The winter season is a special time of year to reassess your goals for the coming new year, enjoy some base mile training, and focus on expanding your strengths and improving your fitness weakness—all while many of your fellow cyclists have stored their bike for the season. However, winter brings with it cold weather, extra precipitation, shorter days, and a host of other deterrents to enjoying time with your bike. Riding your bike during winter is extra challenging, but, like all things pertaining to cycling, the rewards will often outweigh the efforts required. Here are five tips to help make sure your winter riding is as safe, effective, and enjoyable as possible. And in case you missed—or if your region's climate is remaining a bit more autumn-like—check out our tips for making the most of your fall weather cycling.
When it comes to riding bikes, the most significant aspect of winter is cold weather. Staying warm while on the bike is not only imperative for your comfort, but also for your health and safety. Dress in layers to give yourself some flexibility in case the weather changes during your ride. Make sure you bring along some sort of protection from the rain or snow, in case the clouds open up above you. In especially cold situations, consider wearing a beanie, balaclava, or ear covering underneath your helmet to keep your head warm. Don’t forget about your extremities, either. You’ll know right away during a ride if you’ve neglected your hands and feet. Wear long-fingered gloves to keep your hands from freezing—remember, your hands are always out in the elements near the front of your bike. For your feet, consider using some thermal or wool socks to retain warmth. A set of overshoes, booties, or toe covers are great options, as well, especially if you expect to encounter some wet weather. Finally, winter brings shorter days in addition to cold temperatures. As always, making sure you’re visible to other vehicles is paramount to safety. Make sure all of your clothing choices include bright colors and eye-catching patterns. We also recommend wearing clothes with some type of reflective material on them, to further aid in visibility in low-light conditions. In addition, make sure your bike is equipped with lights—we recommend both a headlight and a tail light to help ensure you’re visible from as many directions as possible. As always, when it comes to anything related to your cycling experience, be sure to check with your region’s local regulations on what is required for riding bikes in your area in terms of equipment.
When it comes to hydration and refueling on the bike, the cold weather of wintertime can demand some modifications to your regular routine. For example, your favorite nutrition bar or gel may partially freeze or become exceptionally hard in the outer pockets of your jacket during cold temperatures, making it difficult to eat, let alone enjoy. Therefore, you may need to experiment with a few food options during winter rides, or, at the very least, make sure your food is safely secured within your clothing layers so that the risk of its texture being modified is reduced. Likewise, cold weather riding can place unique demands on your body and metabolism, so you may be burning more calories during a particular ride in the cold than you would in warm weather. Always consult your physician or a nutrition expert when thinking about ride food, and be prepared to alter your caloric intake as needed. Finally, always remember that hydration is just as important during the cold months as it is any other part of the year. Make sure you’re properly rehydrating during your ride with the appropriate drink mix. Also consider using some thermal or insulated bottles to prevent your hydration from freezing during a cold weather ride. They can also be great for bringing along a pre-heated beverage to help keep you warm on the bike.
Whenever you ride, you should always make sure to plan your route carefully. But this is especially true during the wintertime. Keep an eye on the weather forecast to mitigate your risk of being on your bike during a sudden snow flurry. Also, there’s typically more debris on the road during wintertime, which can be the result of increased rain or snow runoff. Oftentimes, certains parts of your neighborhood will be more susceptible to collecting increased debris due to their proximity to foliage, construction zones, or other vehicle traffic. So do a little research and make sure you’re riding in parts of your area that are more likely to have clear and clean (and even plowed) roads. Keep your winter routes on the shorter side, too, and be prepared to modify them in the face of any unforeseen circumstances. Because the weather can be much colder and less predictable than other seasons, you may find yourself in need of getting home more quickly, so be sure your route has some flexibility and options in case you need to cut it short. Finally, a fun tip for any ride—and especially during winter—is to start off your ride in the direction of a headwind, then circle back to your starting point with a tailwind. This will help ensure you have that flexibility to shorten your ride if needed, and the latter part of your ride will be extra fun.
Winter weather always brings extra hardships for your bike, including snow, sleet, and more road debris like rocks, sticks, and mud. Get your bike a set of fenders—or at least a rear fender—to help ward off the majority of gunk from splattering your bike (and your body). When you finish your ride, make sure you give it a wash. It’s important to rinse off all of the mess to mitigate its damaging effects on your bike’s paint and components. Also, make some time to give your bike a more thorough cleaning on a more regular basis than you typically do during the warmer months. Remember, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care” when it comes to making sure your bike gives you a long life of service and countless amazing rides. Here are a few more tips to help make sure your bike is ready for winter riding.
If the winter weather is simply too extreme in your area, there’s no shame in staying at home. In fact, we strongly recommend avoiding foul weather that could become dangerous. “When in doubt, don’t go out,” as the old surfer adage goes. Instead, set up a space in your home with an indoor trainer so you can ride anytime, day or night, whenever your schedule allows. You’ll reap the obvious benefits of a safe, warm ride, as well as the opportunity to enjoy a more structured workout—because you won’t need to deal with variables like wind, stop lights, and navigating road debris, you’ll be able to focus your complete attention on your pedaling effort. Need some help on starting to develop a training plan for riding indoors? Be sure to check out our article on a few great indoor workouts to help get things going.
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