From the Coaches: Winter Cycling Tips

The holiday period is here, so we probably have a bit more time to ride than usual and may want to do some riding outdoors. Additionally there are challenges such as the Festive 500 that people may want to target. But riding in the winter has a few big key differences to riding in the summer. As the temperature drops, there are several considerations to be made to make sure your winter rides are as comfortable and safe as possible.

Kit

First off, we need very different levels of cycling kit. Although as we cycle we generate heat, we are very good at losing that heat via sweating and our breath. This is why even when wrapped up very warm, the moment we stop we get cold quite quickly and it takes a while to get going again. So here are some key items of clothing to have when the temperature drops to 0-5 degrees:

  • Bib tights – thermal lined and possibly with water resistance. Cold shins are not fun; you can also get bib tights that extend higher up your torso and back for added core warmth.
  • Base layers – A good thermal base layer makes a huge difference, as they trap heat in but can also let heat escape if you unzip the outer layers. High necked ones are ideal for deep winter and you can even get windproofed ones.
  • Jerseys/jackets – A hardshell jacket is great not just for keeping heat in, but for keeping the elements out. The zipped front also means that if you do get too hot, say on a steep climb, you can cool down controllably.
  • Gilets – Usually quite packable and offer some added protection for your core while being easily removable. A good essential to keep in a pocket or start your rides in.
  • Packable waterproof – A packable waterproof is my go-to piece of kit for most rides outside of the summer. They can be packed away very small and keep the wind and rain out. When conditions get wet, they are the best piece of kit for keeping your core toasty.
  • Headwear – a thermal cap, a buff, or a skull cap are all good ways of keeping your head warm, along with your ears and neck. Your breath is another way you lose heat so covering your mouth and nose when very cold can really help trap some heat in.
  • Gloves – our hands have a lot of nerve endings in them, so keeping our hands warm can really help keep the perception of cold down. Going a size slightly too big can help as that will give a layer of air around our hands for added insulation.
  • Overshoes – socks should really be the same all year round, as thicker socks can change the fit of a shoe. So good overshoes are the way to keep our feet warm. Another trick is taping over any shoe vents.

My advice for working out what kit option is right for you, is to make sure that when you are outside and standing still, you feel comfortable but not overly warm. This way if you do stop or slow down you will hopefully be warm enough, but when you’re riding and generating heat you won’t get excessively warm.

Nutrition

The next thing to consider with winter riding is nutrition. In the cold it can be harder to remember to drink, as we ideally don’t want to be drinking something cold, which our bottles will become after a short while. Insulated bottles can help big time with keeping drinks warm or at least room temperature. Also worth taking into account that if you drink less and usually get your fuel from drinks, you will need to eat more solid foods. Keep your pockets nice and stashed, always better to take too much and not need it, than not enough and need it. Ideally still aim for 500ml of fluid an hour, as you will still be producing a lot of heat when riding and likely sweating a fair bit. Carb intake will depend on how much you use personally at different intensities, and also depends on how long the ride is. Aim for a food item an hour on longer rides, and that plus a gel if more intense.

Logistics

Firstly, if the temperature drops below zero overnight, it is usually safest to stick to riding indoors and not risking it. It only takes a small patch of ice to result in coming off your bike which isn’t going to do any favours. If the temperatures aren’t as low, it is still worth planning your route to avoid smaller narrower lanes as these often will have small pockets of colder areas where ice may have formed. Best to stick to larger roads that get gritted as these will be free of ice. Just remember to clean your bike afterwards as the salt is corrosive to your frame and components.

Another part of logistics is the timing of the ride. Riding early morning in winter is usually colder with more chance of ice; we also have the issue of low sun and that reducing visibility both for ourselves and other road users. Better to time your rides (if you can) to be around the middle of the day.

Finally, stopping time. When we cycle, for every unit of energy that goes to forward momentum, about 4 units go towards generating heat. This is why we get hot very quickly when exercising. When we heat up, our body wants to remove the excess heat by sweating and generating moisture. This system is very efficient at heat loss, which is good mostly. However once we stop moving, we stop generating heat, but we still have moisture on our skin that is being used to transfer that heat away from us. In winter this happens very quickly as the temperature gradient is larger. Limiting our stops to very quick ones will help reduce the amount of heat we lose when stopped and keep us more comfortable on the ride.

Safety

By virtue of the days being shorter, safety is another option to consider. Due to scheduling and time available in the day, it is likely that we will be riding when there is reduced light or low sun. This means it is important that we make ourselves as visible as possible. It is the responsibility of other road users to be aware and see us, but it is better to be safe and cautious than righteous and not safe. Cyclists are smaller road users and can be more difficult to spot in challenging light conditions.

So first off, visible clothing. Yes, black and dark kit have long been viewed as stylish, slick and fast options, but when light is low it isn’t sensible to be riding around in all black. Most pro teams have training kits for their riders that are higher visibility. Orange or yellow are great choices as they stand out against most backgrounds. You can also get kit items that reflect when car lights hit them.

Next off are lights. A flashing rear light is essential as it makes you a lot more visible to other road users, especially with the flashing. The Garmin Varia is a very good option as the inbuilt radar alerts you to approaching traffic. Front lights are also worthwhile even during day light hours. Though we don’t need them to see, they can be very helpful for helping car drivers coming out of side roads to see us. At the end of the day none of this helps stop stupid road users, but it does prevent giving them any sort of excuse. People riding bikes have as much a right to be on the road as any other road user.

Use SYSTM

If you want to avoid the wind, rain, darkness and cold, an easy way to negate all of that while getting in the quality training is to use the SYSTM app. When training indoors, if you are in the house, then your kit and nutrition selection will likely be the same regardless of time of year. The ambient temperature makes the biggest difference to what’s comfortable to wear, and by extension how much fluid and carbs you use during sessions. Logistically I also find indoor riding a lot easier as less decisions need to be made about kit, or route, or bike cleaning. You also never need to worry you’ve forgotten to charge your lights!

Hopefully these tips will help make your winter outdoor training rides more beneficial, comfortable, and safer. Let us know any extra winter riding tips that you have or show us your winter training gear/setup (indoors or outdoors)!

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To add to this, I recently was trialling an indoor bike that I couldn’t get downstairs to the pain cave, so it went in the shed outside as the cold front rolled in here. First time I’ve ever needed bib tights and a jacket on the turbo. The first ride however I did not realise how cold it would be and had to stop the session to run inside for a fleece and a wooly hat! Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

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As a Knight I find this entire concept offensive. :angry: As a coach, you should be ashamed!

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I know from experience, that when you stop, that warmth disappears real fast, and your sweat can turn to chill.

Stopping on ice is hard enough in a naturally-balanced four wheel vehicle with larger tires and hence more contact points. On a two wheel vehicle, which is not naturally-balanced, even with larger tires, is a different matter.

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There are times when you really need to stay inside. Most of the U.S. East is in that state. There are seriously dangerous conditions for motorists and deadly for bicyclists. Winds in excess of 100kph and temperatures in the -20 to -40 range. Thus you need to temper your desire to be outside with ‘is my life worth this?’ type thinking. And the phrase "fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ hit me today. Temps near zero and not enough kit on to keep me warm and dry did me in.

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@jmckenzieKOS Kind Sir, I fully understand and agree. My comment was made with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek!

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@Heretic I have had good luck with studded tires on my MTB. They are a pain to get on rims as the rubber is much harder but I have easily ridden in circles and figure eights on frozen ponds without losing any control. I used to use Nokian but switched to 45NRTH recently. You really want to have full snow or ice coverage when using them as you can lose studs on exposed rock.

https://www.45nrth.com/products#/

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With you here. My current setup:

  • 3T Exploro (with proper MTB Wheels and Tires)
  • my normal bib / baselayer combo
  • combat pants / combat shirt
  • jacket with softshell sleeves and light puffy part around the core
  • full balaclava under the helmet (spare for going back)
  • mechanix m-pact winter

The military stuff is great as technical garments. Light enough, yet sturdy and keeps the wind out. Especially the Combat Shirt is great for the bike. Light breathable core with heavy nyco arms to keep your arms warm even when rather static.

Regarding drinking and fuelling: my route is around 70min to my favourite restaurant. “Quick” stop there, balaclava change and back. For the ride I usually skip eating and drinking all together. Have it with me as backup though.

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My deepest apologies, I shall repent for my sins by doing 9 Hammers at 110%

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Thanks for posting @Coach.Andy.T … good annual reminder

I suppose if you ride in controlled conditions it would be OK. I would not ride on city streets in sub-freezing temperatures.

Would it be easier just to have a second set of rims and have to undergo the pain of putting them on just once?

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@Heretic Yes - I have thought about that. The rubber is much harder than the in season grippy summer MTB tires - similar to a snow tire for a car or truck. I bring them in the house and let them warm up but spare rims would be easier.

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No need to repent. There’s a lot of good information in that post.

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Studded tires make all the difference for me. With them on, I’m happy to commute most places around town through winter. I don’t try to do longer road rides though while there’s snow, ice, and grit around - that’s what the trainer is for.

Edit: I will add that, even with studded tires, I often feel like I’m in a cross race when riding on snow, slush, and ice - the bike can move around under me quite a bit with the changing conditions under the tires. The studs give some grip on ice, but it’s a very different feeling to riding on pavement.

Absolutely! We have our studded tires on separate rims. The mounting/unmounting process was a nightmare due to the stiffer casing, even after bringing them into the house to warm up.

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The second set of rims reminds me of when I used to live in the more temperate climes of the United States and you HAD to switch in October/November or find yourself in the ditch. Time to dig out the tire wrench and torque wrench. Then you switched back in late March/early April.

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IT help for winter indoor training please?!
So the knowledge session on my calendar yesterday asked that I look at how to improve my bad procrastination habit. After thinking about it for maybe a second, I realised it’s that it’s hard to face a 3hr or even 4hr endurance workout without video or music. (Those “novid” sessions.) How can I add some of the lovely mountain touring videos in the SYSTM library to my novid sessions?

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I’m not aware of any way of playing two workouts at the same time on the same device. Your only option would be to run the workout on one device, and play the video you want to watch on another.

You can play videos in a browser while using the SYSTM app. You could check out Mike Cotty’s Col Collective site: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheColCollective

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I do this all the time. Run the workout off my phone while watching something else on the main screen. Unless you’re on a laptop, then you can overlay the workout as a pop-up. (At least in MacOS).

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Hmmm I’ll have to think on that using my non-IT brain. I do have a phone but haven’t tried to run the kickr or SYSTM program off it yet. I use my laptop for that, which is not a MacOS, but the other kind. The more I think about this the more I think it could work. My only worry is that the signals will interfer with each other. Only one way to find out…

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You should have no problem using SYSTM for the NoVid workout, and then using a browser or other application to listen to music or watch some sort of video. The only thing you can’t do is have two SYSTM workouts running at the same time on the same computer.

There is information about the MiniPlayer mode that Sir @CPT_A referred to here: https://support.wahoofitness.com/hc/en-us/articles/4402737313554-What-is-Mini-Player-Mode-

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