16th October 2017. When someone asks a question such as "what's your favourite time of year for cycling?" you probably won't hear "winter" as an answer very often. Unless you live some place where winters are especially mild with little to no chance of snow, you'll face tonnes of unique challenges that make cycling a bit more difficult. Not only that, but you'll also be fighting against your own desire to stay indoors where it's warm and cosy! It's important that you stick to the routine you've built up over the course of the whole year, though, because you don't want to lose all the progress you've made. With that in mind, making the right preparations for winter ahead of time will simplify the season and make it easier for you to achieve your goals. By the time the spring thaw arrives, you'll still be near peak condition and ready to set a whole new slew of goals for the next year. So, what should you do to prepare? From assembling the right gear and prepping your bike to thinking about some backup plans in the case of nasty weather, there's plenty you can do now. Let's start by looking at the winter kit you?ll want to have on hand before the temperatures plunge.
Gearing up for your winter bike rides
Grabbing the right cycle clothing is one of the most important preparations you can make for the upcoming winter. Temperatures can vary, so you'll need a varied wardrobe to match. We'll touch more on how to use that wardrobe to your advantage below, but let's begin with a list of the items you are most likely to need: a hat, a jacket, the right pants, good socks, and some solid gloves. Beneath all this, you'll want base layers made of sweat-wicking materials. You should have both a light jacket and a heavy jacket as you will not always face the same levels of wind and cold. Keep an option for bringing a water bottle along, whether you wear it on your person or strap it to your bike. You will dehydrate without even realising it in the winter as you do not sweat as much in the summer. The result is that you can end your rides feeling terrible without knowing why! Pack your hydration and remember to use it regularly during every ride. Need some extra storage for your winter rides? Use a slim waterproof backpack to protect your repair kit and other important items from freezing rain or snow. Once you've assembled your wardrobe and laid out your main gear, it's time to think about some tweaks to your bike.
Modifying your bike for winter effectiveness
First, take the time to thoroughly lubricate all parts of your bike and apply anti-corrosive coatings to your frame; these are often available in easy to use aerosol cans. Your bike will face a much more punishing environment in the winter, with salt on the roads and dirty snow accumulating on the side of the road. Protecting your bike from the harmful effects of the elements is crucial to help reduce the amount of winter maintenance you must perform. While lubricating your bike, attach mudguards to your wheels. This will minimise the amount of debris-filled road spray that your bike kicks up, saving your chain from premature breakage. You can also use car wax to help prevent damage from this spray. Check over all your major components and replace any that look like they're beginning to wear out; you don't want to deal with a big roadside maintenance issue in the cold. Consider changing your tires for something with more grip, or lowering the air pressure inside them so you can enjoy more traction on slick roads. The exact tweaks you make to your bike for the winter will be partially down to personal preference. Just remember to prep it for the conditions it will face!
Remember how to layer clothing for warmth
OK, what about layers? There are plenty of guides out there to help you figure out the best way to approach each weather situation, such as a snowy and windy day, but there are rules of thumb to use, too. In general, avoid cotton as a base layer wherever possible; it just sucks up your perspiration. In the wind, that can leave you chilled and unable to feel comfortable. Use sports fabrics that suck up the sweat and pass it on to your next layer, which can allow for evaporation. You can use cycling tops as your base layer, but remember to place something sturdier over the top. A windbreaker or light jacket is the next step. You want to be able to easily pull these layers off if you get too warm during a ride. Try to plan for weather that is 10-15 degrees warmer than what the thermometer says. As you ride, your exertion will raise your body temperature. If you haven't layered correctly, you'll find yourself too hot. A little practice goes a long way ? when the temperatures dip in the autumn, start trying out your layer combinations.
Be prepared to deal with some bad weather
Unfortunately, even the best layering strategy won't keep you comfortable when the weather deteriorates too much. In heavy snowstorms, hail, or sleet, it might be the better choice to avoid mounting your bike. You could put yourself at risk by venturing out onto the roads in bad weather, and you won't have a very effective workout anyway. What can you do instead? There's always the spin machine at gym ? if you have a membership, take advantage of it and head in on the bleariest day. You'll get a workout that is comparable in intensity, and you'll get to enjoy it in the warmth of a safe building. However, you could also stay at home and work out in other ways. Use a rowing machine to keep building up your cardio, or try some bodyweight-based exercises to mix up your routine. Even some simple aerobics like jump-roping can let you keep working out indoors while the snows pile up outside.
Thinking about your goals during winter riding
Preparing for winter cycling isn't just about fixing up your bike, buying some warmer clothes, and mentally steeling yourself for the cold weather. Why not set some goals to strive for along the way? While there aren't many races to participate in this time of year, you can look forward to the first races of spring. Why not start your training early? When the season begins, write down a list of what you'd like to achieve: riding a certain distance, completing a challenging ride in the weather, or whatever strikes your fancy. Then think about how you can use each ride as a way to work towards one of those goals. At the end of the season, you can consult your list again to see how far you've come. Even if you don't fully achieve these goals, the important part is the fact that you made an effort along the way. By laying out these goals before the winter begins, you can inspire and motivate yourself to keep working all season long. At a time when almost everyone wants to stay indoors as much as possible, this is essential for staying in the saddle. While your friends hang up their helmets for a few months, you'll still be powering through the miles.
Don't worry ? spring will be here soon enough!
In the middle of a long ride through the bitter, windy cold, your first thoughts might be of your warm bed back at home ? but with the right preparations, you can be as comfortable as possible and still be effective in the saddle. From strapping mudguards onto your bike to remembering how to layer your clothes properly, prepping doesn't need to take much time either. What about your goals? Don't forget to write them down before winter arrives for good. It's an excellent opportunity to chart your progress and see whether you can endure the unique challenges of the season. Winter may never turn into your favourite riding season, though, and that's OK. Just view it as another challenge ? and another opportunity to earn some bragging rights. Who wouldn't want to tell their friends they biked all day in the driving snow and still set a new personal best? Follow @SportNessUK