Four reasons to take time off the bike over winter

With the Melbourne winter just about behind us — finally — it got me wondering how many meaningful rides I’d done since the start of June. I’m not talking about commutes to and from work; I’m talking about decently lengthy and/or challenging rides where I got home feeling like I’d achieved something.

A quick look at Strava and I had my answer: five. Well, four, because one of those was in Austria in the middle of the European summer.

Even though there are good reasons for this lack of riding — the fact I’m training for the Melbourne Marathon and the fact I was in Europe without a bike for more than four weeks — I found myself feeling despondent after realising how little riding I’ve been doing.

But the feeling didn’t last for long. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that taking a decent amount of time off the bike might have been a good thing. With that in mind, here are four reasons to consider leaving the bike in the garage for a while when next winter rolls around.

1. Riding in cold and wet weather sucks

Getting ready for a ride when it’s cold and wet outside is a frustratingly laborious process. On one work commute last week I counted no fewer than 18 individual pieces of clothing I needed to put on before heading out: undershirt, jersey, gilet, arm warmers x2, rain jacket, leg warmers x2, knicks, gloves x2, socks x2, shoes x2, shoe covers x2 and helmet. That’s a whole lot of hassle for a one-hour ride. And it doesn’t get any better once you’re out there.

Out on the road you’re still cold despite the amount of gear you’re wearing, your ‘waterproof’ clothing proves to be anything but, you’re more likely to get punctures and to top it off, other road users have seemingly forgotten how to drive just because there’s a bit of water around.

And then when you get to the other end of your ride you’ve got wet clothing to deal with. Is there anything worse than getting ready to ride home and pulling on still-wet knicks, socks and undershirt? And don’t forget the bike — you just know it’s going to take you as long to clean your bike as you actually spent on it.

Ok, I’m hamming it up a little — most of the time the cold and wet are manageable while riding. And strangely, if the conditions are right, both can actually be quite enjoyable.

I’ll never forget the Domestique 7 Peaks Series ride we put on at Mt. Buller a few years ago when the heavens opened and rivers were running down the mountain. In just a few minutes we went from dry to so-soaked-it-doesn’t-matter-any-more and the ridiculousness of the situation actually made it fun. It helped that it was a warmish day and the rain was reasonably refreshing.

And then there are the snow rides. Almost every winter in the past few years I’ve ridden up Mt. Donna Buang in the snow and it’s been glorious. Painfully freezing, but glorious.

But those rare examples aside — and leaving Rule #9 out of it entirely — riding in the rain is usually worth avoiding if you can. Contrast this with running in the rain which, far from being a downer, can actually be nice and refreshing. Plus there’s no equipment to clean up afterwards …

2. Having an ‘off-season’ is important for body and mind

No professional cyclist in the world rides at the same intensity all year round, so why should you? Sure, you’re probably not racing at the elite level every week but the principle is the same: maintaining the same level of fitness and the same motivation year on year without a break is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

‘Detraining’, while a frustrating concept at first, gives your body a chance to recover before you start to push it again.

If you’ve been riding for a few years you probably saw your fitness and performance improve considerably in the early days and then plateau or stagnate somewhat after a certain period of time. If that’s you right now, why not take some time off the bike, give your body and mind a rest, then crack back into it?

Sure, you’ll have to train back up to where you were (and then beyond), but you won’t lose as much as you think. All that riding you’ve done over the years contributes to your fitness base. Getting from that base to where you want to be gets easier each time around. The pros have their off-season at the end of the year, why not take yours in winter when the weather’s awful (see point #1 above)?

3. It’s the perfect opportunity to take up a new challenge

With your bike taking a well-earned rest in the colder months, why not set yourself a new challenge? Running a sub-four-hour marathon has been a goal that’s been on my mind since I completed my first marathon a few years back and this year seemed like a great opportunity to go for it. The Melbourne Marathon is on October 18, meaning I’ve been able to train through the winter and then, once the weather’s warming up, I’ll have more time to focus on riding again.

My good mate Nick balances things particularly well. He spends roughly half the year running (he’s training up for a sub-three-hour marathon) and half the year riding. When it’s running season he barely rides, and when it’s riding season, he barely runs. And it seems to work well for him — he’s a terrific runner and cyclist and comes to both feeling fresh and motivated.

Your new challenge needn’t be running of course — maybe you’ve always wanted to get into swimming, or indoor rock climbing, or some other physical pursuit. Or maybe it’s not a fitness goal at all; maybe you just want to spend more time with your family on weekends.

4. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

As much as I’d rather not ride in cold and wet conditions (I know, I know — rule #5, right?), I’ve definitely found myself missing cycling this winter. I miss being strong enough on the bike to have a realistic shot at setting a new PB on a climb, I miss being able to keep up when riding with mates, and I miss being able to just head out to the Dandenongs for four hours of climbing and not worry that it will affect my ability to run 25km on Saturday.

But all of this frustration is a good thing — it means that I’m really looking forward to getting back into cycling. In the past, when I’ve cycled right through winter, I certainly haven’t felt as motivated or inspired to ride as I do right now.

I can’t wait to head out to Hells 500’s Ol’ Dirty this weekend, even though I’ll be slow as hell and I’m not sure how I’ll fit my long run in this weekend. I’m definitely looking forward to the Dirty Dozen on September 20, even though I know how much I’m going to struggle. And most of all, I’m really excited to get out there on the bike when the weather fines up and just enjoy being on the bike.

Those long, lazy rides through the hills in great spring weather. Those rides where you don’t plan to go for a new PB on your favourite climb but you just kind of accidentally do anyway. Those rides with mates where 100km+ passes by easily, all your troubles being erased by the simple joy of riding a bike with mates in great weather.

We’re already starting to catch the first glimpses of spring here in Melbourne and it’s a truly glorious thing. I was lucky enough to get out for a brief spin with my CyclingTips colleagues Andy and Jonathan last week and notwithstanding the ride itself (which was great), the fact that none of us had arm or leg warmers on was a most-welcome sign of things to come.

So, what’s your approach when it comes to cycling in winter? Do you take some time off the bike? Or do you soldier on? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

As always, thanks for reading. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out DD15: the 2015 Melbourne Dirty Dozen. It’s a whole new course in a new area this year and we’re more than looking forward to it on Sunday September 20. You can learn more and buy tickets here.

Until next time, please ride safe!

The feature image on this post comes from Colville-Andersen on Flickr.

18 Replies to “Four reasons to take time off the bike over winter”

  1. I only take a few weeks off here and there. but winter time i ride indoors when the weather sucks too much.

    but 100% agree everyone needs to take a break when the snow banks is 6 feet high and you can not see too well…

    keep up the blog as i love reading your post

  2. I find that i need to separate the ride from the afters. I really enjoy riding in inclement weather. I relish the heightened sensations: wind squalls bringing sharp showers of rain; the dark brooding clouds, the rhythms of intensity of precipitation; the occasional tapping of hail on the helmet and glasses.

    I have a vivid memory of riding along the pontoon on the north bank of the Yarra earlier this year. It was about three degrees and still, the sky in the west was a cold pale blue surmounted by really dark foreboding clouds. Suddenly the heavens opened, the pontoon surface became a mirror of water, and the river turned to corduroy because of the strength and intensity of the rain. Solid and water became visually inverted and as if I was riding in a dream on the surface of a canal next to rippled land. Extraordinary, and something you simply can’t experience riding along in balmy spring weather.

    The preparation for riding in bad weather can also be enjoyable: it is the anticipation of the environment which i am about to enter and the choice of attire that i will wear to weather the coming storm (yes, bad pun intended). I have very good clothing for cycling in cold and rain and there is the anticipation of its performance in the conditions for which it is intended.

    To make it easier for myself, I have insulated waterproof high cut cycling shoes for winter wear to avoid the putting on of shoe covers, a great jacket that I can wear just with a woollen baselayer, and have trained myself to not wear long knicks or leg warmers so that I don’t have to worry about those.

    However I have never grown to love the end of the ride: peeling off wet grimy clothing, hanging up each individual item in a futile attempt (on a work day) to persuade it to dry by the time I need to put it on again to head home. But then the joy of the hot shower quickly makes me forget the previous five minutes.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that I’m sensible in enjoying bad weather riding. But it is certainly an experience!

  3. Great write up Matt. I don’t mind the cold, but agree that cleaning the bike and drying out your gear after a ride in the rain is a pain. That said, I did a long ride in the rain about a month ago and I actually enjoyed the cold, frozen fingers and having to ride hard to stay warm. It felt like more of an accomplishment than my usual long Saturday ride.

  4. Agree. If you’re going to ‘not ride’ for a while, winter is the time. I had a fall @ 50kms an hour in April when I hit gravelon a highway. Sliced my arm up bad, 25 stitches and chips out of my bones.
    I started running again and did some 35km + trail running races and have missed all the wet & cold winter weather we’ve had and dreaming of summer riding. It’s been nice not to be on the bike at 4:30am to miss traffic, nice to only get running gear ready -so much less than cycling and a nice change in routine & training.
    A change is as good as a holiday?

  5. I’d agree with most of what you say here, especially the part about the time taken to clean the bike after a winter ride!

    I see a few people are saying you need to man up, but that whole attitude doesn’t sit well with me. Different people have different thresholds to temperature and different outlooks on life, so to judge somebody because they might want to take a break in the winter is unfair.

  6. LIKE! I had been feeling guilty for not riding a lot in this cold wet winter, until now. Great to have all these good reasons. 😉

  7. Yeah well, you probably don’t need to be told but we don’t suffer from the same ‘winter’ issues here in Brisbane as you guys do. We have had the odd ‘below zero’ ride early on some long rides but when the sun gets on the back it’s all forgotten. In fact besides the shorter days, winter is the best time for some epic rides. It’s August and we had 29C yesterday!! Crazy.
    You do make some good points though. I think I’d definately take up running again if I lived down your way in winter!
    Can you organise some sun for Ol’Dirty on Sunday though. It’d be much appreciated. 😉

  8. I live it Canberra and it’s been a cold winter. We’ve had sustained periods of -6 or -7 in the mornings (including one which lasted 10 days to 2 weeks), but a typical winter day starts at around -1 or -2. So, my advice is MAN UP!

  9. I don’t get it. Winter is road racing season – that’s when I ramp up my riding. I’ve found that it’s rarely raining – for all the talk of wet winter, rain doesn’t tend to last long and keeping an eye on the weather forecast allows you to plan around it. Wet roads won’t hurt you. I’m planning to wind down a bit over summer, as crits aren’t my major goal and racing them anyway keeps me fit enough. I also owe the wife a holiday (coincidentally planned after the Tour of Bright).

        1. Spoken like a man who’s aging body and two young kids don’t allow him to race and perform at the level he used to. This man’s ego would rather not race at all than just make up the numbers…

          Gravel grinding
          Riding with the kids

          They’re all so much more rewarding!

  10. Interesting article. I pretty much agree with everything you said. It can be hard to ‘endure’ a bike ride when it is cold and wet and windy, with clothing that is cold to the skin.

    Most years I have perservered with riding during this winter, but this year (because of other circumstances AND from the particularly wet and cold weather) I started running and discovered the ‘joy’ of running intervals. I also spent a lot more time walking and did some hikes. The running helped keep my fitness levels up and most of the time could be fitted in between finishing work and sunset (excersizing outside after sunset in winter is not my idea of fun!).

  11. SOLDIER ON! I love a ride any time of year. Yes, it’s more effort and time to get dressed. But that feeling of the body warming up, steam off your skin and breath in the air. The surroundings in winter are so beautiful. I love cycling for hours and only seeing a few others out. You give and receive that nod, the special one that says “You’re out despite the weather” and i love that.

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