I don’t know about you, but I am watching the nights draw out with impatience. I can’t wait for the longer, lighter evenings that we are promised when the clocks finally change to British Summer Time in March. I find it really hard to muster the desire to train in the dark, and, even though I know it is at least twice as hard to get myself out, I still manage to delay my training rides until dusk, nearly every day! But, why is it so much harder to train in the dark? And, is that even a thing?
Many people opt to train indoors instead of on a turbo trainer, and for many this is a brilliant option: with the ability to ride in a virtual group, to stay warm and dry, and arguably, to be able to perfectly nail a specific training ride without the hindrance of elevation changes in the wrong places or junctions to navigate, what’s not to like? Well, for me, I know all this is true, but I just prefer to have the wind on my face, the road under my feet and to spend some time somewhere else. Somehow I feel a little bit better for seeing the moon and stars, travelling on my journey, and getting a proper chilling.
But, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be forcing myself out in the dark unless there were ulterior reasons to drive me out there. And there are a few of these. I always find that after the focus and intensity of the Cyclocross race season, I’m quite inspired to do my best training to make all those improvements I want for next season – and that starts NOW while the evenings are still dark. (I just hope that I can keep that inspiration going all through the summer!) And, I always feel better within myself after a training ride, which is absolutely vital to me through the classically low months of deep winter. I know that consistency is key when it comes to training and my training is really important to me, so I just keep going.
Just keep going – that is probably the root of how I manage to keep riding in the dark and in the cold. I just keep going and don’t have any negotiation with myself about whether or not I want to do it, whether or not I’m going to do it, whether or not I’ve got time to do it – all of these are non-negotiables and I don’t give them a moment’s thought, because as soon as I do, I know I might give in and I also know that I always feel better after my ride.
But won’t the roads be icy? Well, yes, they might be, so be sensible. To be honest, I don’t often suffer from icy roads very often but I am very aware of them. If I can make a ride happen in the middle of the day when the sun is more likely to melt icy roads, then I will. When I have ridden in the frost, I choose roads that I know are bus routes and will have been salted. I also pick my lines carefully. I do accept the risk of ice though: as a cyclocross rider, I can handle my bike well but I understand that a patch of black ice will deck even the best rider, and I am prepared to risk that. If I wasn’t, I would have to go on the turbo and that’s a very acceptable and probably much more sensible option! Except that I don’t want to!
But isn’t it hard to be seen? Yes and no! I feel much more vulnerable as a road user in the dark and I consider it my responsibility to ensure that I can be seen by traffic. Invest in a properly bright front and rear light, maybe even two of each? Always wear reflective hi viz, the more the better! And think about where that hi viz should be on your body. I have a massive hi viz on my over shoes, on the thighs of my bib tights and on the front and rear of my over jacket. Have a look at other cyclists you see in the dark and think about what you would recommend them to do to be adequately visible. I find that if I’ve got it right, then cars give me plenty of extra space in the dark.
- Because you want to ride with your mates
- Because you want to be able to keep up on the summer rides
- Because you’ve set yourself a challenge and you’ll be miserably unfit if you don’t start training now
- Because you’ve got a race season ahead of you
- Because consistency is everything in training
- Because it helps with your mental health
- Because winter miles count double (really??)
Pick your reasons – whatever it is for you! For me, it’s the mountain bike season calling.
So, my top tips to keep riding through the winter:
- Do what you enjoy – indoors or outdoors – it doesn't matter! But do ride!
- Plan a time in your day when your ride fits in best, even if that is early in the morning in the dark, or at 7pm again in the dark!
- If you’re likely to be too tired at the end of the day, get the ride done early instead.
- Remove any barriers to getting your ride done.
- Get your kit out in advance
- Get your lights charged, fill up your water bottle, find your snacks, pump your tyres
- Put your bike on the turbo trainer
- Sort out your route to suit your workout
- Keep your ride short if that helps you to fit it in, a short ride is better than no ride!
- Invest in the kit you need to keep yourself warm – even if it’s only at the weekend.
- Invest in kit that will keep you visible – lights AND reflective hi viz.
- Find yourself a route that you love and suits your training needs.
- Have a training goal to keep you motivated
- Remember why you need to ride, even in the winter.
And on that note, I’m off out to try to get my ride done today before it gets dark! Although, on second thoughts, today it's actually snowing and I might have to draw the line there and embrace the turbo!