Winter Cycle Training

Or how to survive Britain when it is cold, dark and wet.

By Anne Fuller.

 

Winter is the time of year when most of the base (distance) training has to take place.  Dark nights and bad weather make running bad enough but cycling is particularly unappealing.  After years of returning from rides frozen and soaked, here are my survival tips.

Training Partners

Picture the scene, you plan to ride 20/30/40/50 miles by yourself and when you wake up the sky looks black and it is sure to rain.  How tempting to roll over and go back to sleep.

Alternatively you plan to ride 20/30/40/50 miles with your Saturday training gang and when you wake up the sky looks black and it is sure to rain.  How embarrassing to admit that you are too much of a wimp to go out training. 

Training partners are essential for cycling – the ideal person is someone who rides at a similar pace or just a little faster.  If your training needs / pace are not identical to those of your partners, try the following:

Clothing

Warm, waterproof, windproof cycle clothing is essential and it is worth spending some money on good kit.  Goretex is expensive but it does provide the best waterproofing without becoming clammy inside.   There are many suppliers of specialist cycling waterproofs – features to look out for are jackets which cover the lower back and are 'breathable'.  Remember that most drivers are not cyclist-aware.   Black cycling jackets may look cool but as they are the same colour as the road they will not help your visibility...

Windproof kit is also a bonus – clothing can include windproof panels in jackets, gillets and long tights.

Wear multiple layers of clothing and avoid cotton as it holds sweat.  If you are unsure of the conditions carry leg and arm warmers with you.  These are stretchy 'stockings' that can be pulled onto arms and legs as required.  They may not look cool but they are a life-saver if it turns cold or you are riding down long descents.

The other vital piece of equipment is a good pair of overshoes.  These come in two types – neoprene, which provide warmth but are not waterproof and those designed to be waterproof. The latter tend to be more expensive but as a confirmed wimp I reckon that they are definitely worth the money.  On really cold days I double up and wear both neoprene and Goretex overshoes; much better than thawing your feet in the washbasin when you get home.  Another good option is waterproof walking socks.

Other kit:

Warm / waterproof gloves with padding under the palm.  Bright / reflective material will make you more visible especially when signalling.

Balaclava / ski collar.

For Winter riding I recommend SPD type shoes which allow you to walk normally.  Metal cleats on icy roads are far too dangerous.

For safety reasons it is a good idea to wear glasses – you will need some with clear lenses for dull days.  Yellow lenses improve your vision on night rides.

Training Bike

Think of the beautiful paintwork on your best racing bike all covered in mud, your best wheels ploughing through the floods, ugh….

A cheap training bike is essential for the Winter and your cycling benefits from riding something which is not as light and responsive as your racing bike.  Ideally buy second hand – it does not have to look beautiful but a decent quality group set will last longer than cheaper components. 

Other tips for your training bike:

Safety

Icy Roads

DO NOT ride on icy roads – it is too dangerous.  Wait until later in the day to start your ride and stick to roads which have been gritted and had some sun on them. Avoid country lanes which are shaded by trees – these may be icy even when other roads are clear.

Riding at Night

Cycling on the roads is hazardous at the best of times and cycling at night even more so.  Try the following:

Riding Safely in a Group

Riding safely in a group requires that certain rules are adhered to – if you break these rules when riding with a cycling club you will very soon be informed of the transgression!  The most important thing to remember is that by riding in front of someone you are blocking their view of the road ahead and they have to rely on you to indicate hazards. 

You should use a combination of hand signals and voice to indicate hazards.  There are three important signals:

  1. Point down to the road on the left or right to indication a hole, drain, glass etc.
  2. Wave your left arm behind your back to indicate a parked car or obstruction that others will need to move out to avoid.
  3. To indicate the need to slow down, ‘pat’ the air with your right hand (palm towards the road).

If it is not safe to take one hand off the bars you should shout instead – e.g. ‘hole left’, ‘gravel’.

Other things to remember when riding in a group:

Turbo Training

If you don’t fancy the roads at night, turbo training is one alternative.  This is best done in a garage or shed as you tend to fry indoors.  Basic turbo trainers are well under £100 or for those with money to spare you can buy the most sophisticated computer trainers for about £1000.

Find a friend to turbo train with if possible. 

It takes a bit of time to adjust the equipment to give just the right amount of resistance.  You should then be able to use your gears to change the work rate as you would on the road.  Leave the bike in place if possible to save time.

Always plan your session – ideally you should have a heart rate monitor and a bike computer that measures cadence (pedal revolutions per minute).  These help you to judge your effort level and some make the session more interesting.

Some sample sessions are shown below:

 

HILL SESSION

Warm up for 10 minutes starting with a very light gear and gradually increasing the work level.  Keep the cadence at 90 or above.

Seated climbing  Change to a gear which you can just turn for one minute at a cadence of 70.  Complete 10 x 1 minute in this gear with 1 minute easy spinning in between.  On completion of the 10th ‘climb’ take a 5 minute recovery spinning an easy gear.

Standing climbing  Change to a gear which when standing on the pedals you can just turn for one minute at a cadence of 60.  Complete 10 x 1 minute in this gear with 1 minute easy spinning in between.  On completion of the 10th ‘climb’ perform a 10 minute warm down spinning an easy gear.

 

THRESHOLD SESSION

General information

This session is based on riding a period at your threshold pulse rate – typically 85% of your working heart rate (WHR).  You really need a pulse monitor for this one and you also need to work out your maximum heart rate when cycling – note that this may be different from that when running (about 10 beats less in my case).

To find your maximum heart rate find a long continuous hill – this should take over 5 minutes to climb when riding hard and should ideally become steeper towards the end.  Wear your pulse monitor for the ride, warm up well and then ride up the hill at 100% effort – you should be about to fall off with exhaustion as you reach the top.  Make a note of your pulse.

If the method above is a bit macho you could try a similar test on a turbo trainer or on an exercise bike.  Failing this you can use the VERY approximate guide of 220 minus your age as a maximum.

Calculate 85% of working heart rate as follows:

The session

Warm up for 10 minutes starting with a very light gear and gradually increasing the work level.  Keep the cadence at 90 or above.

Increase the work level using your gears until you have reached your target heart rate of 85% WHR.  Once at this heart rate maintain it for 20 minutes.  Your cadence should not drop below 90.

Warm down for 10 minutes spinning an easy gear.

Spinning

Organised spinning classes at your local gym are a good alternative to turbo training.  Whilst you have less control over the type of session, you can enjoy the music and you have an instructor and other class members to keep you motivated.

Tips for spinning classes:

Warm Weather Training Camps

This is my personal favourite – there is nothing better than spending a week or two during the depths if the Winter doing some training in the sun.  Training camps take place in many countries including ‘exotic’ locations such as South Africa and California.  For those on a budget, Spain is good value with camps taking place in locations such as the Costa Blanca, Majorca and Lanzarote.

A training camp is not the place to start gettin fit – you will have a much more enjoyable and productive time if you are reasonably fit before you arrive.

Official camps fall into two categories:

Tips for enjoying training camps:

Happy Winter cycling

Anne