Health: Cold advice

Don’t let wintry weather keep you off your bike

While you can't do much about the weather, here are six fundamental things you can take care of before you head out. It's about survival and making sure that you get home for tea, and both you and your bike live to ride another day.

Here’s a weather forecast: it’ll be cold and wet during the next month or three. No, it’s not the most inviting time to be out on your bike, but with a bit of forethought and planning, you might even enjoy it…

1. Preparing bike and body

Make sure your bike is ready for winter conditions.

  • Have you got lights? Even in daytime, fog can make you invisible without them.
  • Have you changed your ‘go-faster’ summer tyres for something more grippy and puncture resistant?
  • And what about mudguards? (For more on preparing your bike for winter, see Workshop.)

Look after yourself too, as training can reduce the body’s immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and bugs. Give yourself a fighting chance by eating plenty of anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich fruit and veg. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough, take a multivitamin and mineral. (See Beat the Bugs for what to stock up on at the shops for a health-boosting diet.)

2. Don’t just pile on miles

If you’re concentrating on building up your base fitness over winter, don’t simply increase your mileage every week as you’ll struggle to keep up with the increased volume and end up ill or injured.

Try to work in four-week blocks, increasing your volume by no more than 10% each week for three weeks, and then take a recovery week where you back off by 25-50%. It’s during the recovery period that your body will adapt to the training and you’ll become fitter.

3. Fuel properly

On long, cold, wet rides the temptation can be to just put your head down and get on with it. But there is nothing more gruelling than having a massive energy bonk and creeping home a weakened wreck. Take adequate supplies of gels, bars and energy drinks and set an alarm to go off to remind you to eat/drink them. Try one of the carbohydrate/protein mix drinks, as recent studies have shown them to be more effective during prolonged lower intensity efforts.

4. Plan your return

Getting into a good recovery routine is key to a successful winter. Either have a recovery drink made up and ready to go in the fridge or take it out with you and start sipping during the final 10-20 minutes of your ride.

Go for a quick shower rather than a long soak (you can always wallow later), get some warm, dry and comfortable clothes on and spend 10-20 minutes stretching. Consider investing in a pair of compression tights to aid recovery.

Once fuelled, clean, warm and stretched, turn your attention to your bike. At the very least give it an all-over rinse to clean off the worst of the muck and salt and then run your chain through a rag and re-lube.

5. Be sensible

Yes, there is a perverse pleasure and deep virtuous glow to be had from battling against the elements but sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. Try to think from a driver’s perspective and, if they’re struggling to see or stay on the road, they’ll struggle to see or avoid you.

Also, skinny tyres and icy roads can be a lethal combination so keep an eye on the thermometer and beware. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and hit the turbo or the gym.

6. Don’t be weight obsessed

Winter is not the time to be at your racing snake leanest. Having too low a body fat percentage will mean you chill easier when out and you’ll be more susceptible to illness. While I’m not suggesting you opt for a Black Forest gateaux bloat, carrying a few extra pounds is no bad thing and the excess will drop off as training intensity increases in the spring. 

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