If you’re among the dedicated four-season cycling crowd, hats off to you (and you can probably stop reading here). Alternatively, if you’d like to count yourself among the ranks of hardcore winter riders, check out these resources to get inspired, stay safe on the ice, and keep (mostly) warm.
Finally, if you’re about to park your bike for the season and are suffering from nagging feelings of guilt or inferiority – you are in the right place! Controversial take or not, read on to learn why sitting out the winter doesn’t make you any less of a cyclist and how you can keep yourself in shape (so that spring training doesn’t come as too rude of an awakening).
Not everyone has access to multiple bikes
One of the first things you’ll learn if you’ve even investigated the practicalities of winter cycling is that you need to get your hands on a bike that is up to the task. Especially if you get lots of rain or snow, tons of wind, or if the roads are not well kept – cold weather can take a severe toll on your bike. Most regular winter cyclists actually use a different bike in the winter than in the warmer months. Single speed or fixed gear bikes are considered the best for winter because there are fewer moving parts to get damaged by the cold, and they are able to withstand changing temperatures better.
Although a second set of wheels isn’t necessarily a requirement for winter riding, it is wise to skip the most severe sections of the winter if you’re worried about damaging your bike or aren’t sure how it will handle the elements. Keep in mind that old wheels are likely to get a spoke broken, old tyres are likely to go flat, and shifter cables are likely to snap. Not to mention mechanicals in the winter are not just horribly inconvenient, they can be dangerous.
You should never have to feel unsafe while riding
Winter cycling can consist of a very different set of obstacles depending on where you live. In some cities, bike paths are not clear at all or not as well kept as roads. In this case, snow piles block bike paths and street shoulders, forcing cyclists to join cars on the lanes under riskier conditions. Of course, we are all about sharing the road. That said, car drivers may not expect cyclists under these circumstances, and it can create a more stressful situation.
Another main issue is the reduced visibility of cyclists due to fewer daylight hours and the additional vision-obscuring tricks of blustery mornings and foggy dusks. Not to mention, with less cyclists on the road in winter, the overall visibility of our tribe is further decreased. If these aren’t conditions you feel safe in but don’t mind the cold you can look into renting a fat bike to hit some trails or try out cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. That way, you can still get your blast of winter cardio away from the traffic.
Cycling is your escape, and you’d like to keep it that way
On the other hand, maybe you’re looking to avoid the cold altogether. When riding in frigid temperatures, a certain amount of mental preparation is required that you simply don’t have to reckon with in the summer. Although most people aren’t generally in love with the idea of spending time in the cold, wind, and wet, some indeed find the experience exhilarating and therefore have an easier time getting themselves out the door.
If you prefer to seek your thrills elsewhere, though, there is no reason to beat yourself up. Although it’s essential to continue moving your body all year long, it’s ok if cycling only ticks that box six months of the year. Forcing yourself to do something out of guilt or because you feel pressured is not a healthy or sustainable way to build a lasting habit. If you love the feeling of cruising bare limbed with the sun on your face and the wind at your back but dread the prospect of treading out the snow, there’s no need to punish yourself.
Everyone’s body works differently (and that includes response to cold)
For some of us, the cold hits especially hard. Depending on your weight, height, age, sex, and a whole range of other factors, you may simply be more inclined to feel cold. This can not only make cycling in low temperatures uncomfortable, but it can mean you have a hard time warming up after a ride and might even end up hurting yourself.
Don’t feel bad if you’re firmly in #teamfreezingallthetime. You are still strong and capable. And unless you experience extreme sensations of cold, or some of the symptoms that might warrant a trip to the doctor, there is nothing wrong with you. Our bodies just require different things of us, and if yours is telling you to stay curled up by the fire, there is nothing wrong with listening.
There are lots of other ways to stay fit over winter!
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two years (lucky you), you will be well aware that there are plenty of ways to stay active even within the confines of a tiny flat or children-dominated rec room. So, if you don’t want to lose any gains you made over the summer but can’t cycle in the winter, don’t spend your winter moping around losing both motivation and muscle tone. Spend the next few months staying fit so you pick your cycling up right where you left off.
If you’re addicted to the spin, a resistance trainer might be worth looking into. These are simple devices that clamps onto the rear axle of your bike and presses a resistance roller against the rear tire so that you can ride in place. Alternatively, you can check out a spinning class. While you certainly cannot recreate the feeling of riding alongside beautiful landscapes, many spin studios offer a fun environment that will keep you entertained, motivated and fit.
Winter is also a great time to incorporate a new practice like yoga or pilates into your routine. Come spring and summer, it will be hard to find the time off the saddle to invest the time in getting through those first few classes, so it is a good idea to establish the habit now. And, of course, you can always get your cardio on with any number of effective online workouts.
The beauty of cycling is its flexibility
Regardless of how you decide to fill your winter exercise routine, just remember that your wheels will still be there for you come spring. The wonderful thing about cycling is that it can be picked up repeatedly throughout life, and there’s nothing to fear in taking a few months off. You can still participate in the community, enjoy all those clever cycling memes, and maybe even make a bike-themed decoration or two for the Christmas tree. You’re a cyclist 365 days a year (even if you happen to have a bike that likes to hibernate)!