Winter can be tough as a cyclist, with the weather and lack of daylight hours working against you to make it as difficult as possible to get out on the bike.
Riding through winter isn’t as simple as summer, when you can chuck on a jersey and pair of bib shorts, and hit the road - but get it right and it can be a joy.
Preparation and forethought are key if you are to make your time on the bike as enjoyable as possible and, as the weather turns more and more wintry, it’s a good idea to have some rules to abide by to help you through your winter’s training.
From carrying a second pair of gloves to keep cold fingers at bay, to getting back to basic with your riding, here, in no particular order, are my 15 expert tips for winter training.
This is Britain so let’s face it, at some point this winter you are going to get very wet out riding. A good set of mudguards will stop the worst of the water spraying up onto your back, shoes and into your face - and the faces of the people riding behind you.
Yes, you will still get wet but anything that makes those cold, wet winter rides a little more bearable is a good thing - and it’s remarkable how much difference a good set of mudguards can make. On top of that, mudguards will also help keep the worst of the muck off your bike, making it much easier to clean.
If you still need convincing about the virtues of using mudguards in winter, check out these five reasons.
Needless to say, it’s important during that you don’t get cold out on the bike. For a start, if you’re cold then any training session is going to take a lot more out of you, which increases the chance of becoming fatigued and run down, which in turn increases the chance of getting ill.
Aim to leave the house with one extra layer than you will probably need. A lightweight (but windproof) gilet is perfect as you can simply unzip it or put it in your pocket once you warm up. Remember, the weather can change quickly so always be prepared for a change for the worse.
Second pair of gloves
I am not sure where I picked up this tip but it has saved me on a number of occasions. On winter rides, pack an extra pair of gloves - preferably under something waterproof or in a sandwich bag.
If you do get caught out in the rain then once your gloves are soaked you can swap to your dry pair and keep your hands warm. Cold, wet hands are a sure-fire way to ruin any ride.
Carry a very good pump/CO2 canister and tyre levers
With road conditions deteriorating over winter, the chances of punctures are much higher - so at some point you are likely to be stood at the side of the road fixing a puncture.
The last thing you want is to get cold while you’re stood there slowly trying to pump up a tyre - the faster you can change your inner tube the better.
Use levers to get the tyre off as quickly as possible and a frame pump or a CO2 canister to pump it back up. Trust me, your riding mates will appreciate your swiftness as much as you will.
Use a rear light during the day
Alongside fitting mudguards, at the start of the winter I would always recommend putting on a rear light.
Even if you’re lucky enough not to have to ride in the dark (where you would obviously need a full set of lights), having a rear light keeps you a little safer on the road during difficult conditions such as fog or low sunlight. For that matter, there’s no hard installing a small front light, too.
Conditions can change quickly in the winter, and it can be clear one minute and foggy at the top of a climb or in the next valley - so be prepared.
Learn to identify the signs of a cold
Most cyclists get sick at least once during the winter, however this doesn’t have to be the case. First of all, focus on the simple things - washing your hands, opening the windows to provide some ventilation, and not hanging around in wet kit after a ride.
On top of that, you need to learn to identify the signs of an oncoming cold. That might be a sniffle or a sore throat. Normally if you stop training for a few days upon noticing those initial signs you can give your body a fighting chance at killing off the infection. That way you will only miss one or two days of riding, rather than a longer period because of illness.
Check the conditions
If there is any danger of coming off your bike due to ice, snow or flooding, then don’t go out riding - simple as that. No training session is worth the risk of injury.
In the case of ice, why not jump on the turbo for an hour before your ride. This means you leave an hour later, giving any ice the chance to melt, and you still get your training done.
If you have a mountain bike then make the most of it during winter and get out on the trails when conditions get too bad for the road.
Remember to be flexible with the weather conditions. The aim of winter training should be to get as much training done as possible over the entire winter, not just on a day-by-day basis.
Don’t forget to eat and drink
Most riders don’t drink enough while training during the winter. Just because it’s cold, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink. If you are dressed correctly you will still be sweating - you just may not notice it as much - and in any case you will be losing a lot of water through breathing. This needs replacing. Aim to drink just as much as you would in the spring or autumn.
Likewise, it’s important to stay on top of what you’re eating when out on a winter ride. Not only is your body working hard to keep you pedaling, but it also has to work hard just to keep you warm.
Make sure you are fueling yourself throughout a ride. Start eating after 30 minutes and then aim to eat little and often throughout the rest of the ride.
The best advice I can give for Christmas is to plan ahead and be realistic in what you can manage. For example, is it realistic to do that five-hour ride the morning after the staff party? Probably not! Don’t try and do too much, but also try and keep your training at least ticking over during the festive period.
Another recommendation is that if you are looking to lose weight over the winter, then don’t be thrown off by Christmas. Again, be realistic. If you can come out of the festive period at the same weight as you went in then any progress made over the rest of the winter isn’t lost. This is far more realistic than try to lose a few kilos while unlimited turkey and mince pies are on offer.
Don’t get carried away
This is something I have seen over and over. Riders train flat out in November and December and are then already tired as the season starts to build up in February.
The key to winter training is to gradually increase the overall training load throughout the entire winter. Training load is a combination of both volume (the amount of time spent training) and intensity (how hard you are riding), so try and balance those two things to get a gradual yet continual increase in training load over the winter.
Don’t forget the basics
Winter is a great time to work on the fundamentals of cycling that you don’t really get time to focus on during the season.
One thing I focus on a lot with my coaching clients is pedaling efficiency and force production. Power is how quickly you can turn the pedals (cadence) multiplied by how hard you can push on the pedals (torque).
During winter, we tend to break up those two factors and work on them separately in different sessions. For example, in one session we will focus on cadence then in another we will focus on strength work. Doing this allows any weaknesses in either your cadence or torque to be trained independently.
Core stability is key
Something that many cyclists tend to neglect is off-the-bike core stability work. To be a good cyclist, you first need to be a good athlete, and this means being strong and stable through your core.
Any weaknesses here impact on the transfer of power from your body to the pedals on the bike. You can do all the training you want but if you aren’t able to put that power out on the bike then it is wasted.
Core stability is something you should be doing all-year round if you want to ride at a high level but winter is the time where any weaknesses or imbalances can be worked on specifically. You can read more about core training here.
Mix it up
Contrary to popular belief, winter shouldn’t just be a time for endless solitary miles in grim weather. Yes, volume is an important aspect of winter training, but I would advise people to mix it up as much as possible to keep it fun.
Why not go out with friends on mountain or cyclo-cross bikes? Or why not sprint for a few town signs here and there against friends.
The key is to not get bored. The winter can feel like it is never ending, so to kill the boredom include a fun session every now and again, so you feel like you’re having fun rather than just training.
There is no avoiding it, training in the winter often includes a lot of time on the turbo trainer. But don’t despair - make the turbo bearable by finding out what works best for you and focusing on that.
For example, some riders have no problem doing a few hours on the turbo if they can watch a movie or re-run of a bike race. Others have no problems if they have a specific Sufferfest or TrainerRoad session to follow. Some riders can quite happily ride along in a Zwift peloton. Others need to make turbo sessions as short - but hard - as possible.
The key is to ensure your time spent on the turbo doesn’t become a chore.
Wash your bike
If you think winter is tough on you, think about your bike and the endless mud, muck and grime thrown up onto your pride and joy.
There’s no getting away from it, winter is tough on bikes - and the last thing you want is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere due to a mechanical that could have been avoided.
Look after your bike, and keep it washed and lubed. Not only will this mean you have a much nicer bike to ride, but it will also help prevent unnecessary mechanicals and save you money.
And that’s it. If you follow these 15 tips then you will give yourself the best chance of making your winter a success. Happy training!