Winter can be cold, wet, downright frigid, or all or all of the above. Winter has traditionally been the time of year when cyclists build their fitness base for spring and summer races, sportives, and rides. Being able to build fitness during this season is essential for reaching next year’s goals. However, for those who live in cold climates, riding through months of cold and wet weather can be a challenge. The good news is that there are ways to make winter preparations easier by avoiding common mistakes - even the pros make them sometimes!
It may seem counterintuitive, but you should feel a bit chilly when you leave. If you feel warm when you step out your door, you’ve probably overdressed. This leads to increased levels of sweat, which will inevitably make you colder as soon as you hit the first descent, the wind picks up, or you stop for a quick coffee. The best thing to do throughout the winter is to dress in layers that are easily removable and packable in a rear pocket. Start with a good quality, sweat wicking base layer to keep your torso dry, add a long sleeve jersey and finish it with a good quality softshell (LINK TO BASTOGNE) or Gilet and rain jacket. The outer water & windproof layers will keep you protected, while the inner layers will stay dry and insulated. Always think about keeping your hands, feet, head & core warm & dry.
2. Choosing the Wrong Route.
When it's cold and/or raining, mountainous rides are best avoided. While it's really pleasant to climb, you will produce a lot of sweat which will then turn into a very, very, frigid descent due to the apparent wind chill and lower effort required. When it's cold and wet, it's best to stick to rolling hills and flats. Rolling hills (ideally shallow grades of 200m-1km) are great to break up the monotony and get your body working a bit harder to generate heat, but the descents that follow aren’t long enough to bring your body temperature down, especially as you should be pushing the pedals relatively hard the whole time. Also, pay attention to the wind. If the first half of your route starts with a strong tailwind, the second half will be into a headwind. You’ll end up heating up only to have a stronger apparent wind chill on the way back, which will not only be colder, but longer as well!
3. Not eating & drinking enough.
When it’s cold, hard to remember to drink as we don’t tend to feel thirsty like on hot summer days. Additionally, as your body must also work to stay warm, it actually burns more calories than in warmer temperatures. While extra layers & gloves make food slightly more difficult to get to, don’t forget to eat and drink at regular intervals.
4. Riding without a fender when it’s raining.
We’re all used to seeing the pros putting in the winter base kms in warm weather locales like Calpe and Mallorca, but rest assured, when they’re back home in the cold and rain, they’ll have at least a small rear fender attached to keep them warmer, drier, and riding longer in less than favorable conditions. Fenders might not look sleek and cool, but they’ll keep you much drier and warmer. Additionally, they’ll keep your kit and bike from getting thrashed by road grime coming off the spray from your rear wheel. Fenders can very effectively get you out the door and allow you to ride longer when it's cold and wet.
5. Forget/neglect to wash your bike right away after a wet ride.
Wet roads can really do a number on your bike. Road grit and grime get caked onto your bike and work their way into moving parts which contributes to the degradation of your drivetrain, brakes, brake pads and even cables. The longer the grime sits on your bike, the harder it is to get off and if there’s any salt on the roads, it will start to corrode your drivetrain very quickly. To keep your bike working well and increase the longevity of its parts, give your bike a quick rinse as soon as you get back from your ride. It might be tempting to have a shower, eat, have a nap and forget about it all until later, but that’s a surefire way to bigger problems down the road. Give your bike a quick, but thorough rinse, even if it’s just water. It doesn’t need to be spotless, but keep it clean(ish) and your expensive parts will last longer. After you’ve had time to look after yourself, give your chain a quick cleaning, wait for it to dry and apply some lubricant, and you’ll be ready to ride first thing in the morning!