Opinion: With winter on the horizon, a trainer might be your best friend

By Jeffrey Stern

There are places across the globe where riding outside during the colder, darker, damper winter months is really no big deal. Those lucky enough to live in Mediterranean climates are only slightly affected by the changing of seasons; add a vest, arm warmers, knee warmers, thicker wool socks, gloves and you’re all set for the pre-dawn commute. However, for the vast majority of people, old man winter can make things very difficult, if not downright impossible to keep up with your riding routine. If you don’t have all the necessary gear (think waterproof everything) lobster gloves for sub-zero snowy conditions and the likes, setting your bike up on a trainer in the coziness of your own home can be a great option.

The comfort of riding indoors is undeniable; you can wear less clothes, a pair of padded shorts/bibs will do because you can control the temperature. There is no wind chill factor, the chance of rain is zero and no lights, no problem. Heck, there isn’t even a chance of a flat tire. You might break your chain, but that won’t leave you stranded in the dark, cold night. Could a sport that jacks your heart rate into your throat be more comfortable?

How about the incredible convenience? You can watch the kids, dog, keep an eye on dinner in the oven and even pop off the trainer to swap loads of laundry. You can safely take or make an important phone call (just slow down a bit to eliminate the heavy breathing) catch up on your favorite Netflix series or NPR podcast. Send emails, take selfies, post to all your social media channels…the options from aboard your bike saddle when inside are endless. Riding the trainer must be multi-tasking at it’s finest.

Riding a trainer is also extremely time efficient. When can you ride your bike in 60 minutes and be absolutely dripping in sweat? Sometimes, I’m so out of shape in winter it only takes 45 minutes, but that’s only because my trainer was being borrowed by an injured friend and I didn’t ride for nearly two months. Pedaling a trainer in my basement is nearly as effective as getting my heart rate into that fat burning zone as running on a treadmill (which is something I would NEVER do).

Companies like Zwift have also turned trainer riding into a video game like experience. With a USB dongle and power meter, you can join virtual races or workouts with riders from around the world. Some cyclists love services like Zwift so much, they ride inside even when the weather is good. Preposterous, right? Well, give it a try and you might never see the light of day again. Safety and racing have never gone in the same sentence until Zwift came along.

If you live in a place that doesn’t prevent you from riding comfortably outside or if you already have all the necessary gear to battle the elements, riding outside is still the best option in my opinion. However, if you’re time-crunched, don’t have all the appropriate gear to stay warm/safe, picking up a trainer (we found some for as little as $50 on eBay) is a great option to stay fit without leaving the comfort of your own home this winter. Once the snow thaws and you’re back to riding in the spring with friends who haven’t pedaled a mile since October, they’ll wonder where all your fitness came from. Beware though, when you tell them your secret, they might ask to borrow your trainer next winter and you could fall into the same trap.



Overcoming Commuting Obstacles: It’s Too Cold!

Ed. Note: The Overcoming Commuting Obstacles article was originally published in Bicycle Times #15, and offers solutions to common commuting roadblocks, written by a variety of people in a variety of places. I’m publishing each obstacle/solution as its own short post, one or two per day all week. 

Words by Andy Bruno

The first obstacle to get over in cold-weather riding is the mental one. The decision to brave the elements is often harder than choosing the appropriate gear for your ride. When you’re warm and cozy inside your bed/house/car, the prospect of getting all geared up and facing physical discomfort in the form of cold, ice, snow, and/or rain doesn’t seem all that much fun. Indeed, often the first 15 minutes of a winter ride are uncomfortable, but after a good warm-up, the fun begins. I know this fact well, but on some foul weather mornings I still find myself rationalizing about why I’d rather drive to work or skip the trail ride and stay at home and drink coffee. The reason? Inertia. It’s the resistance to changing your state of comfort. On one hand, you’re warm and dry. On the other, you choose to exchange those luxuries to be cold and wet. When I think about it, I know I will be happier if I ride no matter what the weather. But the mental and physical preparation for the ride often seems insurmountable. Obviously it’s not, and what it comes down to is that you just have to push on through and get on your bike. Below are a few tips that make it a little easier to get moving during the winter months.

– If you know you’re riding in the morning, get up a little earlier than usual so that you can fully wake up and get your body physically and mentally prepared.

-Before a ride, I try and warm up a little inside before leaving the house. Not so much that I break a sweat. Something as simple as climbing up and down the steps a few times or doing a few push-ups or sit-ups to increase my heart rate is all that it takes.

-Get enough sleep the night before a ride. This is sound advice all year long, but it’s especially important in the low-motivation months of winter.

-The more you ride during the winter, the easier it is to get motivated to ride. Again, this is true all year long, but more pronounced in winter.

-Get your bike and gear ready to go the night before you ride. Riding in the winter takes a little more preparation, so it’s best not to leave it until the last minute. That only gives you an excuse not to ride.

Once you get outside, your comfort level on the bike is critical so that you actually stay on your bike and enjoy the ride. The right gear can make that happen. 

Photo: Evan Gross

Photo: Evan Gross

Check out some of our tips for gearing up for winter riding on a budget, and read Thom Parsons’ story about resuming his 35-mile commute in the middle of February in Boston—guaranteed to make you laugh, and maybe inspire you to get out there yourself!

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