There’s no doubt that riding during the winter instead of not riding at all makes you a better cyclist when warm weather rolls around. The problem is, when you’re slugging along in the wind and rain, it might not seem that way. In fact, if you pay attention to your miles per hour, it might even seem like you’re getting slower instead.
But just because you’re going slower doesn’t mean you aren’t getting better. Here are six reasons why the colder weather — not a decline in your fitness — could be the cause of your decrease in speed.
COLD WEATHER MAKES YOUR BIKE SLOW
Cold weather not only has an effect on our bodies, it also wreaks havoc on our bikes. Wheel and bottom bracket bearings, along with grease in places like the freewheel, can become stiff, causing more rolling resistance compared to summer temperatures. If you ride in the rain, there’s also a chance water could be in some of these areas as well, and if it’s below freezing, this could slow you down even more.
In this same line of thinking, tires also have greater rolling resistance due to cold air creating a slightly lower tire pressure. When you combine this with the fact many cyclists use a wider tire with a lower air pressure during the winter for added traction and handling, you could be significantly less speedy.
No, we’re not talking about those pounds you gained from the holidays — though that could be a factor, too. During the winter, a lot of cyclists use a dedicated bike so their nice racing bike doesn’t take a beating. Often it’s made out of steel or aluminum and has attachments like fenders, lights, wider tires and a not-so-fast wheelset, which is great for combating the rain and muck on the road but not so good for your miles per hour.
In addition to your added bike weight, all those extra layers of clothing add up, too. By the time you factor in booties, a jacket, tights, heavy gloves and a thermos of your favorite hot beverage, you can be sure you’re carrying around a few more pounds than when you suit up in nothing more than a jersey and pair of bibshorts.
YOU’LL USE MORE ENERGY TO STAY WARM
To stay warm, your body raises its metabolism and burns more calories while you’re on the bike. While working out hard enough to get a sweat going can negate some of this, when it’s really cold, the stillness of your upper body and the exposure to the wind likely keeps you from warming up completely.
This can be a good thing if you’re trying to lose weight and get fit, but if you’re trying to set a new PR you might have a more difficult time. The extra energy it takes to pump blood from your core to your limbs adds up, making you feel a little more tired and sluggish than you normally might.
Winter clothing might keep you warm but it is definitely not fast. The drag created by your jacket, gloves, tights and overshoes slows you down considerably. It can also add a hefty amount of bulk to your body, making it harder to move freely and slowing your pedal stroke.
Less range of motion can affect your upper body as well, making it less likely you’ll be reaching for the drops for extended periods of time. You’ll probably want to stay off the aerobars, too, since you won’t be able to reach for brakes when you need to stop suddenly or correct your line of travel.
PSYCHOLOGICALLY, YOU’LL RESIST PUSHING YOURSELF
Whether it’s the cold air blowing in your face or frozen fingers and toes, the discomfort of winter weather makes you want to ride slower. This perceived misery can decrease motivation and have a psychological effect on how fast and long you want to ride.
THERE AREN’T MANY RACES
November to February is the time of year a lot of cyclists take a break. When training does start ramping up again, it’s a good idea to take things slow and build your fitness as the weather gets warmer. Base training is also common during this time of year, which means lots of long, slow miles focused on building a solid aerobic foundation.
Some of this also has to do with the lack of races during these months. This usually means less interval training and less cycling overall, and when you do plan to ride it’s usually just to take it easy and maintain the fitness you have instead of letting it waste away. Whatever the case may be, not having a race to train for or the motivation to get faster makes you go slower on your training rides than having that big goal event right around the corner.