Whether you’re a mountain biker, a road cyclist or a cycle path cruiser, we all find it hard to get the motivation to get out in the winter when it’s cold and wet and the days are short.
Top 5 tips for riding in the Winter!
With the temperatures starting to drop in the UK over the last week, the first dusting of snow appearing on the Northern Hills, and the remaining autumn leaves that still cling to their branches gradually disappearing, it feels like Winter is just around the corner.
For many, that means hanging up the bike and putting the riding kit away until warmer, drier, sunnier weather returns. Finding motivation to keep riding through the Winter can be hard. Shorter days and the thought of cold, wet, muddy rides and the hours needed to clean bikes, clothes and bodies after every single ride can easily put you off.
It’s easy to come up with excuses for why not to ride, and the lure of a warm cosy house and lazing on a sofa whilst the weather is a bit grim outside can be strong, but it’s more important than ever at this time of year, to get outside and get a dose of fresh air to prevent the Winter blues.
The hardest part of Winter riding is often just getting out of the door, but once you make that first step, it’s always worth it. I have rarely come back from time spent on my bike during the colder months and regretted it. In fact, that post-exercise Endorphin hit feels even better after a Winter ride, and some of my most memorable days on bikes have been on Winter rides!
With a little knowledge, a bit of preparation and a slight change in mindset, I’m convinced that everyone can learn to love winter riding!
Here are my top tips to help you learn to love Winter cycling, and make it more enjoyable!
Get your layers right
This is about the most important thing that’ll change how you feel about riding in the Winter. Get your clothing system sorted and all of a sudden spending time outdoors in the Winter will be something to enjoy, rather than endure! After all, as the famous saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing! This is where FINDRA merino is perfect. As well as keeping you warm and cosy, it’s a great regulator of temperature, so shouldn’t cause you to overheat and sweat. My usual Winter riding layering system goes something like this:
Gilet (insulated synthetic, or windproof if not as cold)
Waterproof jacket (or Windproof softshell if colder but drier)
I’ll carry an extra mid layer in my pack if it’s really cold or I’m going up high, as well as a lightweight emergency insulated jacket and my FINDRA woolly hat.
The important thing is to not put everything on in the car park or before you leave the house, and then sweat as soon as you start moving because you are wearing too much. Be bold and start cold! Well, on the slightly cooler side anyway! The beautiful thing about a layering system is how flexible it is, and easy to adjust to make changes to suit the weather and temperature.
Using good merino socks and windproof gloves to keep extremities warm is also highly important and will make the difference between having fun, or simply suffering.
Fuel up well
You use more energy than you think in the cold, as your body tries to keep itself warm, so it’s important to make sure you are well-fuelled on rides. It’s often not easy to stop for long though without feeling cold quickly once you stop moving, so pick snacks and things you can eat little and often. From experience, Double Deckers or any other similar chewy-type bars will break your teeth when frozen, but jelly babies or dried fruit and nuts work well!
Winter rides are a good excuse to plan in a café or pub stop, either half way round to warm up with hot food and drinks, or at the end to do the same! Taking a small hot flask of Vimto or tea on a group ride will also win you friends for life…oh, and camelback hoses freeze when it gets cold! You can buy insulating covers though, or switch to using a bottle on rides in the Winter.
Preparation is key
We all hate doing it, but keeping your bike washed, the drivetrain lubed, and everything in good working order so it’s ready to go will mean you are less likely to find an excuse not to go out. When it’s cold and wet and you’re on the kind of ride where you need to keep moving, you also REALLY don’t want to be the person whose bike is breaking and causing everyone to have to stop and wait around…there is no easier way to lose friends! Plus, if you know your bike is well-looked after and winter-proof, you can enjoy the ride without worrying about mechanicals occurring.
Changing to some winter tyres can make a HUGE difference to your enjoyment of winter riding too, giving you a bit more confidence that you aren’t constantly going to slip and slide your way down every descent and loose tracton on the climbs. A simple front mud guard will save you from picking mud out of your eyes in the days following each ride, and a waterproof bag cover will keep your kit and bag dry, and prevent everything from getting completely filthy.
Storing kit in dry bags in your backpack is a good idea too, especially extra warm layers.
If you’ve driven somewhere to ride, make sure you have a change of warm clothes in your vehicle ready for immediately changing into at the end, and bags to put dirty kit straight into.
Moderate your Objectives
Shorter daylight hours mean less time available, (unless you are going to take lights), so planning shorter rides is a good idea. A ride that lasts a few hours on a winter’s day can feel like an epic if the conditions aren’t perfect, so it’s wise to stick to smaller adventures and plan some route options in case you need to bail due to being too cold/wet/tired part way through!
Route choice is important too…think about the technicality of tracks, trails and roads and how they might be different when wet or icy, compared to drier summer days. Think too about the weather up high compared to where you are starting from. Will there be snow or ice? Will this make it too dangerous or difficult to ride? What temperature will it be and what will the effect of windchill be? Rides in the snow can be great fun, as long as you are prepared for them!
If you’re a mountain biker and like to hit the trails rather than the roads, maybe consider the trail surface you’ll be riding on, and make choices to minimise your impact on the trails. Some of the trails in the Peak District have voluntary bans in the Winter. It stops the trail being damaged, and also alerts people to the fact that unless you enjoy trying to ride through hub deep gloopy mud for hours, you will probably get more enjoyment out of riding a different trail at this time of year! Sticking to trails that have a rockier or hard-packed base is definitely a good idea.
It’s worth thinking how much longer things will take on softer muddier surfaces than normal too, when you’re planning your ride.
Find your motivations!
Winter riding requires a change in expectations. It’s not summer so expecting it to feel like a Summer ride is only going to leave you feeling disappointed as soon as you set off. You are going to get muddy, wet, and probably feel like you can’t ride a bike at times, but if you can learn to be okay with this and realise that no-one finds Winter riding as easy as in the summer, then you’re a step closer to discovering how much fun you can still have through the muddy months of the year.
It’s important to embrace the positives about Winter rides. For example, it is way easier to go for a sunrise or sunset ride at this time of year. Two beautiful times of day when the weather is right. The low Winter sun giving an incredible light show that it’s just not possible to get in the middle of the year, and you don’t have to be up ridiculously early to get somewhere to witness it either.
The second positive…there are far fewer people about in the winter, especially if you get off road, so you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself much more! Riding through the Winter will almost certainly make you a better rider too, with skills honed from riding slippery trails, breaking consistently and just general resilience, that will serve you well next Summer when things start to dry out!
Of course, it’s not always muddy and wet…there are those perfect crisp Winter days when the ground freezes and the sky is a beautiful clear blue. Those are the days when I can’t wait to get out of the door and into the hills. If only every Winter day was like that in the UK eh?! But the days with less than perfect conditions make you appreciate those special ones that much more.
Giving yourself a goal of an event or adventure in the spring to train for is a good way to keep you motivated and encourage you out of the door if you struggle to make yourself otherwise. If you find a friend who is willing to sign up to the same thing, the added peer pressure of wondering if they are doing more preparation than you can often give you the boost in motivation levels you need!
Finally, remind yourself of how good you will feel after a day out in the elements, knowing you’ve been out and made the most of the day when others have sat inside. There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting warm, clean and dry after a filthy ride, sitting by a fire, glass of wine in hand, feet up, face glowing, and thinking back to where you were with your bike just a few hours before.
Yep, there are lots of things to look forward to about Winter riding! Go and get out there
If you enjoyed this motivation -check out Ultra Marathon runner and founder of Gutzi foods, Lucy Colquhoun’s tips on how to keep running during the winter months.