Eight tips from the pros and experts for how to not let winter get you down

The days are short, roads grimy, and weather appalling. Here's how to resist the urge to tuck away the bike and hibernate

Spring is still a reasonable way off, and the fattening festive treats are tempting us from all angles. The bike-cleaning rags are worn thin from all the muck-removing sessions, and the rug beneath the turbo is permanently sweat-stained. Keeping motivated in the very depths of winter can be tough. That’s why we’ve rounded up a host of inspiring tips from top experts to help you keep the pedals turning through winter’s grimmest weeks.

1. Be flexible but consistent

Rich Lang, founder of Spok’d training app

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When it comes to winter training, two fundamental principles can help you maximise your fitness: consistency and frequency. Who would be fitter, someone who rides once for five hours per week or someone who rides three times for 90 minutes? The rider with the higher frequency can generate more overall quality training stress to improve their fitness.

So focus on regular, shorter rides – you can dodge the worst of the weather and ensure every minute on the bike is quality training.

Gareth Kruger, Vankru bike-fitting

Try to find other riders with similar goals to go out training with. This helps with accountability when you don’t want to get out of bed.

Emily Chappell, ultra-endurance racer

Be flexible – make the most of any small window of good weather, even if you hadn’t planned to ride far that day.

CW says: You’ve got to be tough to conquer the winter, but by making the most of any small window of opportunity to train and keeping yourself accountable, you can keep the consistency required to go into spring riding strong.

2. Carrot, not stick – rewards and stimuli

Max Stedman, pro rider with Canyon-dhb-Bloor Homes

Plan an adventure every now and then. When it’s cold and miserable, the thought of riding the same normal roads again and again can put you off. So get a train from home to a random location, plan a mega-route home, and ride on. If you can get a few of you together, it’s great fun, and point-to-point rides are so mentally refreshing.

Emily Chappell, ultra-endurance racer

Create a reward system. Mine is very simple, and consists of putting my pyjamas on the radiator before I go out. If I get home from a ride after dark, I’m allowed to go straight to bed – and eating pasta under a duvet, while my toes slowly defrost, is worth any number of freezing miles.

Mikey Mottram, rider with Vitus Pro Cycling

I keep motivated by feeling I’m getting one over on people who won’t go out on the wet, cold and dark days. I think about the rewards I will get in the spring for the work I make sure I put in now.

CW says: There’s no denying that winter riding can be tough, so don’t make it any harder for yourself than it needs to be. New routes and a rewards system can renew the enjoyment, despite the rain.

3. Get the gear right — and know how to use it

Simon Clarke, pro rider with EF Education First

Simon Clarke at the Tour of Britain 2019 (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

You can get just as wet from water on the roads when it’s been raining as from the rain itself. Good, full-length mudguards, both front and back, are just as important as a quality winter jacket when it comes to keeping warm and dry.

Garth Kruger, Vankru bike-fitting

Make sure your winter bike is fitted exactly the same as your summer bike. This makes the transition between the two seamless and enables you to ramp up the hours in spring with minimal risk of an injury.

Rikki Pankhurst, founder of Pankhurst Cycles

Just as you spend hours training and looking after your bike, you should spend time practising changing tubes. In winter, you can become hypothermic in 20 minutes, and it can take some people that long to change a tube. Spending some time at home to perfect your technique will make you a lot faster.
My personal tip for speeding things up is to make sure you fully separate the tyre bead from the rim on both sides of the wheel before you try to pop the tyre off with a lever — this loosens the whole set-up and makes things a lot faster.

CW says: Don’t put up a barrier to winter training by claiming you don’t have the right gear or want to avoid the puncture stops associated with mucky, flint-strewn roads. Preparing appropriately with good winter kit will also give you added motivation to ride, as you’ll want to justify the cash invested in the process!

4. Remember, this is winter — different rules apply

Nikki Brammeier, multiple national cyclo-cross champion

Nikki Brammeier at the 2019 cyclocross World Championships (Photo by Ole Jensen/Getty Images)

Rather than think of the winter months as building you up solely to be a fit cyclist, aim to think of it as the time to be a fit all-round athlete. Mix things up. Why not try a 20-minute run, a bit of mountain biking or an evening cross session? Cross racing is a fantastic way to get some intensity into your winter months and it’s fun and keeps you warm.

It is hard to get motivated for a general three- or four-hour road ride, so break your days down into two sessions of different disciplines; keep it fun and varied. You will still be developing that fitness, but just in different ways.

Brian Holm, sports director at Deceuninck-Quick – Step

Brian Holm at the 2018 Tour de France (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Use the early winter as a chance to do something a bit different, as once the season starts, you won’t get the chance. Cross, track or MTB are good, as they will get you off the road in bad weather, let you do something you can’t do in the race season, and are great for technical skills and power. Use winter as a chance to drink beers and eat with less worry over your diet, as once the season starts you’ll want to get focused.

Joe Baker, junior national  hill-climb champion 2018

If you’re doing the traditional ‘long steady base miles’, opt for less data. Nothing makes a long ride go slower than having ride time, distance, power etc in front of you. Go back to basics — put your bike computer in your pocket so you’re not looking at it. It helps rides pass faster and can let you enjoy the outdoors more, especially on those sometimes demoralising long ‘base’ rides.

Dean Downing, coach and former national criterium champion

Dean Downing talks to Alex Frame, Tour Series 2016 Durham

Don’t beat yourself up about missing a session in winter if you’re ill or the weather stops play. In the middle of January, it’s not worth worrying about individual sessions — just focus on the whole accumulation of training stress rather than the minutiae of every ride. Save worrying about specific sessions and interval targets for when you’re looking to peak for in summer.

CW says: Remember, you don’t want to hit peak fitness for another three or four months yet. Make the most of the lack of pressure by doing things you know you won’t be doing in the summer when you’re focusing on
your goals.

5. Remember that it’s not all about the bike

Laurence Plant, practitioner at Henley Practice sports clinic

Use winter to focus as much on what held you back or what stopped you training in 2019 as on your 2020 training goals. Remedy lasting niggles and imbalances — some gym or core work when you can’t train on the road is hugely productive time.
Ironing out those little issues in winter will mean your training isn’t hampered when you look to start building in spring.

Nichola Roberts, cycling physiotherapist at Velophysio

Winter is a great time to focus on all too often neglected strength training and conditioning: core strength, mobility and movement. But don’t worry if you’re not a fan of the gym, try running, swimming, yoga, or pilates – just find something you enjoy.

These sessions help restore natural body balance, spinal mobility, and help you to prevent injury and make you stronger into next season. It is also helpful mentally to have a separate focus, rather than plugging away on the bike just staring at your watts.

CW says: Remember, training is about work performed both on and off the bike. If you’re spending less time on the bike through winter, invest that ‘leftover’ time into doing things that will help you enjoy the bike come summer.

6. Nourish your body and mind

Ted Munson, sports and performance nutritionist

Illness is almost inevitable at some point during winter, particularly upper respiratory tract infections — but changing your nutrition can mitigate this. Vitamin D is essential for immune function, and we struggle to get enough of this in the winter months, so consider a supplement.

Although you may not be in a competition period, maintaining carbohydrate intake (60g/hour) on prolonged rides can help prevent exercise-induced falls in immune function by maintaining blood
sugar levels.

Alan Murchison, British Cycling team chef

It’s key to keep morale high in winter. The occasional burger or cheese-loaded pizza will make you feel good inside and do no harm, given competition season is far off. Food intake is all about balance and moderation — and a little of what you like does you no harm at all, especially in the dark days of winter.

CW says: Winter is hard on your body, mind and immune system. Fuelling all of these in the right way will see you stave off illness or staleness and come through winter like a spring chicken!

7. Find motivation and joy indoors

Joscelin Lowden, rider with Drops Cycling

Joscelin Lowden at the Ladies Tour of Norway (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Try a ‘team turbo’ when it’s really grim but you want to do a big session, i.e. do your turbo workout with mates. Pack your turbo, fan, and towel and head over to your mate’s pain chamber and set up your bike next to theirs. It helps commit you to your session if you have a plan, and it eases the boredom of bashing out hour after hour on the turbo alone.

James Hayden, two-time Transcontinental race winner

Visualisation is vital for keeping me motivated in winter on really tough turbo sessions. I head off in my mind and visualise myself racing my next big goal. I think about how it will feel to be in the race, and get used to how it feels when really smashing it. This helps you cope better when you do get to the race — you feel like you’ve already been there before and you’re just going through the motions rather than being in a new situation.

Dan Bigham, pro rider with Huub-Wattbike

Dan Bigham (Photo Andy Jones)

The best technique to avoid the worst of the winter weather is to take up track cycling. In Derby Velodrome, it’s a balmy 21 degrees Celsius all year round, and it never rains! Physiologically, track cycling in the winter is effectively reverse periodisation. Nail your top end throughout winter and then hit the longer aerobic sessions as the warmth of the road season approaches.

CW says: you can ride your bike inside too! We don’t always enjoy it, but finding ways of motivating ourselves on the turbo can make or break a winter. And if that fails, get down to the track.

8. And just remember…

Conor Dunne, pro rider with Israel Start-Up Nation

Just remember, no matter how bad you unfit or cold you feel at that moment… things will get better!

Connor Dunne at Tirreno Adriatico 2019 (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.