Well, Winter has descended on Canada and contrary to the California-based bike publications, for most of us, outdoor riding is really hard to do. And, even if we do venture out, it can take just as long to get dressed and undressed as it does to actually ride…well, maybe that’s a bit exaggerated but, you need to plan your clothing to be sure.
I live in Edmonton these days after spending many Winters on the wet coast. I’ve experienced 4 hours soaking wetat +2C and also a similar length of ride in the snow at -15C. The key to any ride is being prepared and knowing how much you can do at any given time.
Firstly, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Set your training plan to target your fitness to be ready for the Spring. Map it out so that you slowly add hours in the saddle as well as intensity over the Winter months – whether you’re riding on the trainer or outdoors. The pros put on about 5,000km of low intensity mileage before doing any hard work…you need to be patient and build an aerobic base. There are no shortcuts, I don’t care what anyone says about ‘junk miles’.
Next, be prepared for the elements…this usually takes some experimenting to find out which gloves, under layers and wind protection you will need based on the temperature, wind exposure, rain, etc. Personally, for the Edmonton snow rides on my mountain bike I use a 2 layer system for my hands…a thin glove under a wind and water proof mitt. For my feet, I’ll use a Winter specific cycling ankle boot with a battery powered, heated foot bed – the type used for ski boots. Magic! In Vancouver, my Winter bike always had fenders and mud flaps to keep the spray off of myself as well as guys on my wheel. Tights are windproof and for colder than -10C, I add a thin wool layer such as . On my upper body, it’s all about layering and ventilation. I like to wear clothes that I can unzip on the climbs to keep from overheating and sweating too much. Sweat can chill you instantly so zip up for the downhills or headwind sections.
Indoor riding can be very useful during the mid-week when it’s dark traveling to and from work – sorry, I don’t commute on my bike in the Winter. The key for this type of training is to follow a similar program of slowly increasing the length and intensity of each effort over a period of 3-4 months. This can be hard to do when it’s tempting to give yourself a ‘killer’ workout each time you get on the trainer…whether on your own or in a group situation. The best way to manage your workouts is to have a VO2 max test done at your local university and get your Anaerobic Threshold heart rate and associated heart zones calculated. Now you’re ready to follow a proper training program from a training book, DVD or online or live instruction.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to diversify and improve your cardio fitness with supplemental activities that stimulate your heart and work the muscles and ligaments in the similar way – cross country skiing (skating and classic technique), snow shoeing and speed skating are great cross-training workouts that easily translate to the bike.
And finally, to keep you motivated, set a goal for yourself. It can certainly be hard to stay on a consistent, 3-4x/week program over the Winter…you need to stimulate your aerobic system at least 3x/week to see improvement. Pick an event that you really want to do and register early to ensure that you can get in. It will also help you to commit to the dedication that it will take to push through the long, cold Winter that we know and love in the Great White North.