Spawned by tales of epic winter rides of battling the elements with a troupe of riding camrades, nay, brothers in arms, clever marketing ploys weave an aura of romance and valliance into winter riding.
The media and the clever marketers have you believe it’s all ‘long slow distance’ (base training), mudguards and cake stops. Gritty, grainy glamour in black and white.
A thin layer of ‘insulation’ over your once lean and mean muscles is ok; racing weight is exactly that: for when you’re racing.
The sleek summer race machine must be retired to the turbo til spring, the gels and energy powders pushed to the back of the cupboards. The sturdy old winter hack (preferably steel or titanium for ‘epic’ points), bedecked with lights and tyres the thickness of a carpet must be readied to take you into the windswept and wintery wilderness.
The chivalric trope of the arming of the warrior is invoked as portrayals of the joy of layering up in your merino and nanoflex – your armour from the elements – is rolled out, the ritual of the toasty porridge and vitalising Americano to fuel your muscles is evoked.
It’s perhaps not always that way in truth. Admittedly, some of these tenets can be very true, but it can feel very very different at times.
The beauty of the winter sun
Yes, the winter sun is quite a beautiful sight, standing defiantly in the blue skies, weakly and hazily imparting a few rays of warmth onto the world. It can lead to days like this. But a clear blue summer sky typically means plummeting temperatures, frost, and ice.
A big yellow circle on the forecast – for me at least- can lead to procrastination as much as jubilation. Is there ice around?
Should I revert to those theories of keeping the intensity in winter (‘reverse periodisation’ etc), and bravely load up a sufferfest video for an hour of tear-jerking pain on the turbo?
Or how about I wait til late morning, when the sun is strongest and the ice banished, and venture out then (which typically, for me king of the faffers, leads to the achievement of neither a turbo session or an outdoor ride)?
The golds and reds of late autumn, the epic ‘rides of the falling leaves’.
Ah, those beautiful hues of autumn, the reds of the leaves accentuated by the winter sun. The damp and dewy roads reflecting the sun’s beams, sharpening the majesty of the scene.
The falling of those beautiful golden leaves and their slow rotting leads to lots of muck, and lots of cleaning off of muck. The marketeers don’t mention that do they? Oh, and p__ctures. We all love them. The wet and slimy roads lead to your tyres becoming magnets for flints and shards, and those cheeky blighters love wiggling their way through your nice new (and expensive) contis
Autumn, and much of winter, for those of us that care for their bikes more than they do for their cars or most other human beings, leads to lots of time with the cleaning sprays, degreasers, and heavy lubes. It can feel like every ride ends in the frustrating process of standing out in the cold, still in your kit, getting colder and wetter as you try to reinstate some semblance of dignity to your bike. You want nothing more than to get inside, shovel some sort of protien concoction into you face and clear your head with a strong coffee, and nerd out over your ride files. But you just can’t face the idea of your ‘trusty winter hack’ (as portrayed by the media) getting shoved away covered in muck, grit and general filth.
To LSD, or not to be?
Back in the day LSD – long slow distance – was praised as the thing to do in winter. Chug out the miles nice and slow to build those mitochondria and enhance the endurance engine, get yourself ready for the punishing intensity of the spring build. OK great, easy.
The annual roll out of the festive 500, the epitome of LSD and the glamour and glory of braving the winter and sticking it where the sun don’t shine (literally). To force yourself through the festive 500 in a blowout of junkmiles and overtraining? Or to do it as an adventure and show your fortitude and infallability?
But now they say you need to keep the intensity, to bust your balls doing zone 5 efforts up and over the climbs, or creating a pool of sweat over your kitchen floor as you stare at your own eyesockets in agony on the turbo.
So, to base or not to base? Who knows. Much as I enjoy a long ride, sometimes an hour or so of ultimate distress indoors can be far more appealing when the mercury is touching zero. But sometimes, the turbo can break your spirit and crush your desire for bikes.
The layers; the armour from the elements.
The blacks and whites of the media show the heroic winter warriors in their windproof, waterproof, ‘foul’proof garb. The ritualistic and therapeutic experience of finishing off your warming and hearty porridge, downing the second toasty and invigorating Americano to retire to the armoury (read: bedroom) and don layer after layer of merino, nanoflex, and goretex.
Make sure you leave at least 15 minutes to do that.
Layers take time and procrastination. Look at the weather forecast. Again. The three times already weren’t sufficient. Look out of the window. Maybe look out of a different window just to check it shows the same outlook.
Hmmm, could be wet, should I take the gabba? But will that be warm enough? Do I take the super-heavy gloves or the slightly lighter and more dextrous pair, so I don’t spend the next four hours pressing the wrong button on my garmin and struggling to get into my ride food?
If the session doesn’t last at least two hours, the layering and de-layering seems to take even longer than the ride itself. So you’ve got to go all or nothing or you’re wasting time. Long gone are the balmy days of bibs, baselayer, jersey. DONE. Those days when all you worry about is if your legs looks lean and your sunglasses are clean.
The road to somewhere brighter
Sure, this has been a very negative piece. I’m a pretty negative guy, and I’m overblowing the trauma of winter.
However, that marketing celebrating the glory of winter has to be taken as just that; marketing. To sell you things. Buy our new jacket! Get this new disc-brake bike!
For me, winter is something to be got through. Grit your teeth and think of the training camps to come, keep your mind on the endgame of the summer events. Fortunately, Christmas has now passed. Once January’s done, we’re on the home straight.
Hold on tight. We’re getting there.