A Cyclist’s Relationship with the Weather

Do you know which is the most used app on your phone? For many cyclists, myself and many friends included, it is the Met Office weather app. If there is one thing cyclists talk about more than coffee it’s the weather.

The weather is the sliding scale on which every ride is judged, even before you’ve started. There is always something to complain about whether it’s the block headwind, damp roads, sudden and unexpected hailstorm, or even, albeit rarely, extreme heat.

emma galibier cycling

All cyclists – everyone from amateur to professional – enter into a relationship with the weather and like every relationship, the dynamics vary from person to person. Sometimes the weather is your friend and training partner who provides you with the freedom and motivation to ride, whatever the conditions. Sometimes it’s your coach, getting you out of bed and driving you harder through everything from freezing gales and baking heat with the promise that it’ll make you a better rider. Sometimes it’s your deadly enemy, throwing only the very worst weather systems in your way at the worst possible times.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere where temperatures threaten to hover around freezing until the end of March, we’re in a most awkward time of year. We all desperately want to get out and smash a good training ride but our motivation is often quelled by the literal lingering darkness that promises to freeze our fingers, numb our brains and dirty our bikes.

I am definitely a fair-weather cyclist. The conditions have to be almost perfect for me to positively advise that we get out and ride. That’s not to say that I won’t ride in winter or when the summer wind blows, but I may complain heavily. I have to be honest though, rarely, if ever, will I return from a ride without that beetroot glow of achievement, stinking the place out with my satisfaction at having ridden through the tough stuff and broken through my own wall of reluctance. I can think of a few times when I knew that the conditions were downright dangerous – climbing and descending La Toussuire in freezing rain – but you bet the experience is one I remember with fondness not fear. Would I do it again? Look away, mum…

My relationship with the weather is one of feuding siblings; obliged to be close to one another but liable to takes lumps out of each other at a moment’s notice. Sometimes I will look out the window or step out of the door to test the temperature and think, “If I ride in this sub-zero temperature, I’m going to feel legendary when I get back, especially if that looming cloud breaks…” But on other days, the risk of a good dousing will be too much to bear and I’ll turn to indoor training instead (whether I’ll follow through with that impulse is another question entirely).

The very best strategy for beating this winter reluctance – short of leaving the country altogether – is to find a sympathetic friend with whom you can share a mutual accountability. Plan in advance where you’re going to meet and when, and make sure you’ve got the kit to cope with any conditions when the time comes; don’t let “oh, my Castelli Gabba is in the wash” or “I can’t find my other Sealskinz glove” be your ill-conceived excuse. Ride with mates and everything is easier.

I wish I were more like Sean Kelly, cycling commentator and one of the finest classics riders of all time, who said, “To know if the weather is too bad for training, put on your gear and go training, then you know when you get back.” Or the British fell-walker and nature writer, Alfred Wainwright, whose famous words are adulterated on a daily basis: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” I’m not though, and unless someone invents a bike that cleans itself, I probably never will be.

Words by Emma Nicholson


How’s your relationship with the weather? If you, like Emma, wish you were anywhere other than the UK with its snow forecasts and freezing temperatures, have you thought about fleeing to one of the many winter training hotspots in Spain? If you are planning a cycling getaway, make sure you’re fully covered with cycling travel insurance so that you can enjoy the weather to the fullest.