Winter training is an important part of maintaining and developing fitness for your upcoming seasonal goals. We don’t all have the luxury of training in the sunshine, so getting comfortable with cold weather cycling is a goal in and of itself. Training in winter can present us with wet, frozen and dark conditions. Winter conditions can compromise your safety if you do not take appropriate precautions and preparatory steps. Appropriate winter preparation for bicycling will allow you to meet your winter training objectives as easily as 1, 2, 3.
1. Know your environment
Check the weather, and know your conditions. Is it going to just rain or snow? Is there a chance of ice? Are there gale force winds coming? Will there be wind chill? Each condition has its implications for your ride. I usually check three different weather sources prior to making my weather decision; www.weather.com, www.accuweather.com, and www.noaa.gov. It should be obvious that weather will affect road conditions. Ice/snow and road bikes don’t mix. You should adjust your typical ride time to ensure optimum road conditions. Heavy winds and rain in our northwest can mean significant road debris from falling trees and branches. If you have to ride in heavy wind it is better to stay away from heavily wooded roads. Awareness of the weather conditions will allow you to make wise choices on your clothing options.
2. Get appropriate winter equipment
I reference “appropriate” equipment as sometimes bicyclists will try to ride with “inappropriate” equipment during the winter. Inappropriate equipment can really ruin your winter riding experience. Let’s start with clothing.
Clothing choices can really help make a winter ride reasonable. Your winter clothing experience should start with a good polypropylene base layer to wick moisture away from body. Plan to dress in layers. Plan on using wool and micro-fleece materials. External layers should be breathable rain jackets for wet conditions. The old, plastic rain capes do not work well for prolonged riding in wet, cold weather. If it is below 60 degrees F, you should have something on your legs and feet. Colder and wetter weather requires thicker tights over the legs and shoe covers over the feet. Wind chill on the knees can put you at risk for knee pain scenarios, so you always want to wear clothing that covers your knees during winter rides.
The Northwest bicyclist is famous for having their “rain-bike”. A bike that is frequently ridden in the rain will get worn down pretty quickly due to the high exposure to water and road grime. Therefore, this bike will not typically be decked out with ‘A’ or ‘race-day’ components. A rain bike will have fenders to reduce road spray to the bike and bicyclist. Rain/winter bikes should have visibility enhancements. Rain bikes will frequently have wider, more durable tires, which increase surface area contact to the road and minimize your chance of flats from hidden road debris.
Visibility enhancers can consist of things such as front and rear lights and reflective items such as reflectors and reflective tape. My favorite reflective tape use is putting reflective tape on the wheel. The motion of a reflective object will more easily attract attention and sighting from a night time automobile driver. Wear clothing that is reflective or easily seen under dark conditions. Your goal should be for drivers to easily see you while you are on your bike. The bicyclist will always lose if a motorist does not see you.
3. Be flexible
Sometimes weather will make outdoor road training inappropriate, so have other exercise options available. Most northwest bicyclists have an indoor training option; spin class, CompuTrainer, rollers, or other stationary resistive device. Set it up in front of a monitor or television to create entertainment and keep your training from becoming boring.
Consider cross country skiing. Cross country skiing is an excellent source of cardiovascular stimulus and leg/back strength. Cross country skiing is a perfect compliment for the endurance bicyclist. Ride a mountain bike. The roads may be horrible, but off road may be “perfect” conditions.
Weight training should be part of your winter training schemes. The weight training option may be flexed on a weekly basis to accommodate poor riding conditions.
Winter training is important for an endurance bicyclist’s seasonal preparation. Making wise choices in equipment and clothing will make your winter riding much more enjoyable and tolerable. Mental flexibility as well as scheduling flexibility will allow you to avoid potential frustration from volatile weather. Know your weather and weather projections. This will allow for more realistic planning of outdoor exposure and safe riding conditions.
Get out there… safely!