As long as you’re smart and take the proper precautions, you can still stay in shape and enjoy cycling outdoors during the colder months. Use this advice to avoid common mistakes cyclists make during the winter so you can stay safe and maintain your fitness until sunnier skies and warmer temps arrive.
1. MISJUDGING YOUR CLOTHING OPTIONS
Choosing lightweight clothing and a breathable helmet during the summer is a simple decision. However, during the winter, deciding on the right clothing can be a bit trickier to manage. Here are a few basic principles for cycling outdoors in colder temperatures:
- Always dress in layers. This includes a breathable, long-sleeve base layer and a thermal jacket for your upper body and tights that can be worn over your bibshorts. When temps dip below freezing, additional layers may be necessary.
- Carry an extra rain jacket. Whether you need it or not, having a packable rain jacket comes in handy more often than you might think. Snow, rain, dropping temps or a long descent are just a few reasons you’ll be glad you brought one.
- Remember the hands, feet and head. Finding the right gloves for the temperature can be tricky, so layering the hands is often a good idea. Overshoes to keep your feet dry and warm and a skull cap that helps retain heat are also musts during the winter.
2. NEGLECTING YOUR TIME OFF THE BIKE
If you’ve trained consistently all the way through the spring, summer and fall, scheduling some time off the bike to recover physically and mentally is probably a good idea. But time off the bike doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop training completely.
To keep from losing the fitness you’ve gained during the year, including cross-training activities like running, hiking, cross-country skiing or gym work can help. Getting involved in other activities also keeps you used to working out and maintaining a fitness routine instead of slipping into bad habits that can be hard to get rid of come cycling season.
3. CONSUMING TOO MANY CALORIES
While you’ll still need to consume calories on the bike during the winter to keep from bonking, the mistake a lot of cyclists make is not tailoring their caloric intake according to their activity level. If you aren’t training, consuming the same number of daily calories as you do during your in-season training can lead to unnecessary weight gain. This also makes it more difficult to get back in shape once you begin to ramp up your cycling again during the season.
Just as you would any other time of year, resist the urge to consume empty calories and continue to make healthy meal choices whether you’re training or not. On the bike, water is sufficient for workouts lasting an hour or less and 30–60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of cycling. Avoid sugary sports drinks and large, post-ride meals following short and low-intensity efforts.
4. FORGETTING TO HYDRATE
You might not feel as thirsty, but dehydration is still a big problem during the winter. If you’ve dressed appropriately, you’re still going to sweat. You’ll also lose fluid through your breath, making it necessary to replenish what you lose while you ride.
Just as you would during any other time of year, aim to take a drink from your bottle every 10–15 minutes. One 750ml bottle is a minimum requirement for every hour you spend on the bike, though it may increase depending variables such as your body weight, sweat rate, workout intensity and the length of your ride.
5. NOT RIDING OUTSIDE
When it’s cold, it can be tempting to opt for the indoor trainer instead of braving the conditions. And while it can be a good choice to supplement your training when the weather is particularly brutal, you need to do some of your training outdoors to mix things up.
Spending too much time on the indoor trainer can also lead to burnout since it requires a lot of mental energy and focuses more on interval training than it does building base mileage. Riding outdoors once or twice per week when the weather permits also keeps your bike handling skills sharp and lets you enjoy the scenery outdoors instead of staring at your basement walls.
6. NOT KNOWING WHEN TO STAY INSIDE
On the flipside, there are other cyclists who ride outside no matter what the weatherman says. The truth of the matter is, there are definitely times during the winter when the risk far outweighs any benefit.
Extreme temperatures, snow, wind and icy roads are good reasons to skip your outdoor training session in favor of the indoor trainer or other cross-training activity. From a bigger picture perspective, missing a day or even a week of on-the-road training is a smart decision when compared to the time you might be forced to miss if an injury occurs due to falling on snowy or icy roads.