You can keep cycling in the winter if you have the right kit and a positive attitude, says Leona Gerrard.
As is the old adage ‘winter miles, summer smiles’, you can get a lot out of your cycling fitness in the colder months, but, when it’s cold, frosty and dark out there, and your cosy bed holds more appeal than layering up to the hilt in Lycra, finding the motivation isn’t always easy…
As a ‘serious’ cyclist entering my sixth winter season of inclement peddling, and with no future club rides on the horizon to give me that push I, too, could do with some inspiration. So I called on my cycling girlfriends, a hardcore bunch of ladies who have braved snow, ice, muck, grit and gales in the saddle – but have also spent many hours grinding it out on their indoor trainers – to give me some much-needed fire in my post lockdown belly, and get me out there, or, in there, on the bike.
On or off-road?
The overall response I get from my panel to keep the boredom at bay is to mix up my winter training with a bit of off-roading on both the mountain and cyclocross bike. Experienced road cyclist and East Kent cyclocross champion, Tracy Wilkinson-Begg, 54, says: ‘Cyclocross keeps me motivated to train during the wet and cold months. It’s not my competitive nature that drives me, it’s travelling to different venues and meeting people from all walks of life – it puts a smile on my face! I love the mountain bike and cross bike when it’s too wet or windy for riding on the road. Sometimes, I dare myself to ride down steep banks and when I manage to do it, I feel empowered.’
Mum-of-one cyclist and marathon runner, Miranda Wood, 39, praises the mountain bike for its family-friendly benefits and is partial to riding with her son using a tagalong. She says: ‘Riding with my MTB and tagalong means that I can share my joy of riding with my six-year-old, and it’s a safer riding environment. He can also appreciate longer rides that his little legs are not yet able to carry himself for, and I get a great workout too, because you have to move more than your body weight. It’s a good additional training session when childcare doesn’t permit a solo ride.’
‘In the winter, I love off-road,’ says Former Tour of Sussex road racer, Zoe Bartlett, 44. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s cold, wet or windy, as you are sheltered in the woods. It also gets the adrenaline going. Doing jumps, going down drops and bunny hopping over things, it’s just good fun!’
So, the mountain bike serves an important purpose for winter cycling. And there are countless fitness benefits to those sharp bursts of high-intensity training that one would get from a 45-minute cyclocross race or bombing up a steep grassy embankment on the mountain bike. But what are my other options if I don’t fancy cycling?
The majority of the female cyclists I spoke to said that having a cycling companion made the world of difference in the winter. Time trialling queen, and keen on- and off-road cyclist, Susan Walbrook, 46, gives this notion her vote of confidence. She says: ‘Breathing in the fresh air and chatting with friends keeps me motivated – and a hot coffee at the end!’
‘I like group riding – obviously no more than six – because it’s more social, it passes the time and when I arrange something with a friend, I don’t like to cancel,’ says Berado.
But solo cycling also came up trumps, with some saying they felt safer riding on the road on their own, as they could see where they were going, avoid potholes more easily, and not have to rely on the experience of those riding with them in the group.
Outside or inside?
For those who get cold easily and hate the idea of being freezing for three hours plus in the saddle, the indoor turbo trainer can offer an ideal training outlet during the winter months, so that you’re ready to roll when the summer rears its head and those flashy carbon fibre bikes make their appearances again.
‘I love TrainerRoad and the Wattbike,’ says Susan. ‘The training programmes keep me inspired, and they are personal to my goals. All I have to do is select a programme for Time Trials, which is the racing I do in the summer, and it gives me a three-month plan. And it also allows you to join in with other cyclists, so it’s quite interactive. You wear the bare minimum on the turbo, and you don’t have to wash a muddy bike afterwards, so it saves time!’
And what about those turbo enthusiasts who are looking to brave the cold more and ride outside? ‘I have always used the turbo trainer because I hate getting cold and wet, and it also gets the job done in half the time.’ says Tracy. ‘However, this year, I’m planning to ride outdoors more. I have invested in a new bike with disc brakes which will definitely help in the wet conditions and I’ve purchased extra warm cycling clothing to keep the cold at bay.’
Kit for a queen of the mountain
The right clothing in the cold is key. Ample pockets for storing tubes, bars and phones are vital, and layers make the world of difference. In fact, choosing the right kind of thermal gear can make or break an outdoor ride, especially in the rain and wind. A good base layer came up trumps with my cycling panel, as did fleece-lined biblongs and a protective winter jacket. And they all agreed, never leave home without an inner tube, two tyres levers, a pump and some lights, and always check tyre pressures and make sure that you have no flint in your tyres.
Miranda says: ‘I never ride without a wind-proof jacket and shoe warmers.’
‘Merino socks!’ says Susan, ‘and a really warm winter jacket.’
‘I always wear a thermal vest, leggings, gloves and a snood,’ says Tracy. ‘I hate being cold!’
Zoe says: ‘I never go without my merino wool headband, which keeps my ears nice and warm, and I always wear my long-sleeve BioRacer winter jersey over every other item of clothing.’
Tackle the turbo
While the year’s events may have put a dampener on group rides and our cheery motivated spirits, this need not be the winter of our discontent when it comes to cycling and keeping fit. This could be the season where you tackle the turbo and get your heart rate pumping or purchase a mountain bike and head out with your family off the beaten track. With fresh air and exercise proven to benefit our wellbeing and keep us sane in these uncertain times, we need those endorphins, now more than ever – so let’s enjoy the ride.