Winter Cycling Really Pays! Here Come Some Tips...

So, you’ve a big summer of cycle tours and events to look forward to. Unfortunately it’s dark outside, it’s probably raining and it is most definitely cold. On top of that, winter roads, with their proclivity for mud, ice and salty, slushy water are no friends to your precious bike’s components.

No one would blame you for giving the whole thing a swerve and hunkering down in the warm, biding your time until the weather and climate turn a whole lot more welcoming.

However, there are, as it turns out, an absolute bevy of incentives to stick it out and keep up a strong cycling routine throughout this most unforgiving of seasons. 

Why it Pays To Stay on Your Bike in Winter

The first reason to forego couch for saddle this time of year is an obvious one; just as with any sport or pastime, taking several months off and expecting to hit the same levels when you start up again is simply not gonna happen. As less than ideal as the conditions undoubtedly are, your body will thank you come March that you made the sacrifice over the winter.

But there are plenty of other, scientifically tested, benefits as well. Recent research at Maastricht University confirms that cycling outside in cold weather strengthens your heart and lungs because they have to work that much harder to keep you warm.

On the tail of that, it has also been shown that exposure to the cold increases your  metabolism, as you need to burn more calories to maintain body heat. In fact, the rise in fat burning can be as high as an extra 30%.

Conversely, while many of the advantages of winter cycling hinge on the fact your body is forced to exert itself more to stay warm, studies have found riders can actually greatly increase their endurance due to the opposite being true as well. An uptick in distance of as much as 42% has been recorded for cyclists riding at 3°C than at 20°C because the body isn’t having to expend as much energy keeping cool.

Perhaps best of all though are the mental benefits. Cold weather generates a rush of oxygen to the brain, triggering the release of the mood-boosting hormones beta-endorphin and noradrenaline. This has been proven to help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and, as research from Cambridge University suggests, could even protect against dementia. 

And regularly experiencing cold conditions increases mental resilience too, allowing you to overcome other challenges, whether they be workday related, multiday bike rides or your kids’ nativity plays.

Tips to Get in Shape Over Summer

So, cycling in winter pays dividends, and is also pretty much essential in order to have a successful spring and summer riding season. But to make the most efficient use of your time now, it takes a different type of training. Below, we lay out our five best tips.

Set a Goal

The best way to know how to train is to know what you’re training for. Having an end result in mind, or even better, written down, makes the whole process of preparing for it infinitely easier. 

By no means does this have to be some grand ambition. Your target could be as simple as maintaining or improving fitness, but it might also be finishing an endurance race, facing a daunting hill climb or completing a tour. The key is to know, so that you can adjust your training around it. 

Schedule Your Training Sessions

Once you have your goal in mind, you can then schedule the exact amount of training needed to achieve it.  

Obviously, only you know how many hours you can devote to cycling and still make time for everything else a busy lifestyle demands. It is important to be realistic, not only to the cycling itself, but to the recovery you will need as well. New and inexperienced riders can often overestimate how much they can do while simultaneously not allowing sufficient time for recuperation. This all leads to the risk of illness and injury, or just plain old exhaustion and disillusionment with the whole thing.  

The best way to condition yourself for the season ahead is a gradual progression of both time in the saddle and workload, rather than a sudden high level intensity. That being said, a sensible amount of challenge both keeps things interesting and increases performance.

Remember to keep notes on what you did week to week and adjust accordingly.

Get the Gear Right

You don’t need the newest, most expensive kit to wear for winter training, but getting the right gear is essential.

As with any winter sport, layering is definitely your best bet. Invest in quality leg and arm warmers, along with a good vest and a versatile scarf, such as the Original Buff. Additionally, shoe covers, particularly the latex type which protect your feet from the elements and don’t absorb moisture, make the whole business much more pleasant; cycling with wet feet is not only bad for your health, but you’ll be miserable the whole time you’re doing it!

One area (well, two, I suppose) where it is absolutely vital to provide protection on winter rides are the knees. Not a lot of blood circulates down there so it is imperative to look after them and make sure they stay as warm as possible. 

An easy way to determine whether or not you are overdressed is if you are already warm when you step outside. At the start of a ride you should be a little chilly because you are surely going to warm up pretty soon. If, however, you are wearing every item of winter gear you own and are absolutely freezing the minute you leave the house, then it could well be time for an indoor training session. Speaking of which…

Use Indoor Training to Your Advantage

Some days the weather is just against you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Yet, all is not lost. A good indoor trainer can be a great substitute if used properly. 

In an ideal world, you would have a setup permanently installed in a dedicated area of your house or garage. Failing that, it is important to eliminate as many obstacles to getting on your trainer as you can in order to cut down on the number of excuses you can make to avoid using it! Basically, it should involve as little work as possible to jump on your bike.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between riding indoors and outdoors, perhaps the most significant of which concerns temperature. Since you’re not moving there is no airflow and, especially if you’re engaging in some high intensity workouts, things can get very sweaty. Make sure to use a fan, directed straight at your body, to help you keep cool. 

While it is no substitute for being outdoors, you can still stay motivated to train indoors by setting yourself up with some entertainment while you cycle. Listening to your favourite music or podcast, or even binge watching your latest TV series helps pass the time.

If at all possible, it is better to set your trainer up with the bike you’ll be using on the road so your body assumes the same riding position and therefore works the muscles in the same way.

Get Your Mind Right

It is vital to stay focused on your goal in order to make the most out of your winter training. The conditions can be pretty dispiriting this time of year but maintaining a strong and determined mindset will allow you to keep to your schedule consistently and achieve your targets. 

Be patient with yourself and the process; it takes time to build up strength and endurance, and you need to be mentally prepared to put in the hours even when the forecast suggests you would be better off indoors, curled up with a good book.  

Any time you find you’re lacking in the motivation department, remember to revisit the reason you started. Keep that endgame front of mind and you should have no trouble battling the elements.

Wild Atlantic Cycling

If you are in need of some inspiration for starting and sticking to a winter training plan, check out some of the incredible tours we organise at Wild Atlantic Cycling Tours. 

Our 2024 schedule, taking in Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Croatia and the Balkans, is out now. 

Running from May to October, you will definitely find something there to get you on your bike!