As a chilly breeze replaces the warm summer air, the inclination to ride naturally begins to ebb. Vicky Ware lists 16 ways to approach autumn and winter with more enthusiasm
Depending how you organise your cycling year, autumn is either a welcome part of your season when you have some fun with your fitness, taking part in cyclocross races and spirited weekend rides with friends, or it’s a time when your motivation dips and your training begins to tail off as you lament the falling temperatures.
In the latter case, the risk is you’ll have a lot of catching up to do come spring. So how to stay motivated to keep riding?
Of course, it’s important to take an end-of-season break; choosing when best to do so depends on how you feel and how your racing schedule panned out.
Most cyclists benefit from taking around a fortnight off with no riding at all, but it is important to listen to your body.
By the end of your time off, you should feel re-motivated and raring to ride. Still need a little extra incentive? Here are 16 motivating ideas to help you ensure that the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” does indeed bear fruit.
1. You’ll stay stronger and healthier
Living in Britain, we are exposed to limited sunlight — the reason why UK public health advice is that we should all take vitamin D supplements from October to early March, when we’re not soaking up enough UVB rays to allow the body to produce sufficient vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, as it allows calcium to be absorbed into the body, but it’s also required for muscle health and mental health.
Vitamin D is also strongly associated with changes in the immune system and, in turn, inflammation. Getting out in the sunlight during autumn will ensure you get a good dose of vitamin D.
Sunlight also triggers the release of nitric oxide from stores in the skin, a compound shown to boost aerobic performance.
2. Freshen up with a proper break
Take a fortnight off the bike to give your body a break, helping you freshen up physically and psychologically.
As explained in our Essential Guide this is the ideal time to do some light off-the-bike conditioning and cross-training, as well as planning your winter training and next year’s target events.
Don’t worry about losing fitness: the gains will outweigh the minimal losses.
3. Build towards a great winter
Consistency is the ultimate key to achieving your long-term goals, so once you have taken your end-of-season break, return as soon as possible to a structured regime.
Sticking to a training schedule during the autumn, after your break, will make starting winter training much easier. Fitness is lost more quickly than it’s gained, but maintaining is easier than gaining.
You don’t need to spend the autumn months slaving away on the turbo trainer, but trying to maintain a certain number of hours training per week will pay dividends next season.
Luke Rowe, pro cyclist at Team Sky and coach at Rowe and King, explains why week-to-week consistency is important: “Consistency is absolutely key — for most riders, doing four 90min sessions during a week is far better than one big six-hour day at the weekend.”
The same is true for your yearly training cycle: you’re better off riding close to your average weekly training hours each week rather than yo-yoing between massive hours in August and none in January.
4. Catch up with club-mates
Autumn is a great time to go out riding with friends without worrying so much about sticking strictly to training zones or completing arduous, intense sessions.
Therefore, it’s also a good time of year to catch up with club-mates and friends who may be at different levels of fitness — for now, it doesn’t matter.
Spinning through leafy lanes while catching up with like-minded riders provides a refreshing change from gritting your teeth in relentless sessions.
5. Ride an event just for fun
The pressure you heap on yourself during the season can take its toll. Once autumn rolls around, the remaining races can be ridden just for fun.
Paradoxically, not caring how you do in an event often leads to a better performance on the day. Easing back on pressure and expectations can prove productive in training — try to avoid riding out of a sense of obligation, and remember the main aim: enjoyment.
6. Reap the benefits of cyclocross
Cyclocross is arguably the most fun you can have on two wheels, and can provide a potent boost to your fitness, as well as improving your bike-handling skills at the same time.
Races are held all over the country, and most don’t start very early in the morning, so they’re wholly accessible and family-friendly.
Find details of your local league at: ukcyclocrossevents.co.uk
7. Sharpen your top-end by hill-climbing
If you like your bike racing short and sharp, hill-climbs can’t be beaten — courses are typically two to four minutes long, often lined by cheering crowds.
The miles you have accrued over the summer should see you through such a short effort, and if you want to prepare specifically, it’s a very time-efficient discipline: a weekly session involving four to eight bursts of two to three minutes at maximal effort, ideally on an uphill slope, will soon have you in race-sharp condition.
Rowe explains: “For motivation, hill-climbs at this time of year are a good idea. However working on top-end speed work in the autumn won’t be of much benefit come spring when the road racing starts.”
Rather than thinking of this as training for next season, use it to maintain fitness you’ve already built.
Hill-climbing is great spectator sport, too.
Observe a master-class in how to handle pain by watching others put themselves through some exquisite suffering at the RTTC National Hill-Climb Championship in Matlock, Derbyshire, on October 30.
8. Try some new training techniques
During the season, it can be difficult to train optimally while also fitting in regular races. You don’t want to be tired for races, so you’re never training as hard as you could be.
During the autumn, there is no such conflict. You’re free to train however you like. Ever wondered whether doing less volume with greater focus may lead to better or equal results to your current training? Or whether cutting down on Zone 2 pace riding could maintain your fitness?
Now is the time to trial these ideas and find out how they affect your performance.
Autumn is a really great time to start incorporating weight training into your weekly schedule. Free weights are best for all-round conditioning, but using them safely may require some tuition initially.
Getting used to using weights is the most difficult part, not only because you’ve got to muster the motivation to go to a gym and learn how to lift weights safely, but also because of the inevitable delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
First-time weight training can leave you aching, which can have an impact on your cycling. But it may be worth the effort, as weight training can pay dividends by addressing muscle imbalances, such as quads being too strong relative to glutes, thereby improving your resilience against injury.
Time trial champion turned coach Matt Bottrill believes that variety in training is vital to success. “Just as you would never eat the same food every day and expect to enjoy it, the same is true of training. Keep it varied while focusing on progression.”
Autumn is a time to reflect on the summer and set new goals, advises Bottrill: “Motivation is about having a clear goal and then working backwards from that goal. If this season didn’t pan out the way you wanted it to, don’t go back to training the same way again for next season.”
This time of year may also be a good time to get physiologically tested — but once is not enough, argues Bottrill: “Testing should be carried out throughout the season — I’m still amazed by the number of riders who do one VO2 max test then train with the same zones all year. Retesting should be done every six weeks, especially through the winter months, to make sure you’re progressing at the correct rate.”
9. There’s time to ride for riding’s sake
Rather than sticking to a certain prescribed power output or heart rate, re-discover the joy of riding your bike unencumbered by data.
Leave the heart rate monitor and power meter at home and ride ‘to feel’ rather than by numerical metrics. Even if you love hard training, going for some aimless pleasure rides in autumn can have a powerful effect on your motivation.
10. Form some go-faster habits
Forming habits is the surest way to achieve long-term goals. Rather than focusing on riding a 10-mile TT two minutes faster next summer, focus on riding your bike six days a week between now and then. Get into the habit and it becomes second nature, no longer feeling like a chore — requiring little or no motivation.
Research has shown that breaking from a habit once can be enough to undermine it. If you ride your bike throughout the autumn, at the same time each day (e.g. after work), you’ll find it easier to continue doing so.
Break from a habit during the winter and the magnetic tug of the warm, cosy indoors may get the better of you — not to mention the bad habits that could tempt you, such as increased snacking and boozing.
11. Do an overnighter
Make the most of the remaining few weekends of decent weather by organising a mini touring adventure over two or three days. This is a great way to maintain fitness while doing a different type of riding while exploring new areas.
Recruit a club-mate or two, and together plan a longer-than-usual loop, with an overnight stay somewhere near the halfway point.
This is a novel way to sneak in some base training miles with the added bonus
of feeling like you’re on an adventure.
12. Get ready for winter
Are your lights charged and winter tyres fitted? Is your warm, waterproof kit still in serviceable condition, or does it need an upgrade?Perhaps you’ve finally earned those new overshoes you promised yourself two seasons ago?
Autumn is the time to make sure that you’re ready to take on winter and keep riding in as much comfort as possible.
Sorting out everything now means you won’t be rushed or stressed once the cold season proper arrives.
13. Avoid the off-season blues
Cycling makes us feel brighter, that barely needs scientific support. Nonetheless, studies show that exercise is beneficial to people suffering from mild to moderate episodes of depression.
Although the exact reasons for this link aren’t clear, it’s probable a number of factors come into play. One possible reason is that inflammation — associated with depression — is reduced by moderate exercise. Exercise also takes you outdoors, encourages you to socialise with others, and get fresh air and sunlight.
14. Ride a new route
It’s easy to fall into a rut and keep riding the same loops again and again during the season, and in some ways this is helpful for training accuracy. But this can lead to boredom in training and a lack of motivation.
During autumn, spend some time exploring new roads in your area and add some new regular loops to your evening and weekend repertoire.
This will not only add some spice to your autumn riding time, but will help keep motivation high over the winter.
If you’re less fit than usual right now, riding new routes also takes the pressure off.
15. Make the most of the daylight
The clocks go back by one hour on October 30, meaning we’ll have to deal with dark evenings until the end of March. And, come mid-winter, it’ll be dark by 4pm — eugh!
16. Seek out new Strava targets
With summer racing behind you and a winter of training ahead, autumn is the perfect time to hunt down some new Strava segments to aim for next season.
The pressure is off at this time of year so you can recce segments without feeling as though you need to ride your fastest time, while making note of the start and finish lines of the segment and mulling over the pace you’ll need to ride to bag the KoM or make it into the top 10.
By tracking your progress over a segment, you can ascertain a good sense of your fitness.