It’s 6:00 am on a chilly Saturday and you are woken up by that dreaded sound that you just do not want to hear – the alarm clock.
Eyes half shut, your hands begin to reach out to the snooze button while your inner voice starts giving you a million reasons to go ahead with that decision.
‘Just 5 more minutes. What difference will 5 minutes make anyway?’ ‘Whose going to go out in this cold weather! Better stay put under this nice comfortable blanket’. It’s funny since this is the same inner voice that made you set that alarm last night for 6:00 am because you wanted to take your neglected bike out for a spin and get those feel-good endorphins running through the body. At first, it may seem to be a daunting activity – bundling yourself up to ride through winter temperatures. But give it a chance.
Regardless of the weather, you greatly benefit by riding a bike. The exercise itself is an almost unimaginable reward. The very act of going from place to place by bike gets your heart pumping, blood flowing, and calories burning.
There are 3 main areas to consider when you ride year-round. These are fundamental regardless of where you live, although some become more important in colder, snowier climates.
- You, the rider, need clothing and fuel to keep you warm and give you energy.
- Your bicycle should be properly outfitted and maintained.
- You need to be aware of the skills and obstacles involved. Winter riding calls for slightly different skills than do the warmer months.
WINTER CYCLING CLOTHING
The most important aspect of cold-weather riding is your clothing. It’s also the area where most first-timers make mistakes. The key rule is to not overdress.
Since it is cold outside and there is no engine block kicking out heat, you tend to assume you need a ton of clothes. Wrong. Your body produces plenty of heat and sweat when riding, so you can actually become too hot and sweaty. This can lead to hypothermia and dehydration. When stopped for things such as traffic lights, all that extra heat gets dissipated by cold breezes and can leave you wet and shivering.
Tip: Wear just enough clothes to be slightly cold when you start pedaling. The first few minutes may be chilly, but your body produces a vast amount of heat when riding a bike so you’ll warm up quickly.
BICYCLE & BICYCLE ACCESSORIES
Tip 1: Avoid riding suspension bikes in really cold temperatures. As the mercury drops, the oils inside the suspension become less fluid-like and more like, well, glue. Front suspensions can start to feel heavy and slow.
Tip 2: Daylight is fleeting in the winter. Assume that you will always be riding in darkness and have bright lights for both the front and back of the bike. Look for the brightest bike lights you can find, preferably those that cast a wide viewing angle.
Rechargeable lighting systems work the best but are pricey. The less-expensive clip-on variety work well, too. Just keep the batteries fresh so they are at their brightest, and get the lights with the widest viewing angles and beams you can find.
HYDRATION & FOOD
It’s easy to forget to hydrate yourself in the winter months. While the cooler temps may not make you feel like you’re dehydrating, the reality is that biking is an aerobic activity and the outside temperature has little effect on the amount of water your body loses. Keep in mind that your winter clothing traps more heat, thereby increasing your body temperature and causing you to sweat more. Also, the atmosphere tends to be drier in winter, pulling more moisture out of your body with every breath. In summer, if you start to feel thirsty you haven’t drank enough water. In winter, you can reach dehydration long before you start to feel thirsty. Drink up.
Food is another key to your winter cycling comfort. Without sufficient food intake, your body doesn’t have the right kind of fuel to produce heat or energy. In warmer climates, lack of food causes you to tire easily and lose power, but in cold conditions it can make staying warm next to impossible. Eat a meal or have an energy snack before you head out.
So next time you shudder in fear thinking about riding your bike in the cold winter weather when temperatures are at their lowest point in the year, take a deep breath, relax, recollect all these points mentioned above and tell your inner voice – ‘Relax dude, I got this. This ain’t a big deal. Lets get that bike out and get some miles in those legs!’ And after all that exercise, sit back on your sofa, turn on the TV and treat yourself to a nice Christmas plum cake. Because you know what, you’ve actually earned this one!
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