Winter cycling

A few years ago common thinking was that winter cycling was something to be avoided, especially by riders of road bikes. Many leisure cyclists simply stopped cycling for a few months during winter, while others prefered to continue indoors on a training bike, or perhaps using gym exercises instead.

Any of us who use an indoor bike will know that while it can be effective it is also very difficult to keep it interesting, and after about an hour you will probably have had enough. It's also worth noting that, according to some experts, for every week you stop cycling during the winter it will take you two weeks to regain the lost training - so there are very significant advantages for the following year if you can persist during the winter.

The empty streets?

If you do venture out on your bike on a cold winter's day, you will be surprised to find that you are not the only cyclist out and about - and if you want to be in with a decent chance of joining in from the start of the following season you should probably be out on your bike as well.

Cycling furtively around the back lanes and hills during the winter there are a good number of cyclists, secretly working on their advantage for the following year - and having a good time as well.

Taking it easy?

Once the 'experts' had come round to the idea that we should keep cycling during the winter, they agreed that the rides should be long but not too strenuous. The goal was to develop base strength, usually by staying in the easy gears and pedalling with a greater cadence (pedal turns per minute), while avoiding the dangers of overtraining before the season had even started.

Recently though I note that even this idea is being set aside to some degree, and recent opinion is that winter cycling should include some level of exertion and training. You are allowed, even encouraged, to use the big gears from time to time, and to 'make a start' on developing your power.

Keeping warm and safe when winter cycling

Apart from the challenges of finding a time when it is light enough to cycle and the weather allows it, remember to make allowances for slower conditions in winter. Cycling on wet roads, or into a strong wind, is never going to be as easy as setting off for a ride on a warm spring afternoon and extra care and attention is needed.

The main thing you need is warm clothes! Get these right and there is no reason for you to be cold except in the most extreme conditions, and usually it is possible to be lovely and warm despite the snow and frost around you.

Myself I like to wear a thin base layer, then a fleece type layer, with a third layer of windproof and water repellent material, with the top layer being thin enough to take off and stick in a pocket if things turn unexpectedly warm. Personally I cycle very happily when it's cold, or windy, but never by choice when it's raining.

Pay particular attention to your feet, hands and head which are the first to get cold. For cold feet overshoes are recommended, or even specific winter cycling shoes if your conditions deserve it, while for your head some sort of balaclava or scarf is highly recommended when the temperature is around freezing or less. Another tip - I like to wear a helmet when possible but they usually direct the cold air towards your head which is less than pleasant - stick some tape over the holes will help reduce this chilling effect quite a lot.

I'm always especially careful to carry a mobile phone during the winter and if I do get a puncture and I'm not too far from home I will phone for someone to come and search me rather than try and mend a puncture when it's very cold.

Any old iron

If you have a second, less valuable, bike you might like to use that during the winter to save your best bike from getting wet or muddy. The speed of your rides isn't very important anyway, so it shouldn't matter - and might just bring additional benefits. I know of someone who swears that riding an old, heavy bike during winter and for all their training, then using their super-duper carbon fibre bike for weekly group rides, brings them great advantages.