risk of punctures.

Winter lubricants are slightly thicker and water resistant than lighter, summer ones. They protect your drivetrain and help your components last longer. However, don’t apply them too thickly as they’ll just clog up with dirt. Wipe off excess oil and dirt after each ride, then re-apply a small layer. Every few rides, give your drivetrain a proper clean.

Mudguards might not look cool on your bike, but most cyclists will agree that being comfortable and not going on a ride with a wet bum or staining your kit is preferable. As a minimum, a small ‘emergency’ Ass Saver type will stop the worst of the spray soaking your chamois and back, and sit a little more subtly. Full mudguards on the front and rear are great if you do tend to go out in all weathers, since often even when it’s not raining the roads may be wet or muddy, especially if you ride on country lanes. They stop most of the spray and you can ride for hours, staying warm and dry. If you ride in groups, you are also more popular to follow in the wet when you have mudguards on. There are a few different removable options available, which are easily put on and taken off. If you have a winter/commuting specific bike then it might be work leaving them on all year round.

Be prepared

You should always carry a puncture repair kit with you and a mini-tool for minor adjustments. It’s not fun getting stranded by the road at the best of times, let alone when its cold or wet. A repair kit should have at least one spare inner tube (maybe even two in winter), tyre levers, rubber gloves & mini-tool. You can easily pop in a small pack of self-adhesive patches which can often be a quicker option on winter rides or a good back up if you run out of tubes. Whether you opt for CO₂ or manual pump is up to you, but when it’s just a training ride and ‘optimal’ pressure isn’t as important, then a manual pump may be a little more reliable. If you’re out with a friend or in a group ride, you can make sure there’s a mix of some people with hand pumps and some with CO₂ pumps so you’re ok for any situation. If you’re in a group ride, it’s your responsibility to make sure you have your own repair kit, since constantly relying on others isn’t the best way to make friends. Especially if having used someone else’s spare, they then end up stranded by the road.

Winter training hacks

  • Tin foil toes, an oldie but a goodie! If your feet feel the cold even with shoe covers, then this little trick can help. Wrapping the front half off your foot in tin foil, over your socks before you pop your shoes on can help block the cold that little bit more.
  • Overshoes are essential, but they can be yet another cost. If you’ve got an old pair of skiing or thick hiking socks laying around; cut a large hole in the bottom for your cleats and use them as a makeshift shoe cover.
  • Rubber gloves; it’s always handy to have a box of these at home for bike cleaning. But, keeping a pair in your repair kit will stop you getting oil and dirt all over your hands if you have a puncture or mechanical on a ride. They can also double up as an extra layer if for any reason your gloves aren’t warm enough, or they get wet.

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