The options and opinions concerning off-season training are almost as numerous as there are coaches and athletes. Based on the principle of specificity, at the heart of the off-season remains the need for saddle time on the bike.
For those braving the outdoors, the debate remains: What kind of winter beast will serve best for training in the cold and dark? What equipment will be both durable and bring about the biggest return for the training effort?
The Winter of Our Discontent
At 32 years of age, I am beginning my 18th winter of cycling training and I'd like to think that by now, I pretty much have it down. As I stand on the precipice of my off-season training this year—like every year—I start to wonder if I've got another season in me: another winter of long, lonely, dreary miles, saddle sores, frozen digits and dining on lunches of PowerBars and Accelerade. And every year I somehow muster up the strength to do it all over again.
This winter, I'll have one thing in my mind during every single one of the 250-or-so hours I'll be spending on the bike over the next three months. I'll be recalling the feeling I had when I won my first pro race. Although the ratio doesn't sound quite right (three months of pain traded for a few seconds of glory), somehow, in the mind of a cyclist, it all adds up.
Just to keep things interesting, every year I add some new things to my routine. Of course I continue to pile on the miles and intensity with each passing season, but I like to expand my bag of tricks as well. One winter I taught myself how to ankle. Another winter, I focused on stretching and increased my flexibility. The next winter I built a rock solid core. There's always something you can add, something you can learn to take your cycling to the next level and keep things interesting.
And just like my body, my winter bike has picked up a few tricks over the years. Every year, I add a doohickey here or a widget there. This winter, I can confidently say I've built up my best winter training bike to date. Is it a bike? I like to think of it as a tank. It will get me the most possible bang for my buck and make every mile I put in the bank now pay back in dividends down the road.
I started my build with American Classic Hurricane Wheels built with a PowerTap SL hub. These are designed for a more hefty brand of rider, but I figured they'd be perfect for a winter beast: bomb-proof and maintenance-free wheels for the kind of long winter riding I'll be doing. I don't want to spend a lot of time truing wheels and I figure I'll have to hit a lot of potholes before these things need maintenance.
Amazingly, the wheels are actually not that heavy (base-level Hurricanes weigh in around 1,480 grams, slightly more with the PowerTap hub), so I had the luxury of beefing them up with some Bontrager Thorn Proof tubes.
With limited daylight, there's nothing more frustrating than having to thumb a ride due to a double flat or that nervous feeling of riding 50 miles home with an empty saddle bag. I started riding these several years ago and, over thousands of miles, I have never gotten a flat. I have since learned that these tubes are a secret training tool to many top pros.
Not only are they ridiculously heavy (almost solid rubber with just a few pumps of air inside), but because it is rotating weight, they actually seem much heavier than their actual weight. By training my body to become accustomed to this extra weight, I've found I have a distinct advantage over the pack come February, when I slap on my 1,200-gram carbon tubulars.
Efficiency of Training
Unquestionably, the key to my winter training bike are the PowerCranks. We've said it before many times on Pez, but there is absolutely no better way to get more out of your daily ride than by training with PowerCranks. This winter, I'm testing out a very cool new prototype for the evil genius PC-inventor Frank Day (but you'll have to wait for another article to read about them).
After four years on the cranks, I am finally able to complete an entire base program plus a two month build period all on PowerCranks. By the end of the program I can barely walk, but after two weeks on my road bike doing high-spin intervals to get my leg speed back up, I have more power than I could ever have dreamed of. Using PowerCranks builds up such an incredible base of muscular endurance that it pretty much carries me through the entire season.