Pro training tips: seven ways to maintain motivation on the bike through winter
Madison Genesis rider Erick Rowsell shares his pro tips for surviving the rest of winter
by Joe Robinson
While the WorldTour kicks off in scorching heat down under, us Brits are struggling through yet another cold, dark and damp winter. Experienced riders will have their own secret tips to get through winter, honed after countless miles in the saddle, while others just grin and bear it - some give up all together until spring breaks.
Should you ride with wider tyres? How about forking out for a top-of-the-range waterproof jacket? Can I just train on the turbo all winter? Is it beneficial to use other sports to try and improve on the bike? These are debates that rage on the club run, winter after winter - and for those riders looking for inspiration and motivation, it can be hard to know who to listen to.
So at RoadCyclingUK, we decided the best advice you can get is from someone who has to ride thousands of miles every single winter. Madison Genesis rider Erick Rowsell is entering his sixth year as a pro and knows nearly every trick in the book when it comes to braving the winter months on the bike.
Being paid to ride your bike may be a privilege for the few who are talented and dedicated enough, but it also means you can't avoid riding in the winter - it's where the foundations for the season ahead are laid.
Whether it be two pairs of gloves or a decent Spotify playlist, Rowsell has given us his top pro tips for beating a British winter.
Warm hands and feet make for a happy rider
If you ride in Britain, it's more than likely you have been under-dressed for a ride at some point. With the temperamental nature of our winters, you can often find yourself riding in freezing rain one minute and under blue skies the next. Therefore, wearing the right kit is imperative to a successful winter on the bike and for Rowsell, this starts with what you wear on your hands and feet.
"It is important to keep your hands and feet warm," says the 26-year-old. "There is nothing worse than riding with cold hands and feet; it makes you miserable. Especially in Britain; one minute it can look sunny but then it could be freezing."
Rowsell advises always carrying a spare layer in one of your jersey pockets and also taking a spare pair of gloves.
"My top tip is to always take two pairs if you are riding for more than two hours," he says. "Start with a warm pair and have a neoprene waterproof pair in your pocket just in case."
Rowsell believes it is vital to wear the right gloves as it can be almost impossible to change gear or reach for a bottle when you have lost the feeling in your hands.
Additionally, while not being as important as your hands, Roswell emphasises a good pair of overshoes is necessary for any successful winter ride.
"Overshoes are important, too," he says. "They are not as vital as gloves but still a priority. For particularly cold days, I would go for socks, toe warmers and then overshoes to keep your feet warm."
While some riders stick to the old wives' tale of foil over the socks, Rowsell sees this as a thing of a past given the "quality of overshoes" on offer today.
Don’t be afraid to modify your bike
This is one issue that certainly divides the cycling community. While using mudguards, wider tyres and disc brakes is certainly more practical, some purists - including many pro riders - see this as sacrilege and won't be caught out with any of the three.
Rowsell, however, is a big fan and believes in any bike modification that can make winter on two wheels more bearable. In fact, Rowsell switches from his regular race bike, the Genesis Zero, to the wide-tyred, disc-equipped, mudguard-ready Genesis Datum adventure bike for winter.
"There is a big debate over mudguards between us professionals, but personally I am a big fan," says Rowsell. "If you can fit them, it helps so much in keeping you dry. I am lucky because I have been riding the Genesis Datum, which is basically a gravel bike, so I can fit full mudguards with no rattling and they have made a huge difference."
Rowsell also recognises that taking mudguards on and off again can be inconvenient, so sees no reason not put them on in November and ride with them until the winter's out, whatever the weather.
As for disc brakes, while Rowsell isn't ready to ditch rim brakes in racing, he sees discs as a real benefit for training in wet winter conditions, with wider tyres also going a long way in making winter easier.
"I would also suggest bigger tyres," Rowsell says. "I usually ride with 28mm tyres throughout winter, which is wider than normal. Anything between 25mm and 28mm is ideal, but if you can go bigger then why not?
"Also, this is my first winter riding with discs and you can notice a difference in braking, especially in the wet. I’m not convinced about racing on them but for winter training it's certainly worth it."
Pro solitude or café connoisseur?
Sometimes the promise of a hot coffee and doorstop wedge of cake - at your riding partner’s expense after you've won the town sign sprint - are the only things getting you out of the door when it's cold and wet.
However, while the cafe stop is the staple of many club runs, Rowsell believes there's a place for both solo and group riding throughout winter, and both have their benefits, particularly for riders with specific training aims.
"Eighty per cent of my riding is solo and, as a pro, I am a big fan of riding on my own," he says. "It means you can focus on doing your own efforts at your pace and then when you want to back off you can ride at your own pace, not the pace of the group.
"If I am on a recovery day then that is when I will look to get out in a group. Going in a group really gives you the motivation to get out of the door. If you have promised to meet someone for a ride, you can't exactly leave them waiting on a street corner."
Despite being a professional, Rowsell will also take the time to ride with local clubs around his home in the Shropshire, recognising the importance of riding with like-minded individuals.
"I sometimes ride with the Mid-Shropshire Wheelers or some of the other local clubs," Rowsell says. "They get out on Tuesdays and the weekends and this can add a really nice social aspect to my riding."
It's turbo time!
No, we aren't talking about the 1990's Christmas classic film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger but the dreaded indoor trainer.
Mustering the motivation to spend an hour burying yourself in front of a wall can take a lot of will power - but Rowsell sees the turbo as a vital part of winter training and has his own tips to make it more bearable.
"The turbo can have huge benefits," he says. "You don't need to be on it for more than hour; just keep it short, sharp and intense."
While an hour isn't long out on the road, it can seem a lifetime on the turbo - so preparation is key.
"Make a good playlist and put your turbo somewhere warm. There is nothing worse than walking out to a cold shed at night," Rowsell says, though you'll need a fan or similar setup to stay cool during the heat of a turbo session.
"You can also set up a laptop or TV and watch a DVD or old clips of races on YouTube. I have been known to train while watching Paris-Roubaix from years gone by."
So forget you're training indoors and instead visualise yourself dropping Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen on the cobbles.
A trip to sunny Spain
At this time of year, almost every professional team will be holding training camps in warmer climates, usually the east coast of Spain or islands like Mallorca*, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. These trips were once viewed as solely for the pros and keen amateur racers, but now more and more riders are fleeing the British winter.
With budget airlines offering cheap flights - we found some as cheap as £37 return to Mallorca from London - and the rise of cycling-friendly hotels, Rowsell believes a week or even weekend away can be just the answer for your winter woes, giving you the opportunity to log quality miles on beautiful roads ahead of a busy spring and summer.
“I love it so much abroad that I used to live in Girona," he says. "The change of scenery, good weather, dry roads - it's fantastic. Even if it is for a few days, going abroad can be hugely beneficial. It is amazing what having the sun on your back can do."
The benefits a few days abroad can have on your fitness and morale are undeniable - you will come back raring to head into a season full or sportives and racing, and may even have a little winter tan.
*The eagle-eyed among you would have noticed from Team Sky’s social media that it was snowing in Mallorca in January. RoadCyclingUK cannot control the weather - but we promise it is usually a lot warmer than the UK during winter.
Don’t be afraid to switch it up
Sometimes we all have to admit defeat to the weather when it comes to riding a road bike in winter but this shouldn't stop you getting in some top quality training.
Rowsell advises using the winter to enjoy some other sports and use these to improve your cycling. Richie Porte is known to swim regularly and the great Eddy Merckx would cross-country ski in the winter. Rowsell is no different in switching it up.
"I usually cross-train throughout all of winter," he says. "I will dedicate two days a week to mountain biking or hiking, which I love to do. MTB is fantastic for your fitness and gives you a real upper body workout."
As well as being less affected by the weather, Rowsell also says mountain biking can help to develop your bike handling skills, while also adding high cadence and high torque work into your training.
"Sometimes a two-hour MTB ride feels like a five-hour road ride," he added. "It's a bit of fun, different and great for motivation.
Look after your bike
While all of these tips will help you get through winter, you can live without a turbo trainer and get away with not using mudguards or cross-training, but if you don't look after your bike, then you are setting yourself up for failure, Rowsell says.
Bike maintenance is something you either love or hate. Some people enjoy spending hours and hours tinkering with their machine, while others dread even changing an inner tube, but Rowsell emphasises the importance of taking the time to make sure your bike isn't showing any signs of wear and tear.
"Bike maintenance," he says when asked for one final piece of advice for getting through winter. "Keep on top of looking after your bike. The last thing you want is to be out in the winter, snap a chain and then be left on the side of a road in the cold and damp."