keeping bike fit during winter
Keeping bike fit through the winter
A saying in the cycling community is “winter miles means summer smiles!” but it isn’t always easy to keep riding when the shorter days set in and the weather turns cold and wet. Sometimes a lack of motivation or unpleasant or even dangerous conditions means that we cycle less and loose some fitness. Here Ciclo Costa Blanca Ambassador, Helen Russell shares four tips to keep bike fit this winter.
1. Embrace the conditions
Perhaps the best way to keep fit through the winter is just to embrace the conditions. When the roads are frosty, muddy or wet many cyclists will get out and try mountain biking, fat biking or cyclo-cross.
It is usually still possible to ride mountain bike trails when roads are dangerous, even in a few inches of snow and it is often warmer in the woods where there is more shelter from the wind and rain. Fat bikes are a specific type of mountain bike which have tyres between 4” and 5” wide, compared to 2.5” on a traditional mountain bike. Riding on these ultra-wide tires at a low pressure of 5-10 psi means they can handle surfaces where even a mountain or cross-bike would sink, including more extreme mud and snow.
Cyclo-cross is basically the cycling equivalent of cross-country running, where cyclists cover courses that typically involve lots of mud, a variety of terrain and sometimes obstacles. The sport is growing in popularity as many road cyclists use it as a way of keeping fit and improving bike handling skills over the winter, which means that there are plenty of races, including a number for beginners.
2. Get the right kit
Of course it is possible to cycle on the roads through the winter- you just need the correct kit. Essentials are mud guards, lights, and winter tyres. Fitting mud guards will not only ensure that you keep your backside dry but it will also mean that you won’t splash water and grime all over the person cycling behind you. You won’t be very popular on a club ride in the winter without mudguards!
Lights aren’t just for evening rides - in the winter visibility is often poor and it can get dark very quickly even in the day. There are plenty of affordable, small, light and very bright rechargeable LED lights, which can easily be fitted and removed depending on the conditions.
If you don’t have four-seasons tyres then your summer rubber will struggle in the winter conditions, which are best handled with grippier and more puncture-resistant tyres. The rain washes lots of debris into the road, which increases your chances of getting a flat, so look for tyres that have a puncture prevention layer beneath the tread to prevent sharp objects piercing the inner tube. Mud and frost means that you are more likely to slip and slide, so winter tyres have a deeper tread to provide more grip. Some tyres even come with spikes for those cyclists who want to keep riding even in the snow!
Cycling outdoors will be unpleasant if you don’t get the right clothing. As the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing”. It is worth investing in waterproof overshoes, gloves, hat and a thermal base layer. It is often our fingers and toes that really feel the cold so consider wearing two pairs of socks and gloves. A good trick is to cover your socks with kitchen foil before putting on your shoes. Gel heat pouches are great inside your shoes or gloves on really cold days. Some are single use and activated by clicking a button, whilst others are rechargeable and can be used multiple times. For those of you that have plenty of money to spare you could invest in a pair of heated gloves - for example, Ekoi’s gloves and overshoes have a built-in battery powered heating element, with a run time of between two and five hours. These, however will set you back an eye-watering £124 or 139Euros!
3. Go indoors
Sometimes the conditions mean that cycling outdoors is just too dangerous. At times like this the best thing to do is to train indoors on an indoor bike, such as a turbo trainer. One of the most common complaints is that riding on a turbo trainer is boring but these days there are a range of interactive turbo trainers, software programmes and apps to help make riding more stimulating by offering workouts or a virtual 3D riding experience. Swift is rapidly growing in popularity, where once you link your smart phone or tablet to your turbo trainer you can ride with, or race against, other cyclists in the virtual online platform. Some cyclists have even gained pro-contracts following their race performances on Swift! Other software or apps include Bkool, Tacx, Sufferfest, Trainerroad and Kinetic.
The Wattbike is a great piece of kit to train on over the winter (and summer!). A screen on the static bike offers real time data on your pedal shape, leg balance and power. The winter is the ideal time to focus on technique and the real time visual feedback means that the Wattbike is the perfect tool to improve your pedal action and therefore cycling efficiency, power and speed.
4. Escape to the warm
One way to keep cycling in the winter is obviously to spend some time in warmer climes! Most professional sportspeople have a period of warm weather training during the winter and whilst most of us can’t escape for as long as the professionals, a week or two of sport in the sun can do wonders for our health and motivation.
Obviously the main benefit of warm weather training is the sun. It is much easier to get up and train when the sun is shining. But not only is the sun a great motivator, it can also have wider training benefits. Firstly, the warm weather means that muscles are more pliable and therefore the risk of strains and muscle tears is reduced. The cold weather can tighten muscles resulting in injury if athletes don’t do a proper warm up. Of course training in the warm does not mean that you can skip the warm up as it is still necessary but the length of it can be reduced. The sun is a natural way of getting a daily dose of vitamin D. Some research has suggested that a lack of vitamin D can result in sports related muscle injuries. Other research has suggested that the vitamin actually improves reaction time, muscle strength, speed and endurance.
It is often said that a change is as good as a break and a warm weather training break can be a great motivator, help renew athletes focus and gives athletes the chance to train and recover without other daily distractions. This is especially good for amateur athletes who can escape work and train and recover like the professionals for a week or two.
Ciclo Costa Blanca offer a range of guided or self-guided packages and accommodation offers to suit every budget- so you really can escape to the sun and stay fit this winter!
Helen is the current British Quadrathlon Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner. She is a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. She is a Ciclo Costa Blanca Ambassador and is returning to the Costa Blanca this winter. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth.