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How To Train When The Weather Is … Shizzle

How to train when the weather is bad

It’s 29th December 2012. I’m out on the bike.

Presumably this is some sort of early New Year resolution (plus I’d just received a pair of clip on mudguards for Christmas – I needed to show some gratitude).

It’s just before lunchtime but it may as well be evening. The only thing greyer than the sky is the sullen look on my face. It’s a busy road and I’m regretting not having brought my bike lights. I’m barely visible to passing drivers, their wipers running full speed.

My glasses are fogged on the inside, drip-covered on the outside. I’ve resorted to contorting my neck and eyeballs to look out of the side of them. Since I need glasses to see, this is hardly ideal.

The ride’s crowning glory comes just 10 minutes from the end, as I ride into my home town. A jarring blow to my front wheel, felt from my forks to the top of my sodden neck, signals that the puddle I was unable to avoid contained a pothole.

I’ve only had this new set of wheels for two weeks. The chances of them still being round after this ride are about the same as being in a position to win the Paris-Roubaix one day classic in 4 months time.

I could cry.

I fall to my knees, hands flung to the heavens, icy rain mingling with salty tears*.

“There has to be a better way than this..!”

(* I’m perhaps using a little artistic licence here.)

There Is A Better Way Than This

Despite what this somewhat embellished trip down memory lane suggests, I’m a wuss. A glorious wuss.

Riding outside in a howling gale, rain slicing across my face, is not my idea of fun. If I have a planned ride, and there are no other factors encouraging me to get out there (riding with friends, I’ve paid to participate in a sportive), it’s more than likely I’ll just sack it off.

Perhaps you’re scoffing at my lack of mental fortitude. Fair enough. But you should be aware that there is a potential risk to playing the strongman and riding regardless.

Your risk of injury increases. Speaking from personal experience (which I accept is based on a sample size of 1), the ride I described at the top of this post was one of three wet rides in a week – I’m pretty sure that riding in such miserable conditions exacerbated my knee problems (although the underlying issue was due to a poorly-fitting bike).

The risk of taking a spill increases as well. In wind and rain you need to take care. If there’s likely to be ice, you’re better off not going out.

Bad Weather Cycling Options

So when the weather turns pants, what are your options? Here are a few alternatives to a rain-sodden ride:

Turbo trainer

For the unacquainted, a turbo trainer is a device that you use to ride your own bike without going anywhere.

Most turbos involve you clamping your bike into a triangular-shaped frame, with your rear wheel resting on a roller (which may or may not be the right term) at the back. As you pedal the bike, the roller provides resistance, mimicking that which you would feel on a road.

I’ll deal with different types of turbo trainers in a future post (in case you were starting to worry). In the meantime…

The advantage of a turbo trainer is that you can set it up wherever there is space for your bike. Since this can be inside, you don’t have to don your winter apparel. You can rig up your laptop or iPad (other tablets are available) in order to watch soap operas or motivational videos of famous Alpine routes; you can listen to self-help podcasts on your phone.

For the more seriously-minded athletes among you, training on a turbo allows you to have total control over your session. You can sprint for a set number of seconds without having to slow for an approaching junction; you can ride at your ‘threshold’ until you’re close to blacking out.

For the less seriously-minded, riding on the turbo can become quite boring, quite quickly (hence why people resort to televisual distraction).

The other thing, if you plan to set the turbo up inside, is that you’ll need to keep your bike quite clean, if you’re also using it for dirty outside rides (not that sort of dirty, mother).

Rollers

Rollers are like turbo trainers for the clinically insane.

Instead of being firmly clamped in to a stable frame, you ride freestyle over a set of three glorified rolling pins, attempting to keep your balance.

You might assume from this description that I’ve never tried them. You’d be right.

I believe the pros and cons are similar to those of the turbo trainer, with the additional ‘con’ of having the potential to break your wrist whilst cycling into the living room wall.

Maybe the added frisson of danger makes for a more exciting session, and less need to distract yourself with a classic episode of Bergerac (a reference that will be lost on anyone not British and over the age of 30).

Gym

I don’t have a gym membership, mainly because I can’t afford one (plus I doubt they would let me bring my two-year-old along to spot me on the bench press machine).

When I did have a gym membership (back in the mists of employment), I used it for showering and getting changed after my commute, power lifting and for the occasional spin class. Without the power lifting.

If you do have a gym membership, and the spin sessions are free or not excessively expensive, they do make for an excellent, focused session of high quality training. It’s difficult not to be motivated by the screams of an overexcited instructor, urging you to dial up the resistance for the next sprint interval.

Alternatively, you can do a session at your own pace on one of the exercise bikes. Whilst most exercise bikes do have preprogrammed training sessions (intervals, ‘hills’ etc), I’ve tended to find that the sensation when using them distinctly different from riding an actual bike.

The exception to this (which admittedly I haven’t tried) is a Wattbike – these are meant to mimic much more closely the riding experience (as well as recording how much power you’re generating as you ride). If your gym has these, then you’re very lucky indeed.

Finally, you can do exercises which don’t involve a bike. These might take the form of resistance exercises to build strength in your legs and core (which would hopefully translate to better performance once you return to the bike), or can be something entirely different.

I’m partial to a bit of parkour. Which isn’t really allowed in gyms.

Outside (Just Not On A Road Bike)

If you are made of ‘sterner stuff’ and insist upon riding outside, you might want to consider removing (or at least reducing) the chance of being hit by a motorised vehicle from the overall risk casserole.

(That’s right. Risk casserole.)

Time to break out that secret mountain bike (or not-so-secret hybrid commuter) you keep locked in your shed and spend some time riding off-road trails.

These don’t have to be (radical) black grade singletrack (mountain bike term – I had to look it up). Dude.

In the UK there are plenty of bridleways and converted former railway lines to ride along. A good place to start is the Sustrans website, which has a map showing all of the national cycle network. Much of this is off road (or at least on quiet roads).

Foreign Training Camp

Which your other half will recognise by its other name, a holiday.

My ‘foreign training camp’ last July (in Mallorca or Majorca, depending on your persuasion) did wonders for my RideLondon training. In fact, given how little I’d been able to train during May and June, it probably rescued my preparation entirely.

I appreciate that this is an expensive option, both in monetary terms and the potential cost imposed upon the health of your relationship. Your partner may not appreciate being left to their own devices for 2–5 hours a day whilst you do interval training with Team Sky*.

(* You should of course sell it as a benefit: a morning of unabridged tranquility in which to sip lattes and tackle that much-anticipated novel that’s been sat on the bedside table since Christmas. Or something.)Oh yeah. Do make sure the weather in your proposed foreign training camp is going to be better that back home.

Strategic Rest Session

Which does exactly what it says on the tin.

In order to give the suggestion that the decision to wimp out not to train is a conscious one, aimed at improving your performance in the long run, I’ve cunningly added the word, ‘strategic’.

Now you can sit back, pop on a retro cycling cap at a jaunty angle, read a copy of L’Equipe and drink a strong espresso or eight. Great session.

Where Is That Fugging Book You Were Going On About

Hmm, yes. Good question.

I’m still working on it. In fact I thought I’d finished it. And then I had an idea for something to add in. Excuses excuses.

What I’ll probably do is release a ‘beta’ version of the book at a reduced price and ask purchasers to provide feedback on what works, what doesn’t, what needs to be added.

If you’d like to be the first to hear about the launch (and be a ‘beta’ reader), either sign up to my email list(and also receive my free ebook in the meantime) or head over to my pre-launch page and register your interest there.

Until next time, safe riding.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Giles Roadnight February 21, 2014, 10:30 am

    GLOL at the cycling into the wall comment!

    This was my to-date most extreme ride yet (last Friday)
    http://www.strava.com/activities/113267418
    26 MPH head wind gusting to 49 MPH! 1,160 KJ (basically calories) in one ride.

    Oh it was wet as well:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAPwBHxahE0

    There are never bad conditions, just bad kit! I actually felt OK on this ride. It wasn’t too cold so quite enjoyed the wildness of it!

  • Martha February 21, 2014, 1:32 pm

    God I’ve been SUCH a wuss about cycling this winter, so I’m glad to hear you have too!! My off bike training has consisted: running (until I strained my calf from bad technique and now I can’t run at all), swimming (I had to take lessons first), a little bit of spin (there’s a place in Fulham called Pedal Studio so you don’t even have to join a gym!), but most of all, “strategic rest sessions”!
    I am also going to spend 4 days in Mallorca over Easter riding – the advantages of having a cycling partner 🙂

  • Tim Jasper February 22, 2014, 2:30 pm

    Glad it’s not just me too… New job and moving up to Ashbourne means that I’m now on the doorstep of some fantastic riding country yet haven’t had time/energy/mental fortitude to get out much. When I did I also had to adjust from “Soft South” to “Blimey Another Hill…” And I used to like riding in the wet and the dark. At least when you do get a few evening rides in – in the wet naturally – you feel like you’ve gone faster and harder than you actually have. A nice illusion, and it all helps… I guess!

    • Andrew Montgomery February 24, 2014, 7:43 pm

      Ah, a fellow (adopted?) Ashbournian. It won’t take you long until you fall in love with the hills round here. I can pinpoint ‘the moment’ for me. First ride – last April – the stretch of road from Thorpe to Ilam (which is more a descent and then a flat bit, rather than an ascent). Magical.

      • Tim Jasper February 24, 2014, 8:10 pm

        Yes – adopted…
        Thanks! And into Ilam from the west on that open hillside road. I thought I was in the Black Mountains. And swooping down through Alsop to Parwich was nice. Note the word “down”…

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