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22nd November 2018 / Comments (0)

Winter Riding

Winter riding

Winter riding

A lighthearted look at what the next few months have in store for us. Darkness, weather and for many people, motivation disappearing over the horizon quicker than you can say “Knife”. At this time of year, cycling publications are full of articles covering this topic so I thought I’d give my take on the subject.

And so, sitting down in front of my computer, my note pad quickly filled up with the usual litany of well worn themes and subjects. Dressing right, riding at night, riding in wind, rain and snow. Moaning about cold hands and toes and the inevitable surrender to post Christmas turbo sessions. As I started to think about the type of turbo session you ‘ought’ to be doing, or planning, I had a change of mind. The ‘traditional’ riding through the winter article tends to have a gruesome and repetitive finality about it. “It’s going to be horrible, but this is how you keep plugging away…” Does this sound familiar?

Gravel is different

Winter riding is fun...

Fast twitch? I can’t feel a thing!

No really…it is. Forget about the tyranny of power meters, Zonal Training, Functional Power Thresholds etc. Leave all that for the racer boys. As has been said by many a commentator, gravel is mostly about having fun, having a good time on your bike. As I see it, and I may be wrong, the main requirement for a gravel rider  is stamina. Maintaining stamina and having fun are not mutually exclusive bedfellows. I think they are complementary, indeed they may be ideally suited for the winter.

By all means focus on your ability to develop and maintain 500 Watts or working on your Lactate Training Threshold, but developing fast twitch response isn’t going to be much help if you need to ride all day.

Old school cyclists will remember the, now discredited, Long Slow Distance principle. As soon as club hill climbs were out of the way, out came the winter bikes with super low gearing. It wasn’t uncommon to see groups of cyclists crawling along on the roads from November onward. They were putting in serious miles, maintaining stamina, but at a snails pace.

god rays

The low sun in winter does create some amazing views.

Discredited the idea may be, but there was an element of sense behind it. Firstly, your body probably needs to wind down a bit after a tough year of riding. There is no harm in letting your muscles recover for a month or so. Thrashing around in the cold means you may end up with chest problems as you inhale more cold and damp air than is good for you. More importantly though, riding slowly gives you a chance to chat with your mates a bit more. Plus you get to appreciate how stunningly beautiful the countryside can be in the winter.

You are all different too

This is why I believe most articles about winter training regimes are essentially flawed. There is an underlying premise that if you are reading about riding through the winter, then you must be up for training. Let’s face it, most of us ride, few of us actually ‘train’ for anything. We might pretend that we do but….really?

Then there is this fundamental problem.  While we all like to think we are self determining individuals, we have a herd mentality. If your riding mate puts in some extra miles, then maybe you should too. If he is doing intervals on his turbo trainer then maybe you should too. And so it goes on. Consider the irony of this, when you watch the clip from Life of Brian.

Be a little daring with your approach to riding this winter. Be like the chap at the end…be different.

The ‘F’ word

What with all the training and performance advice we have thrust upon us all the time, here’s something to think about. Cycling is all about fun. If it isn’t fun, then don’t do it. This side of Christmas, it really isn’t going to make a jot of difference if you go out or not. If you peer out of the window at some ungodly hour and it is belting down with rain, or the snow is blowing horizontally across the drive, just crawl back into bed if that is what you want to do. Stay inside, keep warm and bank brownie points with the family.

If you interpret this as a suggestion that you might spend time on the turbo instead, it really isn’t. It took me years and years of thrashing around in a cold garage, sitting atop a dumb turbo trainer, hating every second, to realise the whole thing was counter productive. The more I did, the less I wanted to do. Smart turbo trainers have gamified the whole process and they can be a laugh but, once again, only do it if you enjoy it.

Winter road riding

Two lycra clad fish fingers beat a hasty path to the cafe.

Obviously, if you enjoy going out and returning home like a lycra covered fish finger then that’s fine too. On the plus side, your normal cafe stops won’t be quite as busy! As I see it, whatever you do, it is a win, win situation.

The end

This is where you might expect to find a brief summary of my normal winter routine. After coaxing you to accept that you are allowed to relax a bit, I ramp up the guilt by telling you how many hundreds of miles I rack up a week throughout the colder months.

No. Instead, I will pass on probably the most valuable lesson riding gravel, and becoming involved in the gravel community has taught me. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you are having fun, whether it is bimbling around, beasting your mates or pretending to train. But there again, you probably don’t really need me to tell you that do you?

Post winter ride

Compete with your friends for the muddiest post-ride backside.

Last modified: 27th November 2018