Winter: short days, cold temperatures, wet and windy weather. It can be a grim time of year and as the mercury in the thermometer falls it is easy for motivation to follow the same trajectory. Despite the inclement weather, there’s really no need to hibernate. We’ve tracked down a few pro’s to get their secrets on how to enjoy riding during the winter.
Germany’s Clara Koppenburg, winner of this year’s Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, lives in the Black Forest and whilst the region is an idyllic ‘winter wonderland’ with snow kissed firs, it’s a challenging climate for training. Likewise, Sarah Rijkes, former Austrian national champion, spends some of her winter on her home training roads. Although the Alpine weather is more favourable for a ski-season she, like Clara, still manages to get the off-season miles in.
It’s fair to say they both know a thing or two about riding in tough winter conditions! So Voxwomen sat down to chat with them to see how they prevent the wet and cold weather from dampening their spirits.
1) Staying warm
Being warm is key for keeping your morale up and the right kit can make a huge difference to your comfort and enjoyment of winter rides. To combat the harsh, cold conditions it’s essential to invest in a decent wardrobe and as both Clara and Sarah explained to ‘use the onion principle’ of layering up.
Starting with your feet, a decent pair of waterproof overshoes is a must. Depending on your sensitivity to the cold you may also want to wear thermal socks. (Clara even has ‘skiing socks with a battery power heater inside’ to combat sub-zero temperatures.)
When it comes to your legs, thermal bib tights can help keep them warm and for really cold days Clara recommends using ‘an embrocation cream to add additional heat and improve blood circulation’. For your torso the two stalwarts of the ‘winter collection’ are a good long sleeve base layer and a winter jacket. Both Sarah and Clara recommend using ‘merino wool base layers’ as the fabric is both warm and breathable. For the jacket you want it to combine four essential qualities – thermal, windproof, waterproof and breathability.
For your hands two pairs of gloves can prove to be a good move. Doubling up with an under glove, followed by a waterproof over glove can really help ward off cold and numb hands. Another sneaky pro tip for extremely cold days is to invest in hand wamers.They’re mini air activated heat packs that can be placed inside your gloves and provide up to 6 hours of extra warmth!
A lot of heat is lost through your head (up to 30%) so a thermal skullcap or a bandana is also highly recommended. Additionally a buff is a nice accessory and can prevent the biting wind from getting to your chest. Both Clara and Sarah wear a buff religiously during the winter months!
Finally, another great pro tip from Clara is to put ‘some hot tea with honey inside bottles with a thermos function’. It’s surprising how much of a morale boost having a hot drink mid-ride can give!
2) Keeping dry
Rain can spoil play so being prepared for the wet weather is crucial this time of year. Mudguards are a useful addition to your winter bike and arguably a must if you’re riding in a group! They prevent road spray from soaking your shoes, legs and bum.
Although good, mudguards won’t protect you from falling rain, so it is essential to invest in a
decent waterproof jacket that can be worn over your other layers. Other vital pieces of kit include the likes of waterproof gloves (Sarah recommends a neoprene material), overshoes, socks and tights. Clara’s pro tip for protecting your feet is to ‘also wrap your feet in aluminium foil before putting your shoes on’. Not only will it help with warmth but it will also keep your feet nice and dry.
3) Winter-proof your bike
The last thing you want is to be stranded by the roadside in the cold with a mechanical. Keeping your bike in good condition is always important, but in the winter you’ll have to give your bike some extra love. Keep an eye on the moving parts, such as your chain, gears, cables, hubs and bottom bracket as well as checking your rims and brake blocks for wear.
Sarah emphasises the importance of cleaning your bike post ride, especially if conditions have been wet. ‘It’s important that you wash off the accumulated grime regularly’ as this will damage components and accelerate wear and tear. ‘Keep your chain oiled regularly too’ (using a wet lube) and make sure your cables are in good shape as no one wants a (cold) snap.
4) Indoor riding
It’s important to recognise that some conditions can be simply too dangerous to ride in. Remember, there is a distinct line between hardy and foolhardy.
Ice and snow can be treacherous and on such days riding indoors is the best and safest option. Sarah recommends having a good setup to make indoor riding more enjoyable. ‘A fan, a towel, some music and plenty of fluids’ will make riding the trainer much more pleasant.
If riding indoors feels boring Sarah suggests using interactive options, such as Zwift. Zwift has become immensely popular and a lot of riders, including Sarah, use this online platform. Indeed, you can train alone, meet up for group rides or even race on the roads of Watopia. So why not check it out! After all, its good practice for our VoxTour in February…
5) Ride in a group
Sometimes the hardest part of riding in the winter is stepping out of the front door especially when you know you’ll be greeted with a blast of freezing air or rain. Arranging to meet up for a group ride can help keep you accountable as well as motivate you to get out for a ride.
As both Clara and Sarah explain, riding with your friends is much more enjoyable and makes the time go by a lot faster. You can share turns on the front, share conversation and share those ‘character building’ experiences.
They say that ‘winter miles equal summer smiles’ and we all want to be beaming what July. With these handy tips you can continue building your winter base up and even channel your inner Elsa from Frozen. Who knows, before long you might be singing ‘the cold never bothered me anyway’!