I’ve written quite a bit about removing the barriers to bike riding.
Not the big barriers – the lack of a bike, say, or an injury – but the little ones. The ones that, when aggregated, and mixed in with rain pelting sideways at your window, conspire to prevent you cycling, even when you want to.
The fact that you’ve packed your (treasured) lycra battlewear in the back of your wardrobe. That your water bottle is at one end of the house, your bike computer (out of charge) is at the other. That the screws attaching cleat to shoe are starting to come loose.
You know, the factors that result in the decision that it might be better to ride tomorrow…. maybe.
In The Bleak Midwinter
The challenges of finding time (and motivation) to ride in winter have been brought into sharp focus this year, precisely because I found it relatively easy to ride during late spring and summer.
We were lucky to enjoy a run of glorious weather from a point (quite early I think) in April through until the end of July*.
(* August and September were fine too, it’s just that a rain- and windswept 100 mile ride through London and Surrey seemed to mark the end of the supernice weather at the start of the summer)
Clement temperatures meant I didn’t have to think too hard about what to wear. There were no cold winds to steel myself against.
I had a target event to work towards (the aforementioned 100-miler) and a charity that I’d committed to raising money for. I had ride mates that were counting on me to show up. My wife was fully onboard and supportive to the amount of time I’d need to spend training.
Longer days give lots of opportunities to slot rides around ‘real life’. I could be out and back on a Saturday morning before the rest of the family had really got going. Evening rides, post-work, were eminently achievable (and a perfect way to forget about office-shizzle).
Frosty Winds Made Moan
I think I’ve got the winter clothing thing sorted. Whilst I would gladly add an expensive winter jacket to my arsenal, I can manage in most conditions with my Castelli Perfetto jersey, a gilet and an assortment of tights, leg warmers, base layers, gloves and a Tour de France neck warmery type thing.
Whilst the idea of getting wet (or blown backwards) doesn’t necessarily fill me with joy, the weather won’t be the single factor that prevents me riding (unless there is ice on the road).
Earth Stood Hard As Iron
If weather is a neutral factor, the winter months certainly don’t have all the positive motivating factors that spring and summer riding enjoy.
Short of signing up for something outrageously challenging in April 2019 and scaring myself into embarking on a winter training regime (which realistically I am not going to do), I will have to accept that riding over the coming months will be about retaining fitness (or at least a fraction of it).
I won’t have the excitement (!) of seeing fitness build, quadriceps grow (ha!), Strava segment PBs being surpassed.
I guess I’ll have to make do with the ego boost of being able to tell myself (and perhaps others) that I’m the sort of hardy individual that cycles through the British winter.
I’m no fair weather MAMIL, me…
Water Like A Stone
Or maybe I am. One thing I am less keen on is riding in the wet.
I am not the most confident bike handler at the best of times. Throw in a Derbyshire road surface (if you want to call it that) rendered treacherous by stones, tractor tread muck and crud washed on from the verges and hedges, and my hands are either squeezing the brake levers, or millimeters away, itching to slow down.
Not that my brakes seem inclined to slow my bike down when it’s wet.
I think I need a proper winter bike. Hold that thought.
If I Were A Wise Man
The trick to getting rides in when you have many competing designs on your time is twofold.
You have to grab the opportunities to ride when they present themselves. Everything must be organised and to hand. You must jump into action as soon as the MAMIL signal starts shining.
Or you need to plan in advance. Ring fence the time in the calendar. Build up brownie points in advance (or promise you’ll win them back in the future). Make sure everyone agrees that this particular hour (or two…) is MAMIL time.
The opportunities in winter are fewer on both counts. It gets dark sooner. Early morning rides just don’t happen. More things, not just cycling, need to be squeezed into the daylight hours. Work seems to be busier. The build up to Christmas (!) blows a big time-hole in my time-hull.
I Would Do My Part
I’ve decided to get back a little riding time with a manual intervention. I’ve finally bought some decent lights (the Cat-Eye Volt 800 for the handlebars, the Lezyne KTV for the rear, in case you’re interested).
There will be reviews in due course (I have to justify to the tax man why I bought them with blog funds) but I’ve already got some great use out of them.
A recent Saturday afternoon ride started in what I thought was a brief breaking of the clouds. Within minutes, it was more a story about Noah that the Nativity. The lights made me much more visible as the gloom descended.
On Sunday I was at home for much of the day, looking after kids 1 and 3, whilst my wife was out taking number 2 to a gymnastics competition.
Time was ticking on but I found my motivation to ride grow. By mid-afternoon (call it 2.30pm) it felt like time and opportunity was ebbing away. Google told me it was nightfall at 4.30pm. It would be pretty dark before then.
In olden days I’d have sacked it off at that point. Maybe made a promise to myself (a weak one – maybe a suggestion or a question?) to try to do half an hour on the turbo trainer later on.
Instead, by having a good set of lights, I knew I had the capacity to see and be seen as darkness fell. The window for starting the ride opened wider.
In the end, as a further ‘training hack’ to make sure I didn’t renege, I got changed into my full winter cycling gear. I sat by the door, like a trusty hound, waiting for his owner to return for his daily walk.
(And here’s the proof I went for a ride after all of that…)
Snow Had Fallen, Snow On Snow
Winter road cycling is all about making the most of scarce resource. Of time, daylight, rideable weather, motivation.
A good set of lights has given me back some time, some quasi-daylight, as well as extra confidence and safety.
Now I just need to see about a bike that feels a bit more stable and slowy-downy in slippy-slidey riding conditions.
If I Were A Cyclist, I Would Bring A Crank
Over to you. How has your winter riding been going? Have you been choosing Zwift over riding outdoors? Do you ride in the dark?
Let me know in the comments below.
(No choristers were hurt in writing of this post…)