Winter Bike Rides are Off-Season Workouts, Keep that in Mind When You do Them
Completing a 62-mile bike ride in January or February in New Jersey is all about racking up the miles and staying warm. Let me reiterate that idea. The only thing that matters at the end of the ride is that you did 62 miles and you stayed warm. The clothes you wear are not important. The shoes or boots you wear are not important. The bike you ride is not important. And the pace at which you ride the bike is not important. All that is important is that you rode your bike 62 miles and you still have toes and fingers that you can use.
Does the ride have to be continuous? No. Are you allowed to stop from time to time to get liquids, food, use the bathroom, and change out of wet clothes? Yes. Are you allowed to take a nap during your break? No. But you have to ride your bike for 62 miles outside in the freezing weather. So how do I do it? Well …
Keep in mind that early season training need not be, nor probably should be, a regular season workout done in the early season. It is different. Expectations are different. Performance is difference. The equipment can be different. And the weather most certainly is different. If you regularly ride 18 to 20 mph on your summer training rides with minimal clothes on, no wind chill, warm air, and a racing bike with skinny little tires, then that is great. But don’t expect to enjoy any of that in January or February because in the early season months the temp outside is going to be cold, the roads are going to be messy, the wind is going to be nasty, and you are going to be rusty.
I tackle a 62-mile bike ride in January and February using an aluminum mountain bike (Cannondale) with balloon tires (26×2.35) with high rise handlebars installed. I have a tire pump attached where a water bottle cage could be attached, and a tire kit for flats attached under my saddle. I do not have water bottle cages on the bike. In the cold months it is too awkward to drink while riding since my hands are all bundled up to stay warm. The pedals do not accommodate cycling shoes. So I cannot clip in when I ride. The high rise handlebars allow me to enjoy a somewhat upright riding position which is nice considering all the layers of clothes I’m wearing. Furthermore, I’m only riding between 11 and 13 mph, so I don’t need to be in an aerodynamic position. If I were to ride any faster, then there would be a wind chill to contend with, and I don’t want the temp any lower than it already is.
When I get dressed I start with a pair of cycling shorts. Then I put a pair of wool socks on. Then a pair of scuba socks on. Then two pairs of runner’s tights. Then I put a pair of cotton summer short pants blue jean heaviness. Then I put on a sleeveless Merlino wool undershirt. A pair of arm warmers, and then a heavy long sleeve turtleneck sweatshirt that zips in the front. Then I put on another pair of wool socks before putting on a pair of thermal insulated work boots. They are heavy, but necessary to keep my feet warm for 5.5 hours on the bike out in the cold. Then I put two hats on, but no ski mask. I leave my face exposed. Finally I put on a ski parka with the extra warm zip-in vest that came with it. I put a pair of fingered gloves on, followed by a pair of house slippers (over the gloves) to keep my hands warm.
I usually do the 62 miles in three outings. Each outing is 21 miles long. I also try to keep the routes pretty flat since I am not clipped into the bike. I build up a sweat within the first 5 miles. By the end of the first 21 miles I’m in need of water, food, and a fresh set of everything above my waste except the ski parka and its vest. The outer hat is reusable as is the pair of house slippers. I take 10 minutes to eat, drink, and change clothes before heading out for the second 21 mile loop. This process is repeated before heading out for the third 21 mile loop. At the end of it all, as long as I have stayed warm, stayed hydrated, and kept sufficient calories in me to support my energy needs, I am feeling real good. What a great way to get in an early season workout. I can worry about speed when the summer months come.