Beat the winter biking blues

Top tips to keep you riding during the off-season

With autumn here, cycling becomes more of a challenge, and cold feet, wet roads and strong winds make the gym an easier option.  Take a break by all means, but remember that de-training starts to occur at three to four weeks.

Don’t lose all that fitness and strength you've gained over the past season – build on it. Motivation starts to wane as the weather changes but autumn and winter can be a great time to work on your weaknesses.

Without the pressure of racing you can concentrate on improving, whether it’s your descending, climbing, or endurance. So don’t be put off when the clocks go back. Here are nine essential tips to keep you motivated and focused on the bike through the cold.

1 Keep the quality

Off-season training has been traditionally about getting the miles in. While you certainly need ‘miles in the legs’, make sure you keep a bit of tempo work in your schedule. Some faster riding will keep things interesting, stop you getting stale and will make the transition to race-specific training in the spring a whole lot easier.

Avoid really hard interval work; try 20- to 30-minute increased efforts within your steady ride, good-quality endurance training that won’t leave you too fatigued. Monitor your recovery; it can be easy to overtrain at this time of year so aim for quality rest as well.

2 Try out new routes

Riding the same roads all the time can become something of a chore. Even if you try riding your regular routes in the opposite direction you’ll find it something different. Circuits can be good in the winter months, as you're never far from home should the weather turn or you run out of juice.

Short of daylight but can’t face the turbo? Find yourself an industrial estate, as they are usually well-lit and traffic-free: great for an hour’s tempo ride, intervals or just working on your cornering technique. Don’t hang around for too long though – at this time of year it is all too easy to catch a chill if you’re loitering rather than training hard!

3 Get a dedicated training bike

Your bike will take a lot of stick during the winter so save your racing bike for the summer. Lightweight components and racing wheels don't like water, salt, grit and all the potholes that seem to appear as the nights draw in. Treat yourself to a winter bike, and spend as much as you can.

The mudguards will keep you and your training partners drier, the heavier tyres will be more puncture-resistant, the relaxed frame-angles will keep you comfortable and of course all the extra weight will make you stronger!

4 Be creative indoors

Indoor turbo-trainers can be boring but they’re very effective. Be creative, have a club turbo night, set your bikes up in a circle, put the stereo on loud and off you go. Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Plenty of fluids are essential and a fan will make it more comfortable.

A basic turbo will do the job but if you just can’t bear staring at the wall, get yourself a virtual reality trainer. Linked up to your PC, you'll be able to climb the Alps or compete against your buddies, all from your front room. Be careful not to overdo it though – the time for high-end training is later. Simply build your endurance for now.

5 Make a plan

Write down on a piece of paper what exactly it is that you want to do on the bike through the winter months. It doesn’t have to be too specific, but have an idea what you want to achieve each week. A coach can look after the finer details, but you can set your own goals and targets, whether that’s three bike workouts a week, 100 miles per week, or improving your bike handling.

Whatever it is, set achievable goals and work towards them. Try to have something specific to aim for and your motivation to actually get out on the bike will come much easier, despite the colder weather.

6 Get the right kit

Invest in some good-quality winter clothing, because getting cold, wet and uncomfortable on the bike is a good enough reason to leave the bike in the shed and go swimming. With the proper kit you'll be prepared for nearly all that the winter can throw at you. Essentials are windproof gloves and overshoes, helmet and skull-cap, a windproof top and full-length bib tights.

With these few must-haves you can train outdoors in all but the worst conditions. Quality clothing doesn't come cheap, but proves a great investment; a solid winter’s training is priceless. Be positive in your approach – do it despite the weather, not because of the weather.

7 Train in a group

Riding for three or four hours on a Sunday morning is a challenge, so get together with your club mates and share the load. On your own it can just seem like hard work – in a group it’s good fun. Support each other; re-group at the top of hills, stop for any punctures, make sure no one gets left behind. Stronger riders can go on ahead, and then return.

Make sure you have some energy drinks and some food in your back pocket, a couple of spare inner tubes and a multi-tool, and you’re good to go. Enjoy the banter and the miles will tick by. Try a winter event; there are plenty of sportives and reliability trials for you to test your fitness. You might even have a tea stop, just don’t linger too long.

8 Book your holidays

Book a training camp for early March as a reward for getting through the winter months. Having something to look forward to will keep you motivated through the worst weather and darkest days. With some good winter miles in your legs you'll be able to get the best out of a spring camp and the warm sunshine will have been well-earned. Training camps are about building on your fitness – not about getting fit.

Organise your own mini camp. You don't need to go far from home, but a weekend away with a few mates, riding different roads with no distractions, can be a great way to keep things fresh. If you do go abroad, try to find a camp that’s been recommended by other cyclists you know, or do a bit of research on forums to make sure you end up with the best experience.

9 Take a break every fourth week

To keep things fresh it’s important to take every fourth week a bit easier. Taking a regular easy week gives you a chance to recover, so that your body can super-compensate for all the training you’ve done. Remember it’s during periods of rest that your fitness improves, not during training itself.

During the recovery week it’s the ideal opportunity to catch up on sleep, family commitments and all that admin that you never seem to get done. You should do less than half of your normal training during this period, and make sure you have at least two days off.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine, available on Zinio.

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