It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which means two things: people are finally awakening from their food-induced comas and it’s time for the annual Dirty Dozen ride/race. The race is celebrating its 35th year, and perhaps more importantly, it is celebrating the return of its co-founder and longtime face of the event, Danny Chew. Missing last year’s event after suffering a crash that left Chew paralyzed from the chest down, his return was an emotional one. As he was greeted by over 400 riders and volunteers, the contrast of moods between this year and last was an obvious one. Chew chatted excitedly with the riders; his trademark high-pitched ramblings could be heard around the Bud Harris Cycling Track as the event waited for its start.
The Dirty Dozen is a carnival of bikes on the streets of Pittsburgh. Riders from all over descend on the city with hopes of ascending 13 of its steepest hills. What began as a small group of friends testing each other in the winter months has turned into a full-blown cycling event that is a destination for many. Men, women, children, hand-cycles and a unicycle all took their chances against these monstrous slopes. These hills are steep and then they get steeper. By the time the riders reach Canton Avenue, the unofficial steepest hill in the world, they are well aware that these hills are no joke! Having already clawed their way up 8 rugged climbs, including what many feel to be the hardest on Suffolk Street in Pittsburgh’s Northside, the party and refreshments at the top of Canton were a welcomed sight.
Participants were greeted with clear skies and mild temperatures, likely aiding in the record attendance this year. Ian Baun went on to win his second consecutive Dirty Dozen and his third overall, and Stef Sydlik also took home her third overall win in the women’s category. While riders enjoyed the day of camaraderie and physical exhaustion, it was Chew who benefitted most. Friends and family of Chew know how much this day meant to him, to return back to his favorite day of the year. It was another milestone in what has been a long year for Chew; this past weekend was a huge lift for his mental state, remarked a relative. Chew is aware that he faces a long uphill battle, but let’s face it, long uphill battles are where Danny Chew excels.
It’s that time of year when my Strava feed slowly becomes more and more full of trainer rides and Zwifters. Meanwhile, people like my husband are going bikepacking in the single digits and getting excited for the upcoming winter. As the weather grows cold here in Pennsylvania, my cycling friends and acquaintances are dividing into two camps–those who love to get out in the cold and those who relegate themselves to indoor workouts on the trainer, claiming that below-freezing temperatures are no conditions in which to ride outside.
While Jeffrey talked about some compelling reasons for using a trainer last week, I’m here to argue for the other side. I’m a firm believer in getting outside, even in adverse conditions, and will always choose an outdoor versus an indoor workout any day. Here are a few of the benefits of bundling up and braving the cold:
1. Cold air is invigorating and intensifies the benefits of exercise.
Feeling lethargic and tired? Curling up on the couch might sound like a great plan but I guarantee you’ll feel better if you step outside and get your heart pounding. A ride outside, even if it’s just a short one, is a great way to cure the mid-afternoon slumps. Cold air not only is invigorating, it also intensifies the other benefits of exercise, from increased caloric burn and cardiovascular strength to mental ones like elevated mood and decreased stress.
2. Being outside helps prevent and treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition in which people feel more depressed in the winter due to lack of daylight and Vitamin D. Those with a proneness to depression and anxiety on a regular basis are more likely to suffer from harsher effects of SAD, but even people with a normally-happy demeanor are vulnerable, especially those living in environments that are cold and dark for part of the year.
Getting outside on a regular basis helps treat the symptoms of SAD and can even prevent it from occurring. Continuing to do your regular activities through winter helps maintain a sense of routine and combats the blues. A daily dose of sunlight, even if it’s cloudy, gives you that boost of Vitamin D that fights stress and depression. Even if most of your outdoor activities during the week are at night, feeling the wind on your face and fresh air in your lungs will help you feel happier.
3. It’ll make you stronger, both mentally and physically.
Having the fortitude to brave cold temperatures, snow, sleet and whatever else Mother Nature decides to throw at you will make you mentally stronger, while the unpredictable conditions of an outdoor workout will cause your body to become physically stronger as well.
Regardless of how hard you try to make your indoor workout, the natural environment will always have the advantage of unpredictability and conditions that just cannot be replicated–like slogging uphill in 6 inches of powder (aka lots of hike-a-bike).
Your body will also become more adaptable. It will have to work harder to maintain your core temperature and pump blood to your extremities, making your heart stronger and your body more hearty in general. You will burn more calories than you would by doing the same ride in more temperate conditions.
4. It’s not as prohibitive as you may think.
“But I don’t have the gear.”
“But I don’t have a fatbike.”
There are a whole litany of excuses you can make for not riding outside in the cold and snow. But there are also a lot of easy solutions provided you’re willing to think outside the box a little.
Fatbikes and bike-specific winter gear certainly help to make riding through snow and freezing temperatures a little more pleasant. But it’s far from necessary. Set of knobbier tires or studs are enough to get you through most winter conditions unless you live in an area that really gets a lot of snow. And whatever cold weather gear you already own is good enough to ride in. As long as you’re not in jeans and a cotton shirt, you’ll most likely be fine. Don’t have SPD-compatible winter boots? Switch to flats and ride in hiking boots for the colder months.
5. It makes for better memories and stories, and is more fun!
“That was a really amazing trainer ride,” said no one ever. Yes, it is helping you stay in shape for the rest of the year but by not getting outside, you are missing another important part of the equation – the experience of being outside in Mother Nature, seeing different places and riding with friends – and unless you’re a racer, those bits are arguably more important than being in shape.
So bundle up, get out there and make great winter memories on two wheels!
Keep Reading: Now that you’ve been convinced to go outside, check out some of our winter riding tips, like how to dress for the cold on a budget, how to deal with the cold as a commuter and our cold weather cycling tips series.Tweet Print
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.
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.
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!Tweet Print