Winter in the UK is pretty tough on cyclists. It’s all too easy to cave into the little voice suggesting that it’s far too miserable outside and you’ll be much happier in the pub. But if you’ve got a race or event come spring, or just need to feed that urge to ride, maintaining the motivation isn’t just a conversation topic but a serious question.
We have a few tips here to keep your pecker up. You’ll feel the benefit when the clocks change, and you’ll probably stay a lot saner in the meantime.
Focussing on specific training elements and having targets will keep you from aimless winter riding without purpose. It doesn’t matter whether it’s completing a sportive in March or winning the Tour in July, identifying goals and the steps required to get there will help to structure your winter. A personal coach might seem an extravagance, but they’re invaluable for time-pushed riders, and they’ll work with the time you have available and target programs to your goals. Alternatively, British Cycling has some great programs available to download online.
It’s a good idea to use the winter to focus on your weaknesses. Struggling uphill this year? Hill repeats up your local incline give you a lot of bang for your buck over an hour, and you’re never too far from home should conditions turn on you.
Winter cycling can get a little repetitive – long, lazy rides discovering new roads a distant memory from the sun-tinged summer. Riding your home roads, again and again, can be fairly dull, so change things up once in a while.
A change is as good as a rest, so the saying goes. Not all of us can spend the winter with the pros in Girona or Nice, but riding your local loop backwards, or catching the train somewhere new to try new lanes, can do wonders to relieve the monotony. If you normally ride alone, riding with others will make a huge difference. Arranging to meet up will keep you honest – you won’t want to let others down.
Road riding itself can be tricky in winter, what with less daylight and slick roads. Head off-road, either on your (or a borrowed) mountain bike or one of these new-fangled gravel bikes. It’s a great way to remind yourself why you love riding – the ability to say ‘Where does this go?’ and finding out. You’ll ride slower off road as well, so there’s less risk of the wind-chill effect but just as much of the workout.
Cyclocross is an increasingly popular choice for many. There’s nothing new about riders using ‘cross to maintain fitness. The one-hour blast around your local park will tick plenty of boxes all at once, including ‘bike-handling’, ‘high-intensity training’ and ‘competitive urge’. It might even tick the ‘hilarious crash face-first into mud’ box as well. It’s accessible, spectator friendly and a fun way to pass a winter’s Saturday with friends. Having a race each weekend might also stoke the flame mid-week to skip the boozer and head out for an evening loosener instead.
Track riding can do a similar job if you are lucky enough to live near a velodrome. And of course, there’s the indoor trainer, which has transformed from a modern torture method beloved of the hardmen into a worldwide phenomenon thanks to the likes of Zwift.
There’s a growing understanding that the mind has a huge effect on the body when riding. Remember Bradley Wiggins in the 2013 Giro, descending like Bambi on ice on a slippery descent? His brain literally put the brakes on that day.
Maintaining a positive mental attitude is just as important as physical conditioning in winter. If you do find your motivation slipping a little, re-visiting your goals will remind you that you’re following a plan, and that there’s a reason behind it all.
Missing out on social occasions might seem a good idea but over a whole winter, this may have impacts on your mental wellbeing. Better to be relaxed and mentally rested, ready for your training sessions, than resenting a monk-like existence.
For many of us, being outdoors on the bike plays a huge part in how we feel. While riding in winter might be tough, cold, and maybe even wet, the payback is nearly always worth it – the post-ride glow is testament to that.