I have a love-hate relationship with winter.  I am a summer person – no doubt about that.   When it gets cold I find myself complaining every time I go outside.  All too often I look at the temperature or the unfavorable conditions outside and find it easy to convince myself to stay inside and not to ride my bike.  When this happens once, it gets easier to skip the next time.  Pretty soon I find that I’ve missed a few weeks without getting on my bike.   In the last few years I have made a concerted effort to not let this happen.  What I have learned is that every time I buck up an brave the cold weather I end up having an incredible time.  In fact, some of my most memorable rides have taken place in horrible conditions.  I rarely regret ignoring that voice inside my head that says it’s too cold.

Here are a few tips that have helped me stay in the game all winter :

Get the right gear

Obviously, having the right clothing and gear can make a huge difference to your comfort level.  If you are comfortable you’ll get outside more often.  Also, I must admit, the opportunity to test new gear has provided some motivation to get outside.  The good news is you don’t need a lot of special gear.  The most important tip I can give is to dress in layers so that you can regulate your temperature as your body starts to warm up.    If you are a little cold in the first mile or so you’ll feel much different after your body warms up. This doesn’t require any cycling specific gear – whatever keeps you warm is usually enough.

Another important tip is to keep all of your winter gear organized in one place and ready to go.  I also try to remember to keep my light charged up and my hat, gloves, and other winter gear in the same place so that I know it’s ready to go when I am mentally prepared to venture out.  This also reduces the chances of getting distracted while you try to pull everything together.  As someone who suffers from attention deficit disorder a few extra steps in getting ready can lead to an abandoned ride.

There are a couple of pieces of cycling gear that can make riding outside a lot more comfortable.  I find that my shoe covers and lobster claw winter gloves are a game changer for me.  We’ve got a lot of good winter gear in stock and I’ve included some of the items at the bottom of this post.  

Commit to regular rides

Having a regular scheduled group ride can make a big difference and help keep you motivated.  We continue our Thursday night and Saturday morning rides through the winter.  We do our best to have the ride in all types of weather and only cancel if the conditions are not safe due to ice or extreme cold.   We might be down to just a few riders, but just having someone else to ride with and a committed time to ride is enough to get me out on many cold days.

Adjust your expectations

When it’s cold outside you have to think differently about your ride.  If consider 20-miles a good ride then you might have to reset your expectations on a really cold day.  In really miserable conditions 10 miles might be just enough.  I like to plan my winter routes so that I have a bale out option if it gets too cold and uncomfortable.  When I am forced in early I try not to look at it as a failed ride.    It also works the other way;  if I get outside and find my self feeling great I can take advantage of it and put in a few extra miles.  The important part is getting outside and giving yourself the opportunity to do what you can on any given day.

I think as cyclists we put too much emphasis on milage as an indicator of our commitment.  I think we need rethink this when the weather is bad and be happy with what we can do comfortably.  In some cases pushing yourself to get outside for a 10-mile ride might be a huge accomplishment.  Also, as a practical matter, staying out in the cold for a long period of time can  get uncomfortable no matter how prepared you are.  For me, on really cold days my hands and feet start to go numb after about 20 miles.    When this happens I’m better off calling it a day.  If you are set on reaching a milage goal maybe try combining several small rides rather than exposing yourself and riding past your comfort level.

Have a fallback plan

While I try to keep riding outside whenever possible there are days where it’s just not possible.  Extreme temperatures, wind, snow and ice can make it unsafe to be outside on a bike.  While I’ll always prefer riding outside, I find it extremely helpful to have an inside riding option available.  This helps me stay consistent and gets me though the long stretches of bad weather that we inevitably have in the winter.  I use an indoor smart trainer with ZWIFT and I try to keep it set up and ready to go whenever I need it.  In the early days, before smart trainers, I looked at indoor trainers as a form of torture.  But smart trainers have changed the game for me and provide a lot of entertainment and motivate me to get on my bike when I can’t get outside.  

I hope these tips have helped.  If you want help figuring out a routine and equipment setup that will keep you riding through the winter we would be happy to provide a winter riding consultation.  schedule an appointment here and we’ll be happy to talk about some options for you.

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Ottawa Bike and Trail Club