Frosty mornings, quiet trails, and the sheer joy of a hot drink after a cold ride are just three of the simple pleasures that are to be found in bike riding through the winter months.
- BikeRadar's guide to winter riding
- Complete guide to winter road cycling
- 8 essential mountain bike skills to master this winter
1. Bright, cold, frosty mornings
First and foremost, there's nothing like riding on a perfect winter day. It's hard to beat cycling through the countryside with frost coating leaves and trees, your breath clouding the air, and the bright sunshine lighting everything so it looks like it's in a David Attenborough documentary.
2. Unexpected wildlife encounters
Since a lot of your riding is likely to occur in the dark over winter, your chances of coming face to face with nocturnal wildlife is all the greater. Is that looming dark shape ahead of you a bush, or a resting cow? Expect to see your lights reflected back in the glinting eyes of various animals, and strange noises overhead. It's a little frisson of danger and excitement to what might otherwise be fairly tame trails.
That said, if you do happen to ride regularly where the wildlife is a bit more bite-y than the UK, where the worst you'll have to watch for is a rampaging badger, it's probably worth exercising a little caution depending on when and where you go out.
3. You get REALLY good at washing your bike and kit
One of the downsides of winter riding, whatever type of cycling you do, is the wear and tear that builds up quickly by riding on gritty, muddy trails, and the endless washing machine loads of manky kit. That means that washing your bike after every ride is all the more important, so expect to get your post-ride routine down to a fine art; off the bike, quick hose down (both bike and rider), wet kit in the washing machine while you clean off the bike, lights on charge, oil the chain, and you're good to go again.
Of course, if you're worried about ruining your pride and joy you can always use your winter riding plans to justify the purchase of a new bike. It's the perfect excuse!
4. You'll need more kit
Are you a total kit fiend? Do you like to have the right jacket, the right lights and the right tyres to suit every conceivable weather condition? Well, say hello to winter, your new best friend! Depending partly of course on where you'll live, you'll likely need kit to suit cold and dry conditions, cold and wet conditions, cool and dry conditions, cool and wet conditions, cold, dry and windy conditions… and that's just for starters.
The first snow fall means you can finally dip into the new ranges of winter backpacking kit available, such as the Specialized and 686 collaboration winter fat biking clothing range. Toasty!
5. It's oh so quiet
The chances are that the weather will put a few people off cycling (we have no idea why?!) so that means you're likely to have the roads and trails to yourself. No searching for a parking space at the trail centre, no repeatedly calling 'on your left!' when trying to overtake, and no long stream of cyclists on the road or queues at the usual cafe stop.
6. You'll burn extra calories
Heard of nonshivering thermogenesis? If not, you probably have heard that people burn more calories in the cold than in warmer temperatures. Nonshivering thermogenesis, or NST, is part of the reason why. It's one of the ways your body works to keep your core temperature at the right operational level through chemical reactions that burn off fat tissue, as opposed to muscle contractions — shivering — which is another method.
This does indeed mean that you'll burn off more calories if you exercise outdoors in cold weather, especially since the chances are you'll be exposed to it for longer periods of time.
7. You'll get tougher
Riding in cold, wet weather toughens you up in two ways.
Firstly, mentally. If you can motivate yourself to get out riding when the weather is bad and ride on through the rain, and the cold, and the snow, then any inclement weather come the summer or the race season will pose no obstacle.
Secondly, it actually toughens you up physically as well. In addition to the calorie burning advantages as mentioned above, some research has shown that people who are regularly exposed to colder temperatures subsequently don't feel the cold as much and are more comfortable in colder weather. They also don't shiver as much, which is good news for conserving energy.
8. You'll appreciate hot food all the more!
Not only is hot food after a cold ride nothing short of perfection, particularly if it's soup or hot chocolate, it's also fully justified. After all, you'll be burning more calories (see point 6) and while that's great if you are looking to shift a few extra pounds, you also want to make sure you are giving your body enough fuel and nutrients to run efficiently and fight off illness.
So long as you tuck into healthy food (and of course the occasional treat — you deserve it after all) and pay attention to how you are feeling, you'll strike the right balance.
9. The joys of the humble brag
"What did you do over the weekend?", "Oh, you know, just took myself off for a little ride. Nothing big, just 100km off-road across a snow-covered mountain."
Yes, winter provides many opportunities for the humble brag, whether it's beating your workmates in by bike when their trains are delayed by the wrong kind of leaves, to sticking religiously to your training schedule come rain, hail or apocalyptic storms.
Don't forget, if you haven't Instagrammed your mud-splattered face, it didn't happen.
10. Winter training holidays
If it all gets too much, you'll be completely justified in taking a wee break from the winter weather and jetting off somewhere to ride in the sun. Because, you know, vitamin D is important for health and performance, right?