One of the things that makes long rides on PowerCranks so challenging is the fact that your butt never gets a break from the saddle. On regular cranks, you are always applying a little more pressure to the down stroke than on the up stroke, which results in lifting your butt up off the saddle just a little on each stroke. With PowerCranks, you are always pulling up with the exact same force that you are pushing down, so you are always sitting hard in the saddle.
To combat this challenge (and being in between bike sponsors) I searched eBay for the softest ride I could find, eventually settling on a three-year-old Specialized Roubaix with the Zertz inserts on the fork, the rear triangle and the seat post. It's certainly a vertically compliant bike that's favored by some of the sponsored pros in races like its namesake. While this style of bike isn't my personal racing cup of tea, it's perfect for winter training.
To add to the comfort of this already plush ride, I installed fi'z:ik Bar Gel underneath my handlebar tape. Although it's really the butt that takes the brunt of the beating during long winter travels, it doesn't hurt to add a little comfort to the cockpit area of the bike. And speaking of the cockpit...
Pièce de Résistance
Perhaps the part of my winter bike that gets the most puzzled glances is the funny little gadget attached to my stem right below my PowerTap computer: a remote control for my iPod. Although I don't recommend wearing ear buds while you ride (and I resisted the temptation myself for many years), as my rides get longer and training partners who can hang on them became scarcer, the iPod becomes my best friend.
Using this tiny little remote from iJet, I can skip through songs, turn the volume up or down or pause to hear the colorful commentary rained down on me from the redneck, pick-up driving resident of Simi Valley (no offense Simians). Aside from staving the boredom with some upbeat tunes, it's also a valuable tool in testing some new "on the bike" mental conditioning tools I am developing to complement The Ultimate Cyclist sports psychology CD.
This last part doesn't have too much to do with the performance of this winter riding machine, but it did solve an ongoing problem I've had with matching those bright gold PowerCranks to any known paint job currently in existence.
Buying into the old "If you can't beat 'em" philosophy, I embraced the gold flair of these wretched torture devices. With the help of Tiso USA's distributor Cycling Innovations, I retrofitted every possible part with their shiny, gold anodized bolts, including the chain ring bolts, stem bolts, face plate bolts, bottle cage bolts and, as a final touch, a black Tiso derailleur with gold pulleys.
While I certainly don't recommend trying to duplicate this exact riding machine (and not just because I enjoy its one-of-a-kind status), I hope this article inspires you to think outside the box about your winter training. There are a thousand and one options for winter rides, and it doesn't need to be expensive.
Cyclocross or hybrid frames; full fenders or mini slap-on fenders or no fenders; lights on the bike or on yourself; 'cross levers on the bar tops or not—the main issue remains: durability rather than light weight, then customizing it with your own needs in mind. EBay and other sources of used bikes are your friend!
We are all unique machines and we all respond to stimuli differently. Don't be afraid to get creative with your training. Be intuitive. Dig deep into your training diaries to try to understand what worked for you, what didn't and why. Just because you are not a world-class cycling coach or you don't have a Ph.D. in sports physiology doesn't mean you don't have the instincts to adapt your training from season to season.
Use this example of my crazy winter ride as inspiration to get creative with your diet, your cross training or your lifting. Think imaginatively about your weaknesses and what you might be able to do to strengthen them. Keep a log and fine tune your training until you get the results you are looking for. And most importantly, have fun with it.