There seems to be two different sorts of club cyclists once the chill winds of winter start to blow across the Tewin triangle: those that disappear off the scene only to emerge like butterflies come the first warming sunrays of spring, and those with a grim and steely determination, who decide to keep riding through the winter almost regardless.
The reasons to keep riding are fairly obvious, most of us have endured a personnel battle to reach some level of fitness and fear the loss of what we have gained, and we all just love riding our bikes. Let’s face it there are probably easier, drier and warmer ways to keep generally fit but nothing adds to the cyclist version of the fisherman’s tale of an epic ride than overcoming the ferocious forces of nature.
So, what does the aspiring winter club cyclist need to know to get the most out of the club run?
A bike prepared for the winter is a must. A purpose built ‘winter bike’ is a worthy addition to any cyclists stable of machines. I think I can already hear the cry of loved ones saying ‘another bike!’ Well it will be a money saver in the long term would be my first retort; the gritty paste that comes up from the wintry road surface will make short shrift of expensive transmission parts, wheels and good tyres. If that fails, like a small schoolboy all over again, try ‘well, all the other guys have them.’
A ‘winter bike’ will allow the fitment of full-length mudguards essential to keep road waste off you, and more importantly than you - your bike! Mudguards without mud-flaps will do nothing to keep road spray, that viscous mixture of rainwater, cow dung and dirt out of the face and teeth of your riding companions. The mudflap can be made out of rubber or plastic in a homemade Blue Peter style; or St John Street Cycles carry all sorts from five quid upwards available to order through the internet. Fit one on the front mudguard to keep your feet and bike parts dry; fit one on the back mudguard so that your riding companions are not left covered in E.coli infected waste and so you remain on their Christmas card list
The other handy advantage of the ‘winter bike’ is the ability to fit wider tires. Certainly a 25mm tyre, or even 28mm if your frame has the clearance will provide a more comfortable ride and better grip whilst coping with the terrible road surfaces that we have to face. A heavier more puncture proof tyre is also a most. Of course punctures are part of riding, but they are even more hassle on a cold wintry day. Conti GP4 seasons are an option as are Contact’s and Schwalbe offerings. Check your tyres at regular intervals for the intrusion of damaging flints or puncture inducing splits.
Carry a ‘proper’ pump if the frame allows it so that club mates are not left shivering in the cold whilst your carbon mini-pump inflates your repaired tube at the rate of an asthmatic dormouse. No room for a proper frame pump? Then get yourself a CO2 inflator for those really miserable puncture days.
Where do I get a winter bike I hear you say? Well Daren at Shorter Rochford does one that many in the club swear by, as do Ribble, Tifosi and Dolan. In fact, just about every bike maker does some sort of suitable frame. Dig that old group set out and hey presto, you are ready to go.
Some members even roll back the modern advancements of cycling and take part in some bizarre fetish called fixed/single speed cycling. Some of the ‘old guard’ in the club swear by it for the winter months. Talk to Nigel Cameron or Chris Glithero if you wish for any advice and the benefits (?) of this form of cycling torture.
If a bike, with mudguards and mud flaps is just not possible then all is not lost for group riding in the winter as long established cycling etiquette kicks in, simply make your apologies and ride at the back of the group for the whole ride - it really is the decent thing to do.
Then, how do we ride? Well we are not racing are we! In matter of fact some of us are coming off a hard racing season and tired bodies need a little time to repair and recover. Breathing in cold air deep into the lungs is also a very bad idea. So ‘steady as she goes’ and build speed and distance as the winter progresses towards the actual racing season that for most starts in March or April. The vast majority of winter training should be at what cycling coaches call level 2, that is 65-75% of your maximum heart rate. Some limited harder efforts than that are fine, but just pointlessly trying to go ‘sort-of-hard’ through the winter will leave many cyclists tired and worn out even before the proper racing begins and will make you more vulnerable to illness and under performance. So select lower gears and practice spinning; it will keep you warmer on the ride and provide a benefit when it comes to getting the most out of every pedal stroke. Don’t worry about missing the pain and suffering, there is plenty of time for that as the racing season approaches and the feared ride out to Flint Cross starts to re-appear on the club run.
Any other tips? Wrap up warmer to allow for the steadier pace of the ride. The club design Giordana winter jacket is a cold weather favourite amongst the North Roaders and is very good value (contact Chris Glithero for club clothing information). Clean water bottles thoroughly, and if you are ill, or feeling rough then give the ride a miss. Better to miss one week and recover than ride whilst sick just to have to miss many weeks as your illness gets worse. Fit some basic cheap lights, the flashing mini LED type are very good, for those dark winter mornings.
Also consider doing something else in addition to your cycling, circuit training is a regular part of winter training for cyclists of all levels; the club runs a class at Richard Hale School on Wednesday nights. Try some mountain biking if possible, it’s good for the soul and makes a change from the regular rides, and helps to improve fitness and sharpen bike handling.
So there we are, everything for the perfect winter cyclist, just don’t forget the grim ‘chewing a wasp’ look required when facing a block headwind, with the water in your bidon frozen, and with sleet bouncing off your face....