On Mastering the Art of Riding Your Bike This Winter
Imagine your ideal bike ride. For us, the scenery has flora in full bloom, the sky is clear, and perhaps most importantly, the perfect temperature is probably around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Finding conditions like that this time of year requires heading toward the equator and away from the Wasatch Range, a requirement we consider not worth it in a pandemic. But, and hear us out, anyone can have that ideal bike ride right now deep into the winter months.
For whatever reason, cycling is more prone to being nostalgic for the past than just about any other sport. Adjusting cantilever brakes, introducing drillum to your components and (gasp) frame, tubular tires, and finessing your way through the perfect friction downtube shift were all part of the trade. And riding through the winter was perhaps the biggest badge of honor. The imagery of the hardiest men and women around grunting up mountains at 25 RPM was nearly par for the course, with extra points for braving the elements. Not to say that nostalgia isn’t wrong, but riding an older bike back to back with something modern - disc brakes, electronic shifting, lighter components, and all - is a firm reminder that advancements in cycling gear make riding a bike just a bit easier.
Smart trainers from the likes of Wahoo and Elite have made indoor cycling far more sophisticated and immersive than before. Why ride when it’s freezing outside when it’s sunny in Watopia and you can binge-watch Real Housewives of Salt Lake City guilt-free at the same time? Why fight a car up the canyon when building indoor-specific targeted workouts are easier?
We’re here to say that for as much as we appreciate and endorse the wave of indoor cycling that keeps us socially distanced but as active as ever, you can enjoy riding a bike during the winter months just as much as you can during the spring, summer, and fall. Below are a few tips that make the winter months of riding just a bit more interesting. Even more than that, these tips can bring some spice to your indoor riding experience as a reminder of why we get out there in the first place.
Motivation when braving the elements can be hard to come by, but finding ways to reward oneself can make all the difference. Riding in Utah leads to no shortage of picturesque landscapes, but everyone has at least one place from which they either enjoy the view or can't get enough of the road. And while many of our favorite strips of road are closed for the winter, there is still plenty to go around.
Treating yourself isn't just limited to riding to places you enjoy. It can - and maybe should - be your preferred bakery, coffee shop, or take-out spot that isn't within walking distance of your residence. Realizing that your favorite croissant is on the other side of town doesn't make it inaccessible, it just gives you another reason to get out on the bike. It could also mean buying yourself a fancy new jacket. If that's what motivates you to get out and you can afford it, do it and thank us later.
Mix It Up
Most of us have allegiances to a specific type of riding depending on the season, but sticking to a single activity can lead to serious burnout that makes riding during the best times of the year - spring and fall - harder than one would think. Road riders and trail riders alike can find a happy medium on a fat bike. Finding cycling zen on a fat bike comes in spite of snow; after all, being in the snow doesn't sour your riding experience, it amplifies it.
Riding a fat bike doesn't have to be the default answer to mixing it up, however. Explore non-cycling interests. Get into cross country skiing. Hang out with your family. Take the time to get into bird watching. That way, when you start hanging out with new people (whenever that happens!) you can talk about cycling as well as the most beautiful American Goldfinch you saw last week. Either way, it will make your next ride just a bit fresher-feeling.
Find Some Quiet
Outside of finding time to ride, there are two crucial benefits to indoor cycling that are easily lost when riding on the road: interval training and avoiding road hazards. Targeted intervals are easier than ever thanks to smart trainers and the proliferation of power meter tools in cycling, but they can be tough to accomplish when considering traffic, street lights and stop signs, or a lack of road. Finding a strip of road, a quiet neighborhood, or a cycling-friendly loop means you can ride more and worry less. Feel free to take on brazen drivers in the summer if you so choose, but winter is not the time.
But even those oft-ridden loops you'd frequent in the summer are likely to have fewer cyclists or cars traveling them, shedding a whole new light on a standard ride up Emigration Canyon. We highly recommend it.
Give Yourself Some Slack
Strava is awesome for staying connected with other cycling friends, and in many ways seeing how much people ride can be a motivator to help yourself head out too, even in the winter. But here's the thing: you only need to ride as much as you want to or need to. No need to keep up with the Joneses who spend their weekends in southern Utah interval training up Kolob Canyon. Really, as the days get shorter and the temperatures drop there is simply less time to get out, and the time outside is harder on your body. It's okay to not take the four-hour ride you'd usually go on; that hour-long ride will suffice.
And while lots of riders might extoll the benefits of winter base training - riding long sessions at about 70% of your max heart rate - that doesn't mean that you'll be able to defend your KOM in the same way you did in September of the year prior. Understand that your maximum performance isn't what it might be at the peak of the season, and you'll enjoy the time out on the bike just a little bit more. A lot of the challenge of cycling is mental, but realizing this goes as far as any amount of pushing your limits in regards to enjoying your time on the bike.
Want to get out there, but don't have the gear? Come find us in store or send us an email any time at email@example.com.
Photos by Marc B., Lincoln D., Michael K., Jared S., and Alvin Holbrook.