Cycling in winter: Is it a chore or a challenge?

You’ll get cold and you’ll definitely get wet, but you will stay fit. See winter as a challenge and take it by the handlebars

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The Independent Online

Cycling in winter. It hardly seems inspiring does it? Out in the cold with a slight chance of hail or snow just to make it a little less appealing. British winters can be anywhere from harsh to mild, but one thing is certain, they always contain rain. And that puts cyclists (like me) off the outdoors and heading inside with an indoor trainer. This year, I have decided to not be dictated to by the weather. After such an amazing summer, I have the bug for outdoor cycling.

Cycling is the kind of sport where you get a buzz. Yes, you might be exhausted after climbing that big hill in a headwind, but the sheer exhilaration of coming back down it in a tailwind, is enough to make you want to do it again. And in summer, it’s definitely enough to keep you going. Winter is a different story though. Dark mornings and cold air make part of my brain think it's time to hibernate the cyclist in me.

I’ve found out there is a whole host of gear out there to help us cyclists keep going. From winter tyres to GPS units and warm clothing. Then there’s the thought of great sunrises, probably very empty trails and a well deserved hot bath when you’re done. I’m beginning to see the positives of of pushing through the winter on my bike and heading into spring in better fitness.

Once you decide you are going to do it, then you need to commit. Getting into the right frame of mind is essential. Yes you’ll get cold, and you’ll definitely get wet, but you will stay fit. See winter as a challenge and take it by the handlebars. There will be lots of mud and rain, which can help any cyclist (beginner or pro) learn or maintain skills. From helping to improve your balance to growing your endurance, there is something to gain.

First things first, you need clothes. Layering up is a good idea, you can always take off excess layers if you need to. A base layer to keep you dry, a mid thermal layer for warmth and a windproof shell on top. Cycling tights are life changing. I hated the idea to start with, but now will only cycle in them, and they are perfect for men and women. Don’t forget gloves, hat and overshoes too! Reflective clothing is a good idea for the darker days, as are lights. Be seen and be safe.

A decent GPS unit will also help keep you inspired. Something like the Garmin Edge 510, where you can link with Facebook to help keep that motivation going. It can also help you search for new routes and shows a virtual rider (the person who created the route) and their pace, so you can “race” to keep your spirits high. It will also alert you of weather events, and is a better option than strapping your beloved smartphone to the front of the bike.

Winter training, like summer, needs a plan. Have goals on what you want to achieve and be realistic about how much time you can commit to riding. If you are not an early bird, cycle after work. Look at other rides you have already done, and see how you can improve. If over the summer you haven’t built the endurance that you want too, this is the time to do it. Use winter to build up longer, slower rides and enjoy them.

If the weather is being really harsh, an indoor trainer is a great alternative. Some find it dull, others find it great, but if the weather is too much, it’s still a good option.

Once you have decided that winter riding is for you, don’t forget the basic checks on your bike. Check your tyres, brakes and gears. General bike maintenance goes a long way. And don’t forget to clean your bike off once back from a ride. Most of all, have fun and enjoy it, and don’t feel guilty about taking the odd day off either, you probably deserve it.