by Tony Marchand

Cold Weather Cycling

It's winter. The key is don't fight it. A break from the cycling routine will better prepare you for the coming spring without mental burn out. I've both seen this in cyclist and experienced it myself. This does mean eliminating winter riding, but decreasing the amount of riding as well as the approach to how you ride in the winter (see "Outdoor Winter Road Cycling" below). Also turn to alternate training routines which are fun and strengthen muscles you'll use later when the spring rolls around. Click on reference links for demos and more information.

Alternate training routines and complimentary sports:
  • Strength training: Some of this can be done at the local gym while other routines can be done in the comfort of your home. This includes leg presses1,2, and core strengthening.3,4,5 Benefits:
    1. Muscle Strength: Don't exclude the core and upper body. The core is more important than one realizes in cycling and the arms and shoulders take all the vibration of the bicycle front end up through the handle bars.
    2. Muscle Balance: We often tend to use the muscle on one side of our body more than the other. Here's the chance to strengthen those other muscle and make our cycling smoother, stronger and more even.
    3. Flexibility: Muscles tend to shorten with strength training. To keep them flexible, use an approach of many repetitions with moderate resistance to keep them supple and elastic.
  • Cross country Skiing: An excellent aerobic exercise which also strengthens those leg muscles. Downhill skiing can add enjoyment and variety to your winter activities but as you gain skill, downhill is not as aerobic.
  • Running: Can be done in almost any weather.
  • Hiking: A good diversion to keep you active and outdoors.
  • Mountain Biking: A nice way to be in the protected woods, out of the wind and enjoying the scenery. The pace is different from road cycling with new skills and new routines.
  • Swimming: A great aerobic routine that also strengthens many muscle without excessive strain on those arms and legs.
  • Yoga: Probably the best exercise to improve flexibility and a great warm up for spring and summer cycling.
Cycling Indoors: I have my stationary bike set up in front of a DVD player and watch some of the old Tour de France videos. When they sprint, I do to. When they go up hill, I shift to a more difficult gear (and an easier one when they go down hill). Keeps me occupied and I'm always up with the winners. There are many other routines involving cadences, heart rate, and more. Spinning classes are a great benefit which strengthen cycling muscle and aerobic abilities but remember that endurance for longer rides will have to wait until outdoor spring riding (see "Transition to Spring" below). Another tools is the Trac Trainer indoor resistance trainer for your bicycle that either comes with an attached handle bar readout or attaches to your laptop computer. I've tested it out for about 3 weeks with just the bar readout which allows you to adjust resistance for uphill or downhill. Pricey but loved it and can image the fun when hooked to my lap top.6

Outdoor Winter Road Cycling When you do go out, bundle up and tone it down to enjoy the outdoors and keep your legs in cycling shape. Speed here is not the key. You'll loose your enthusiasm and become mentally wiped out for the coming spring season. I call these nice easy rides a "bike walk." Don't fight the wind. Alternate these rides with the training routines above. Great care should be taken in icy conditions.7 Also:
  • Dress for the weather. See our video on Cold Weather Apparel.8
  • Make sure your tires get a good grip. I run my road tires at around 110 psi, but in the winter I drop it down to between 90 and 100 psi.
  • Consider a wider tire such as a 700x28 range (if it will fit your rim). A wider tire will sink through the loose top layers of slush or grim to provide a better grip on the pavement below. This concentrates your weight over a smaller area and pushes the tire down to the pavement.
  • Consider greater visibility by using a white light in front and a top line LED light for the back.
  • Fenders don't have to be extravagant, just basic enough to keep spray from hitting you. Front fenders should reach a couple of inches in front of and behind your fork. Rear fenders should either be full length or, if a clip-on variety is used, have the ability to angle up to compensate for less length.
  • Avoid riding suspension bikes in really cold temperatures. As the mercury drops, the oils inside the suspension become less fluid-like and more like, well, glue.
  • Lane position:
    1. Snow gets plowed to the side and although most may have melted, watch the edge of the road for icy spots.
    2. Sump pumps often dump water onto the road which then freezes at night. Be on the watch.
    3. Safety is important and when the road narrows due to ice or debris, take up the lane until there's room for the car to pass. Otherwise, ride as close to the curb as is safe watching for ice and debris.
  • Body position:
    1. Stay loose and relaxed to absorb any rough road conditions
    2. Look along the curb for glass or debris that may have washed to the edge of the road.
  • Clean your bike and drive train often, especially after wet and dirty conditions. Use a wet sponge on the frame then use a clean cloth to dry it off. I put a small amount of degreaser on my cloth and wipe off the dirt before applying new lubricate. Wipe between the cogs of the cassette by using the edge of your cloth. Don't forge the pulley wheels and chain rings. See our video Wet Weather Clean Up
  • See nutrition below.

Nutrition for Winter Cycling:
  • Caloric Intake may increase in winter months in order to keep the body warm. For rides of more than an hour, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends consuming every hour 0.3 gm of carbohydrate per pound of body weight (0.7 g per kg).9 But this is debated, in that properly clothed and with the exercise, you may keep you're body warm enough to offset the extra caloric need. In colder weather, if you feel chilled, you probably will be burning more calories per hour to keep warm. Carry extra food with you as a precaution.10,11
  • Hydration is always a key in the warm or cold weather.12 If your body is kept warm with the right clothing and with exercise, the amount of heat lost through respiration is small. In fact, you may find yourself sweating under your clothing. The problem is in winter, you just don't have the urge to drink. Yet drinking fluids are necessary to maintain proper body function, so drink up.13
Transition to spring: As spring approaches and you begin to increase you're outdoor road cycling, you'll need to ease up on the weight training and some of the other core and upper body exercise routines. Don't jump right back in to the fast hard pace of last fall. Start slowly with short rides and easy pace and build yourself up for the late spring and summer ride. This is what the professionals do with great success.14

Equipment Tips:
  • Fitness Exercise Ball: Use in many of the core exercises described above.15
  • Sport Cord: Another strengthening method.16,17,18
  • Exercise Wheel: A great abdominal/core strengthening tool. Start with just a few reps and work your way up.19
  • Indoor Resistance Trainer, some with computer hookup.6,20,21


References:
  1. How Good Is the Inclined Leg Press  from eHowFitness
  2. Leg Press: The do's and don'ts  from Will Brink
  3. Core Strength  Chris Carmichael's Top 10 Exercises
  4. Strength Training: Lower Body   Build leg strength with 4 simple exercises from Lance Armstrong's strength coach, Peter Park.
  5. Core routine for cyclists and triathletes   from BalancePointRacing
  6. Tracx Virtual Reality Trainer.
  7. Cycling in icy conditions and bad weather   from bikeradar.cm
  8. Cold Weather Apparel   from tony10speed.
  9. 9 Nutrition Tips for Winter Cycling   from active.com (ACSM caloric requirements)
  10. Tips for people who exercise in the cold.  from bicycleplus.com (body may not burn more when winter cycling - but when chilled, eat warm up foods)
  11. A common sense approach to winter nutrition  from USA Cycling
  12. Hydration Tips   Myths dispelled and tips suggested.
  13. Cold Weather Increases Risk Of Dehydration  from the University of New Hampshire.
  14. Winter Training   by Ned Overend
  15. Exercise Balls   from New Life, also available through Amazon  and Walmart
  16. Exercises That Work : Elastic Band Exercise Routines  from livestrong.com
  17. Leg Extensions Exercise with Resistance Bands  Blake Kassel of Liveexercise.com demonstrates the "standing leg extension" using resistance bands.
  18. Resistance Bands Exercises For Legs & Butt - Squats  from shapefit.com Using resistance bands is a great way to get a quick and portable workout.
  19. Ab Wheel  Sample Exercises by Lyzabeth Lopez for Fitness Depot
  20. CycleOps Virtual Training   from CycleOps.
  21. Niagara Cycle   Wide variety of indoor resistance trainers for your bicycle.