The changing of the season always comes as a surprise. Darker mornings force you to dig out those lights that you had all but forgotten about during the incredible summer of endless daylight riding, and the return of wet weather initially dampens any enthusiasm for long rides. Eventually, someone in your riding circle mumbles something about putting mudguards on, and then you know summer is officially over, and winter riding is coming.
I was a reluctant winter rider for years. I’ve always been motivated by the adventure of cycling – using my bike to see beautiful places – so the absence of a view outside of the circle produced by my torch deflated my motivation. Add to that frozen toes, manky drivetrains, and needing an extra twenty minutes to apply the multitude of layers needed to stay warm, and I never saw a high appeal.
During the lockdown, a lot of us turned to our bikes for our health and sanity, and without the ability to venture far from home, started riding known trail loops repeatedly and finding new definitions of adventure. To me, that’s what winter riding is kind of all about. I don’t go as far, and I don’t get the same type of adventure, but there’s actually a lot to be discovered as the trails change every week with the weather, and I can focus on my line and the ride itself, instead of the blacked out scenery.
Here’s what I’ve learned that has made winter riding bearable awesome.
I’m a big believer in balancing work and reward, especially in cycling, and winter riding gives the perfect opportunity to indulge in rewards for the courage you mustered up to go outside at all. Changing mindset from “this ride is going to be very wet and uncomfortable” to “I’m going out for hot chocolate… 20km down the road” makes it seem like something you would actually want to do.
The old adage goes “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment”. And as much as I hate to say it, decent kit really does make a huge difference. Thermal layers, waterproof everything, really good lights, and, if your hands are as pathetic in the cold as mine, actual ski gloves. For those of us in the great north, studded tyres might even be on the table!
It’s okay to scale back a little, and focus on recovering from the summer’s adventures, and then slowly building a base back up for next summer. This is not QOM season. We are not meant to deliver the same high output every month of the year. It’s healthy to go a little easier, and know that by doing so, next summer will be filled with more big adventures.
There’s something really magical and refreshing about riding in the dark when things go quiet. It’s a really good headspace, with no distractions outside of you and your bike. I used to fear dark riding, but now I actually really enjoy it (buying a really good light made a big difference on the fear thing, FYI).
While I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, I’m actually really looking forward to the change to winter riding ahead of us. I even dug out the thermals to be ready – although, if you know me, I’ll be the last one still in shorts until I make the switch. Now I just need to start remembering to charge my lights every day…