21st November 2016.
There are few activities so well suited to the hot climate of the summer as cycling. Riding your bike is not just an excellent fitness activity and good for your health, but it's relaxing and refreshing, too. On a hot day, creating your own breeze by pedalling hard is a wonderful feeling. The weather is often just right for long weekend afternoons spent exploring on your bicycle, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't stay summer forever. Eventually, the heat gives way to the crisp coolness of autumn, and finally the dreary cold of the winter. Just because the mercury takes a plunge doesn't mean you have to abandon cycling, though.
Sure, cycling in the winter requires some extra preparation, but there are good reasons to make an effort. We'll cover these more briefly, but you can expect winter cycling to toughen you up and perhaps improve your ability. You can't just keep wearing the same cycling shorts, though ? that's obvious enough. Especially if you live in an area where snow occurs, dressing for winter cycling is crucial. However, that's just one of several important considerations. To enjoy your bike in the winter safely and effectively, this is what you need to think about before the first cold snap.
Choosing your winter cycling apparel
Who among us doesn't reach for a sweater the first time it gets a little chilly outside? While there are some who can tolerate the cold well, eventually everybody reaches the limit of "too cold." Combine that with the additional wind chill factor that cyclists must contend with, and it's not hard to see the importance of proper winter cycling attire. Rather than just throwing on some bulky trousers and a thick coat, though,
you'll need to think more carefully. Remember that your body is going to warm up substantially as you exert yourself and elevate your heart rate throughout your ride.
First, consider protection for your hands and, at colder temperatures, your feet as well. Woollen socks and temperature appropriate gloves will seal in body heat
, keeping your extremities warm. No one wants to lose feeling in their fingers from the cold on a long bike ride. It can become quite hard to feel the brake handles when that happens. As the mercury goes lower, increase the heaviness of your gloves.
Jackets and other outerwear designed to stand up to the wind are also essential. What you use for your basic layer is up to you, but choose a material that won't lock perspiration close to your body. A good rule of thumb is to dress slightly lighter than you expect you should. Even if you're shivering at the start of your ride, it won't last for very long. In no time, your body heat will have you feeling comfortable.
Maintaining your bike through the winter
Your body isn't the only thing you must protect from and prepare for the winter ? you must consider your bicycle as well. Through most of the year, routine maintenance issues with your bike usually don't go beyond replacing a chain or lubricating things every now and again. In the winter, though, regular bicycle maintenance
is of the utmost importance. This is especially true in areas where snow is normal.
Otherwise, you'll end up with a bike that doesn't want to go anywhere at all.
First, what kind of bicycle will you ride in the winter? Single-speed bikes will need less maintenance than a multi-speed derailleur. Snow can accumulate in your bike's components during a ride. All it takes is the right temperature and a momentary stop, and your whole bike could freeze. Regularly cleaning and lubricating all the parts, plus avoiding snow whenever possible, will reduce the potential for damage to the bicycle. You may also wish to add more protective fenders to your bike to reduce road spray and protect your gears.
When it comes to swapping out the tyres for winter, you have several choices here as well. You could choose a wider tyre for superior traction, or a thinner tyre for improved control when riding through slushy snow. Try to experiment and find the tyres which work best for your cycling style. Lowering the pressure by ten or twenty PSI as well can provide your cycle with a better grip on an otherwise unforgiving terrain.
Avoiding hazards on the road
Once you're bundled up, and you know how to care for your bike in the winter, it's time to think about safety on the road. There are all kinds of potential hazards facing you when you cycle in the winter. However, you can continue to have a safe and fun time with some smart precautions. For example, skip your daily ride any time the forecast calls for a severe amount of ice to form. No amount of tyre traction and balancing skill will keep you from skidding if you hit a patch of ice on the road you can't even see!
Ice is just one of the reasons to avoid your usual spot right near the kerb. Due to the amount of meltwater that accumulates there, it can quickly become a treacherous slough of ice and slush. Instead, stick to established bike paths and parks. You can also use more of the roadway, though that depends on how much you trust the skill of your local drivers! Make a mental note always to make yourself bright and visible
with bright or reflective clothing and cycle lights.
Finally, don't let the cold stiffen up your riding style. Stiffening up can make you too susceptible to balance issues and disruptions in the terrain. By riding loose and keeping your muscles relaxed, you're more likely to have a smoother winter ride.
Why go winter cycling at all?
With all these preparations, you're probably hoping there are some real benefits to winter biking. There
are. For example, it can serve as a form of base training. Here, you focus on maintaining your current ability or pushing a little beyond. Stretching this training out over the months of winter consistently means your body develops. You may find your lung capacity improves or that your stamina increases. The additional resistance created by winter tyres, plus the weight of your winter clothing, both combine to create a more challenging and physically rewarding cycling experience.
Acclimatising to the cold is another benefit. Before long, your ability to endure cold weather will make your friends jealous. Perhaps your weight loss will, too! The added challenge the cold weather brings means that you'll be burning more calories than before while you cycle, due to the cooler weather allowing you to exercise for longer
. Either way, these are just a few of the reasons to stay on your bike.
What to do when it's too cold
Sometimes, though, Mother Nature will get the best of your biking plans. Whether it's a blizzard or temperatures that are too frigid to endure, there will be times when you can't cycle outdoors. What should you do in these situations?
The good news is indoor cycles are nearly as good as their outdoor counterparts. There's nothing wrong with heading over to your local gym to jump on a spin machine. Think of it as an opportunity to try something new. It's a chance to tweak your routine and push for new gains, too. Consider a structured spin machine workout
to maximise the benefits.
A winter spin class is also a potential idea if you simply don't want to contend with the cold weather. You'll meet new people, have fun, and maintain your fitness all at once. When the spring thaw arrives, you can hop back on your regular bike. Then it's time to return to your favourite cycling route.
Don't put your fitness on ice for the winter
Tempting as it can be to bundle up and stay indoors all winter, your body demands otherwise. When you've spent all year cycling, you should view cold weather as just another challenge to overcome. From dressing correctly to staying safe on the road, smart preparations make winter cycling a snap. By the time the spring thaw arrives, your body will thank you! Not only will you be ready to work on achieving your New Year's resolutions, but you won't have to shake out the cobwebs. Instead, your wintertime practice will leave you better prepared than ever to strive towards improved performance. Winter is coming, but you'll be ready.