This polar vortex aside, we cyclists who live in the Midwest have a choice in winter. Since giving up cycling, even for a few short months, isn’t really an option, the choice becomes whether to brave the cold to continue riding outside or embrace the trainer and ride indoors.
Whichever route you take, know they both take a mental toughness – one to endure bracing windchill, slippery conditions and the stares of people who are sure to testify against you in an insanity case and the other to tough out hours of monotonous spinning with too little airflow, despite how many fans you set up.
That said, there’s a way to approach both. And we, at Higher Gear, can help.
The Outdoor Adventurist
When it comes to riding through all sorts of weather, including Chicago winters, the most important piece of equipment/gear you need is your brain. Days with windchill values (or even actual temperature) below zero might call for a change in plans. Making big decisions on whether or not to ride outdoors or which routes to take require clear thinking.
Then there are the little decisions that have to be made on the fly – like whether it’s safe to risk swerving to miss a patch of ice with that car next to you that’s not giving you your mandatory three feet of space. These all require a fully functioning, quick-thinking, adaptable brain. If you don’t have one, perhaps you should look into trainer tires.
If you’ve passed the brain test and have determined that going outside is doable for you, having a fulling functioning bike and proper gear is helpful. A recent tune-up helps ensure that your brakes and gears are in good condition. In cold temperatures, however, even a properly tuned bike can suffer malfunctions. Fluids and cables can freeze up, complicating or eliminating your ability to shift or brake. Warming up a little indoors can heat up those cables and fluids – as well as your lungs – to make sure your bike and your body are ready to go.
For those who only have road bikes, it’s recommended to swap your narrow road tires for cyclocross tires. (Our sales staff can make sure the tires work with your frame and fork.)
Keeping your tire pressure low helps maintain your grip to the road surface, whatever it may be. Our master mechanic (and kamikaze cyclist) Fredo suggests, “If you think the tire pressure is too low, it’s probably just right.” Lower tire pressure means that more of your tire is gripping the ground. You may be working harder, but you’re more likely to stay upright. In winter conditions, give up the notion of speed and focus on perceived effort or watts.
Lights are especially important at this time of year. Shortened daylight hours and drivers who, even midday, are focused on road conditions (hopefully) or their cell phones (hopefully not), mean that being seen is even more important. The more warning you can give motorists, the better off you will be.
Cycling glasses are also a necessity, especially in winter weather. Sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun as it sits low in the sky and from the glare of the snow. But you also need to protect your eyes from the cold wind that will dry out your eyes and from debris, like salt on the ground, that can get kicked up by cars. In the event of an accident, shatterproof glasses will continue to protect your eyes during a fall. Look for cycling glasses that come with several lenses or that transition with the light conditions to make sure you have eye protection at all times.
Thankfully, clothing has come a long way. Technical fabrics mean that we’re able to keep warm, while sweat is being wicked away. And layers no longer mean bulk. Again, technical fabrics mean that we can get away with two layers of clothing in a lot of cases, both thin. Innovations like Bar Mitts keep hands warm even without gloves in chilly weather (to a point). We put together a guide on how to dress appropriately for cold temps using scientific principles. Bright colors and built-in lights are added bonus for all-weather riders.
All the cold weather gear in the world won’t guarantee your safety. Remember, your brain is the most valuable equipment you have. Don’t leave home without it! (And keep it safely protected inside of a helmet, of course.)
The Indoor Warrior
Don’t let anyone give you a hard time for sticking to the warm indoors for your riding time. Cycling indoors may not put the same demands on your brain to make quick decisions, but it does require a mental toughness that many of us just can’t ask of ourselves.
Training indoors isn’t quite as equipment-intensive as riding outdoors in the winter. If you’re at home, a pair of bibs and cycling shoes will do. You do need some basic equipment, however. You’ll need a trainer, a trainer block for your front tire, a trainer tire to replace your rear tire, a trainer mat or something under your bike to catch the sweat and a fan. A big fan. You don’t get the benefit of a breeze when you’re riding indoors. Outdoors, the harder you’re working, the greater the wind. Not so much indoors. We recommend at least one fan, placed directly in front of you. Additional (or larger) fans are a bonus. We’ve posted a handy guide to setting up your indoor training space.
As far as your indoor training workout, there are videos you can use. Sufferfest, one series we use in our studio, is about to launch their training challenge. It’s a good one – if you can handle it.
For those who need extra motivation to get moving, who enjoy group fitness or who want to take their fitness to the next level, Higher Gear’s CompuTrainer Studio was designed for you. CompuTrainer sessions are indoor cycling sessions, built around rides or workouts. The trainer itself has an integrated power meter, which means you are no longer relying on perceived exertion or heart rate for your work, but on power (measured in watts), for a much more accurate means of measuring progress. Rides are tied in with videos when available or with movies when desired. It’s more stimulating than staring at the fan at home. Sign up with friends to challenge yourself and them!
Are You In Or Are You Out?
Whichever way you choose to keep your cycling groove going on all winter, Higher Gear is here to help you with the equipment you need and the advice on what works best for you and your budget.
Done let boredom get the best of you this winter. Pedal the winter blues (and the holiday pounds) away – indoors or out!
For training indoors, see these related posts:
For training outdoors, make sure to check out:
- Embracing Winter Training.
- Winter Training Survival Guide.
- Cold weather clothing.
- Cold weather nutrition.
- What to wear.
- Endura clothing – now at Higher Gear.
- Cycling glasses.
- Bike tune-up.