When the air is warm and the sun shines bright on dry roads, cycling is a privilege and a pleasure, no matter how hard the ride. You clip in, savor the breeze on your bare skin, and feel positively blessed. Bikes are the best! Life is great!
Winter evokes none of these feelings. Winter is a slap across the face with a cold, dead fish.
There are a few lucky cyclists who live in climates that never turn against them. This article is not for those riders (instead please enjoy a friendly middle finger). This article is for everybody else who has ever had to spend twenty minutes bundling up just to venture out for a quick spin. Whatever hemisphere you call home, chances are good you’ve had a ride plan impacted or derailed entirely by weather that would put off the most intrepid athletes.
I’m from Northern Virginia, and never does the “Northern” qualifier feel more applicable than winter. We are blessed with a shitty and miserable mix of grey, chilly, damp, occasionally icy conditions from December through March. I can stomach cold but not cold plus wet, so more often than not I’m forced into training indoors. It eventually starts to feel easier to resign myself to indoor riding before even considering the forecast – fewer layers, a more consistent ride, no stress about climate concerns.
My obsessive compulsive tendencies also appreciate the scientific precision of working out indoors; there is no coasting or hiding from the requirements of the workout. I figure that if I’m going to do intervals, I might as well do them perfectly (or throw up and cry trying). On the trainer or rollers, the only thing that keeps you from nailing the targets is your own weakness. This self-flagellating philosophy explains so much about my cycling career, and yet I’m astonished when I burn out by May every year…
Even if you are not a glutton for punishment and boredom, you should at least try exploring the great indoors. It does wonders for fine-tuning your cadence and efficiency while offering excellent mental training. Many times in races I’ve thought back to suffering indoors as a reminder that nothing I’m experiencing sucks THAT badly, so surely I can keep going.
Whether you choose to be miserable inside or out, the important thing is that you just keep riding, because the fitness you build in the off season is critical to the rest of the year. With that in mind, I offer some helpful pointers on surviving the less lovely months.
Helpful Tips for Riding Outside in Winter:
- If you do, wear more than you think you’ll need but not so much that your inner layers end up sweaty. Then don’t ever stop moving because if you do, that sweat will freeze and you will regret it.
- Plan on needing to pee the second you put on your last layer, even if you just peed and haven’t had fluids in three days.
My worst winter ride experiences have been the times I tried to ride outside, failed due to iced-over roads or borderline hypothermia, and had to restart indoors. It’s not worth the hassle when a warm, dry option waits patiently to offer you endless fun.
Helpful Tips for Riding Inside in Winter:
- It is going to suck terribly and be boring. Accept that now and move on.
- The biggest benefit of riding indoors is the consistency and non-stop nature of the riding – you don’t get to coast, so your workout is much more effective. Don’t waste that opportunity by not continuously pedaling. Sure, resting feels good. So does laying down on the side of the road instead of climbing. But you’re choosing to do a workout, so you might as well actually work out.
- You know those bibs with the chamois that is paper thin and ancient? Yeah, don’t wear those. Indoor riding equals a lot more uninterrupted saddle contact.
- Drink at least a bottle an hour. If you’re not drinking that much, you’re either dehydrated or not working hard enough.
- Entertain yourself in any way possible. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Listen to an audiobook. Play iPhone games. Juggle. Anything to pass the time. During really terrible intervals, I count backwards from 2,543 or read posters on the wall letter by letter.
- Staring at your cycling computer is scientifically proven to make time pass more slowly.
- A fan and a towel are essential. It is not pleasant to marinate in a soup of your own drippings.
- Sometimes when I get really cranky and bored and tired from hours of indoor riding, I cry or yell things. You could try this. It’s awkward if other people are around, though.
- Embrace the suffering. I look at it this way: if I can hurt this much and slog through tedious workouts in the sensory vacuum of indoor riding, then surely I can do even more in a race. When I finally get back outside, I draw on everything I accomplished indoors as motivation to go harder and dig deeper. Try it. You’ll be glad you did.