Strategy Guide and Gear List for Winter Riding

Fall and winter predators are lurking to steal your summer fitness. These predators are sneaky. Before you know it, they can rob you of your endurance, strength and motivation.

What predators lurk and is there anything that can stop them?

The biggest robbers of summer fitness are shorter days and colder temperatures. Most endurance athletes love the long summer days, and find it tough to get motivated to train in dark or cold conditions.

For athletes working an eight-hour daytime job, outdoor workouts in the winter mean dark routes with invisible hazards and cold conditions.

On weekends, some athletes cannot force themselves to go for a long bike ride in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead of talking yourself out of fall and winter training, design a purposeful weekday routine and consider investing in new cycling gear.

Maintain Your Fitness

A good strategy for weekdays is to keep individual workouts less than an hour long. Keeping workouts less than 60 minutes is as much for mental fitness as it is physical fitness.

Mentally, most people can look forward to a 30- to 60-minute workout that involves being indoors to weight-train, swim, ride a bike on a trainer or run on a treadmill. I know you would rather be outside; but a routine of strength training, stretching and form work now go a long way to set you up for stronger racing next summer.

In addition to strength and form, maintaining an aerobic base adds to solid racing next year. One of cornerstones of aerobic fitness for triathletes and cyclists is the weekly long ride. Fall and winter temperatures don't have to mean "survival" or "torture" rather than a "good workout" for your long rides.

The late Robert "Papa Bear" Whitmore, a noted authority on wilderness survival, made an observation that stuck in my mind. He noted when the weather is cold—say 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit—people know it's cold and they prepare for it.

Knowing Is Half the Battle

Often, however, problems occur when the temperature is in the 40- or 50-degree range and people are unprepared for sudden weather changes; like an approaching storm that makes conditions wet and/or windy.

For example, a 40-degree Fahrenheit ambient temperature changes to 34 degrees on your skin with the addition of a 10-mph headwind. Add a cycling speed of 20mph into that headwind and the wind chill takes the temperature to a burr-cold 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can increase the fun factor on these long rides by protecting yourself from the outside elements, like wind and rain, and keeping sweat off of your skin.

Starting from toe to head, here's a shopping list of gear to get you started:

  • Make sure your socks give your toes enough room to move. Cramped toes are cold toes. Be sure your socks are made out of moisture-wicking material.

     

  • Wear booties to keep the wind off of your toes. For cool temperatures, try the wind-stopper booties. For colder temperatures, neoprene materials are great.

     

  • For your legs, wear tights or leg warmers, with or without wind protection on the front.

     

  • Wrap your torso with a base layer that wicks moisture away from your body, a second layer to insulate, and a third layer that provides wind protection, yet allows moisture to escape.

     

  • Gloves or lobster-claw mittens with wind-stopper material on the outside and moisture-wicking material next to your hands.

     

  • Use an oil-based moisturizer for your face. Water-based lotions wet the skin, increasing the likelihood of frostnip or frostbite. Or consider a balaclava to cover your face. For athletes with asthma, a balaclava can slow moisture loss and help pre-heat cold air before you suck it into your lungs.

     

  • For head protection, a helmet cover and ear warmers is my favorite combo. If it gets too hot, I can easily peel off the helmet cover or pull down the ear warmers. Others prefer a skull cap that fits under a cycling helmet.

     

  • Fill your insulated bottles or hydration bladder with hot energy drink. A good apple flavor mimics hot apple cider.

     

  • In your pocket, carry small chemical packs such as Sports Heat. These are little packages that produce heat once the outer wrapping is opened. Carry a package of these to warm fingers and hands that have changed a flat tire.

     

  • If you ride in remote locations, carry a cell phone in case you need to call for help. While you are waiting for your ride, keep warm by putting the chemical packs in your shoes or gloves.

     

  • Find buddies who are willing to ride in the cooler conditions. Looking forward to riding with a group is much easier than facing chilly temperatures on your own.

By using some of these tips, hopefully you can stop fall and winter fitness predators from stealing your fitness with a weekday routine of strength training and working on good technique in all sports.

Protect your aerobic fitness base by keeping that long ride; but make it more comfortable with the right gear. A consistent training routine this winter goes a long way toward stronger racing next summer.


Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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