How To Maintain A Cycling Habit Into Winter (Or How I’m Going To Try…)

In the past, when I’ve managed to build something resembling a cycling habit over the summer, I’ve tended to lose impetus around October. The rides dry up as the weather wets up (and colds up). Excuses are made and other ‘priorities’ take over.

Sometimes the rot sets in in September.

Of course I don’t always realise that my ride consistency is slipping. I fool myself into thinking that I’m keeping the habit up with the odd autumnal excursion.

In reality, if I looked at my Strava history objectively, I’d note a paltry couple of rides recorded over the course of October, perhaps in November, and then declare it done for the year.

Ch-ch-ch Changes (Ride And Feel The Strain)

This year I’ll try to do things a little differently. This year has been a good one from a ‘building a cycling habit’ perspective, so I am determined to fight the tendency towards inactivity that occurs as we slide into the winter months.

From June I’ve been reasonably consistent, with two to three rides per week. I’ve tried to mould my work schedule to fit in a mid-week ride where possible. I’ve felt a building of fitness, albeit modest, over the course of the year.

(To be clear, I’m hardly going to win any awards for training volume or for distance. It’s all relative. I’ve got young kids and a good-sized commute and a reasonably time-consuming day job. And a three jersey pockets full of excuses…)

I think one of the keys to me achieving consistency in the warmer months has been focusing on what is achievable and executing on that, rather than bemoaning the lack of time to train for the Etape du Tour (or whatever).

How I Am Going To Maintain The Habit

Or how I’m going to try.

I’m certainly not going to apply rocket science. Or even science (well, maybe some behavioural science).

The key is to get the simple things right.

I’m going to be as conscious as possible about removing the little barriers that delay starting a ride. The friction that, if I let it slow me down, radically (and perhaps unexpectedly) increases the chances that I’ll find an excuse for not going out on the bike after all.

Some examples:

  • “Ah I’ve run out of time and it’s getting too dark”
  • “Hmm, I forgot to put my leg warmers in the wash, so they’re still dirty”
  • “I didn’t clean the bike after my last ride, so now the gears are grinding, I can’t ride that!”

I’m going to try to be organised. I plan to monitor my weather app to try to identify good weather windows (or relatively good ones) over the coming weekend.

If I see a window, even if it’s early on a chilly Saturday morning, I’m going to try to steel myself to seize the opportunity, making the decision ahead of time, to reduce the chances of backing out when the go-time arrives.

I’ll lay out appropriate riding clothes ahead of time.

(Talking of appropriate riding clothing, I’ve been re-reading a post I wrote about my winter riding wardrobe, which you might find helpful)

I’m going to commit to, at a minimum, spraying off the worst of the muck straight after each winter ride, then apply a bit of lube as required.

(To the bike…)

Rest Is Good

Now I should point out there are circumstances when it’s important to take a rest.

Pro cyclists get burnt out from riding relentlessly from January until October so will take November off before easing back into training in December.

Perhaps you’ve maintained a punishing ride schedule whilst also holding down a full time job – a rest is justified, if not a prerequisite to avoiding injury.

I am not a pro cyclist, nor can I claim to have maintained anything resembling a punishing riding schedule.

I don’t particularly plan to factor in significant rest periods (I’m sure some will creep in naturally given the busyness of the festive season), but if, say, illness was to strike, I would be sensible about taking appropriate rest from riding.

How To Start Again If You Fall Off The (Carbon) Horse

Of course, these mental machinations could all be in vain. I’m perfectly capable of failing to maintain said positive cycling behaviour. In the past week, I did not manage a workday ride.

(Though I did manage to ride both days this weekend – partly because I knew I was writing this post – the power of committing publicly!)

So, if I break the chain, how will I get going again (or how can you restart a cycling habit in the depths of winter)?

A couple of years ago I had good success by undertaking a 35 day cycling challenge.

Starting on 27th December 2015, I set myself the challenge of riding every day (35 days took me to the end of January). The key element of the challenge was that ‘success’ was achieved by riding for 20 minutes, a time period so comically short that it was impossible to argue that I couldn’t fit it in to each day.

This proved to be the case. I didn’t make excuses.

Most rides, whether outside or on the indoor trainer, turned out to be for longer than 20 minutes. I resuscitated my cycling habit, and started building fitness for 2016, all from the damp tranquillity of my rodent-infested garage.

As I did the challenge, I mused philosophically in a few posts, which you might find interesting / useful / entertaining / none of the above:

So, in short, if I fall off the broomwagon, I’ll find somewhere to set up my indoor trainer and commence a new cycle every day challenge (maybe for 50 days this time).

Optimise Prime Beats The Distracticons

(You can’t know how pleased I feel about that tortured sub-heading…)

Okay, it comes down to this. I’ve managed to carry a reasonable amount of cycling momentum into the darker months. I want to keep it up.

But the weather is only getting worse. The days are getting shorter. The distractions of the holiday season are upon us.

My aim is to be just a little bit more aware. More focused on the riding I want to do. More organised so that I take the opportunities that present themselves.

And if I do fall off the wagon, I’m sure I heard recently (on one of those podcasts… tsk) that the act of thinking hard about an exercise for a period of time results in some physical adaptation taking place in the body. Up to 25% of the fitness benefit purely through controlling the mind (methinks the operative term here might be ‘up to’).

Thus we have an excuse to be daydreaming about a sunny holiday on the climbs of Majorca…

Over To You

So that’s what I’m planning. I’ll let you know, one way or another, what transpires.

How are you treating cycling in the winter months? Planning to brave the winter weather? Switch the habit to the indoor trainer and a combination of Zwift and Game of Thrones? Or maybe it’s time for a break.

Let me know in the comments below.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

8 thoughts on “How To Maintain A Cycling Habit Into Winter (Or How I’m Going To Try…)”

  1. Oh Monty, your description of what happens as winter approaches all sounds frighteningly too familiar and I’m reassured that it’s not just me. Regular riding in the spring/summer months has allowed me to achieve a reasonable level of fitness (for an old bloke) but my resolution to keep going now that the cold and dark are settling in is, I’m afraid, wavering. I can’t pretend to have the demanding career either but I still find excuses much as those you list. Guilt is sometimes a spur to get me out but that can become a burden – after all, it’s up to me when I ride my bike. Also, the notion of a rest seems to have some medical credence. Anyway, I shall try to keep going and might just use some of the tips you put forward re kit/bike preparation etc.

  2. A couple of years ago i bought myself an indoor trainer specifically for the winter months but it didn’t last long as even with music on i found it mind numbing boring.
    I intend to keep riding through the winter months even if i can only get out once a week.For me it’s not the cold which will stop me but the condition of the roads in winter.

  3. Nice article! You’re right: have your riding kit laid out ready, keep the bike (sort of) clean, and grab every opportunity. Oh and buy some good lights! (Because it’ll most likely be dark when that opportunity comes up.) Thanks for the helpful thoughts…

  4. Assuming you’re set for kit (helmet cover, boot covers, lobster gloves), there’s the N+1 mentality. I was given an ancient unloved Trek, and this is my Salted Roads bike. It still gets rinsed (garden sprayer) and WD-40’d afterwards, but I keep my nice bikes unrusty.
    But wait, then I found an old mountain bike! Now I can jounce around trails as well. No bad riding days, just bad outfits.
    Ummm, yeah then, Sufferfest for the especially dark/wet/nasty evenings. Enterpainment! Really, it’s a hoot, and you can jump your bike, even for just 30 minutes.

  5. Agree on it being a good time for the N+1 argument where your winter bike is tougher in good and bad ways from your three seasons bike. Having a commute that could only be cycled, no car parking at work, manageable length helped and having to ride in all weathers toughened me up for the ‘fun’ rides.
    Basically I found huge amounts of it to be mental. Any fool can be uncomfortable, but there is a wealth of options out there to mitigate that. Mentally you can get over the I don’t wanna block by reminding yourself how good succeeding feels. Don’t guilt yourself into riding. praise yourself, think about how great that after ride shower will feel, the acheivement of setting a goal and doing it. Life has very few challenges we xan control, choosing riding is one of those. Good luck with it, I’ll be one of the voices cheering wgen you succeed.

  6. Broke my shoulder in a gravel grinder 3 weeks ago, so I’m limited to indoor training ONLY, for the next few months. Trying to get Zwift figured out, also.

  7. For the last three winters in the balmy South Eats of England I have managed to keep riding almost constantly. I only tend to get out once a week anyway and, most weekends, can find a dry-ish couple of hours to get a ride in. It’s only rarely that I’ve been completely weathered off. I now have a tradition of going for a Christmas morning bike ride (mainly to get out of cooking the dinner) and hope to continue that this year.

    I enjoy cycling, even in the cold to give it up for the winter. In the wet, not so much…


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