Ride to work for winter fitness
Now the longer nights and colder days are here, a bit of preparation will ensure you aren't caught out riding home in the dark or without the right kit.
A seamless transition in to winter will enable you to keep riding and maintain, or even build on, your summer fitness. There are a number of small jobs necessary to continue to enjoy riding safely. Don't put them off. A little bit of planning means that you won't miss any riding.
A week off the bike can mean a dip in motivation and a struggle to resume action. When the nights are drawing in and the weather's less than ideal, it's more important than ever to keep up momentum. Riding to work is a fantastic way to incorporate training into your daily routine and, contrary to popular belief among many cyclists, these are not ‘junk miles' if used properly.
The need to get somewhere makes you much less likely to prevaricate about whether or not to ride. Make some modifications to your bike, mindset and wardrobe and leave yourself with no excuses when it comes to commuting this autumn.
Getting out the door
Most of us have at some point been told to ‘man up' - yes, even us ladies - but at what point is it a sensible idea to skip a commute because of the weather? And when are we just being plain lazy?
The first step is to avoid making excuses for getting out of the front door. Dress in the right clothing for the conditions and there's nothing to stop you getting out in all weathers. If you start hesitating in the mild, albeit sometimes wet, weather of autumn, it will be even harder to keep your riding going through the winter.
Always check the weather forecast the night before your commute and make sure you have the correct clothing to hand. Heading into winter can seem daunting when you tally up the cost of everything you need, but there are plenty of budget options available.
Brands such as Decathlon's B'Twin and Wiggle's DHB offer brilliant value and mean you don't have to cripple yourself financially to keep training through the worst of the winter elements.
Invest in areas where it's going to make a big difference. For example, a wicking undervest will prevent you from overheating and sweating excessively underneath your outer layers. If you wear too many fabrics that don't ‘breathe', you may end up even colder as your sweat chills on the descents.
Dressing for autumn can be tricky, as cool mornings often turn into pleasantly warm days. Opt for layers that you can pack away into a rear pocket or rucksack, allowing you to strip down as you warm up during your ride.
Mid-weight layers can be bolstered with heavy-duty waterproof and windproof items as the weather becomes increasingly inclement. Most big brands will list the temperature range for which their garments are designed, so invest a bit of time into building your winter wardrobe and you'll be smug when you reach the office warm and dry.
Get organised and either dig out your existing lights from last year or start thinking about what you want to buy. A decent set of lights is crucial to get you through the winter, but the market can easily bamboozle with its vast choices of beam patterns, lumens and battery life, so you'll need to do a bit of research, depending on what you'll be using them for.
The main two categories can be defined as ‘lights to be seen by' and ‘lights to see with'. You can get super-compact commuting lights that will help you to be seen in traffic, but if you're heading for roads without street lighting, you'll need your lamps to light the way.
This is where you may want to consider heavy-duty lights with remote battery packs. The price bracket will start to increase with these options, but if you're going off the beaten track, they are well worth the spend. What's more, they'll appear as bright as a motor vehicle headlamp, so drivers are more likely to give you a wide berth. Make sure you're positioning them in the best place to see the road, though, and not blinding people!
If you already have your lights sorted, start thinking about charging batteries and fitting any clamps or necessary fixtures so that when the clocks change you have no excuses when it comes to riding home from work.
Save yourself and riders behind you from becoming sprayed in muck and water by adding mudguards to your winter bike. They really can make a considerable difference to how wet you get from water flicking up from your wheels.
There are a range of options available, from clip-on quick fixes to full fixtures. Brands such as Ass Savers offer simple guards that suffice for a short commute or to pop on to your best bike, but if you're after something for the whole winter, including longer weekend rides, check the guards' fixtures will work on your frame and take some time to fit front and rear full guards.
Consider a winter bike
Riding your best bike all year will not only mean getting your pride and joy mud-caked but you'll have nothing to look forward to when you head into the spring race season. A dedicated winter bike, built with durability and bad weather in mind with heavy duty tyres, means you're less likely to worry about flying through wet potholes and over poor surfaces as the risk of puncture or damage is reduced.
A heavier bike with more rolling resistance can help benefit your training; when you switch back to your race machine, you'll immediately feel slicker and faster for the same effort.
When you've found the motivation to commute through all weathers, it's important to keep it up when the end of the day approaches. If your kit is a soggy mess from the morning, the last thing you'll want to do is put it on again to get home.
Not only will you feel frozen when you hit the wind, but it encourages chafing and saddle sores. Bring a dry set of kit in your rucksack or leave an emergency pair of shorts, or tights, at work when anticipating a particularly damp day. These simple steps make the world of difference.
It's also worth checking your rucksack is waterproof; if not, chuck on an inexpensive cover or bag up your work clothes to keep them dry.
With so many hi-viz and reflective items available at all price points, there is no excuse to not brighten up your commuting outfit. Even if you're not a fan of the all-over fluoro yellow look, you could put a reflective rucksack cover on your bag or opt for tights and jacket with reflective trim.
Many such items are pretty subtle these days - until you shine a headlamp on them, when they really spring into action. Whatever option you choose, make sure you don't go for a dull, non-reflective outfit when the light is low.
Keep a routine
It's all about keeping momentum over the winter. It's not the time to ‘smash it' the whole time but to build a base for your goals for the race or sportive season. A daily commute gives you a great focus and often feels a lot less daunting than planning a long ride.
For training purposes, depending on your goals, you should combine weekend riding with shorter commutes. A daily routine means you keep riding regularly, and that's a great tool for success. If your commute is long, factor in rest days to avoid accumulative fatigue.
Get outta the door
Riding to work is a fantastic way to keep fit all year and probably helps you more than you realise. But what about more intense off-season training? Level 4 ABCC coach Dave Le Grys, of legrostrainingcamp.com, admits it can be tough, but with a strategy, getting out of the door may not be as hard as you think.
"Training during autumn and winter can be very tedious, especially if the weather is bad outside," he says. "There are a few ways of combating this to actually get out the door.
"You can just man up and do it. This mostly applies to riders with an in-built drive that, no matter what, they'll do it anyway and stay motivated by having that challenge the next day.
"Some riders will have other strategies; for instance, they can break down their training into cross training, giving them an option to train indoors or outdoors, and even refine this down to winter road bike if wet, mountain bike if very wet or snow, and/or a gym session if wet or a turbo session or a spin class - thus breaking down their training into a bit of gym, spin class, turbo, mtb and road. This adds variety to your training which can be really valuable to your overall fitness.
"Some of us struggle to get out the door, but once out we are fine. It helps to have your kit already laid out ready to go, especially if you are riding to work but also when you come home from school or work - you can just get changed. Try to avoid sitting down and watching a bit of TV because it is really hard to get out once you get settled.
"If you have a turbo session to do, have your bike set up the night before so all you have to do is get on it. It is a good idea to arrange a club night turbo session, training with others helps get you there; the same goes for training outdoors."
What the pro say...
Alex Dowsett [left]
"If it's warm and wet, I'd probably say ‘man up' but combine cold with wet maybe ‘man down'! "Seriously, though, it really depends.
I look at the forecast; if it's supposed to improve the next day, I'll take a rest day and move things around so I won't miss a session. If I'm motivated, I'll do intervals on the turbo. Warm and wet is a fine combination, though, so no excuses!"
Joanna Rowsell MBE [right]
"It's not a straightforward answer... "If I'm in a crucial training block leading up to a track competition, then no, I wouldn't go out [in horrendous weather] - I'd just replace it with a turbo session. But any other time of the year, yes, I'd go out.
If it's the middle of winter and it's snowy or icy, then I definitely wouldn't go out either - I always prioritise safety. "At the moment, because I've done so much indoor training because of my broken collarbone, I am just going out whatever the weather!"
This article was first published in the October 3 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!