Cycling through the winter

(Originaly written for the Cambridge Triathlon Club newsletter).

Winter Mode

Winter mode offers completely different pleasures from summer cycling.† Instead of skimming along on a lightweight bike with skinny tyres or hammering along with a number on your back and ever increasing levels of lactate in your legs itís a sedate, ideally sociable, affair and a chance to enjoy the countryside.

It may be fun for you but winter isnít kind to bicycles.† The roads are frequently wet, always grimy and, much worse, often salted.† Wet and grime aren't really a problem but road salt (grit) eats bikes, especially chains and itís easy to let such thoughts spoil your riding if you are using your best racing bike.† If you have no choice then allocate quarter of an hour after each ride to give your bike a good wash Ė more of that below.

Winter bike

The ideal winter bike is comfortable to ride, doesnít get too many punctures and doesnít spray you, itself and anyone else unfortunate enough to be within range with what ever you just rode it through.† It really doesnít matter how heavy it is, how many gears it has or what it is made from.

Itís a good idea to fit heavier tyres for winter.† Besides being cheaper than lightweight racing tyres they are likely to last longer and to puncture less often. †Punctures are a fact of life, however, and it isnít much fun replacing inner tubes on the side of the road in the winter.† My main piece of advice (apart from fitting heavier tyres, checking them regularly for embedded sharp objects and replacing them when they wear down) is to keep your rims and tyres clean Ė more of that below.

Winter cycling is 100% more pleasurable with mudguards.† Your feet and backside stay clean and dry, your bike stays clean and the people around you stay clean.† Racing bikes donít have fixtures for mudguards but that doesnít matter Ė you can buy clips.† A bit of imagination, a stanley knife, some zip ties and possibly a drill or bradawl should then be enough to fit mudguards to all but the most extreme racing bikes.†

Save your fast wheels for summer and stick to conventional 32 or 36 spoke wheels.† Wheels which get used through the winter need looking after (servicing) from time to time (i.e. cleaning and re-greasing the ball bearings in the hubs).† This is quite a simple job which can make your bike feel completely different.† Obviously the frequency of service depends on the usage.† I normally service my winter wheels each year.† A cycle maintenance book and a pair of cone spanners will pay for themselves many times over.

Winter Riding

Winter riding is best done in a group of similar ability and at a comfortable talking pace.† The traditional club run formation of two lines is just the ticket.† Far from being Ďjunk milesí and a waste of time this type of training builds a good base upon which to develop the speed end endurance for racing.† Itís also the ideal time to learn, practise and perfect an economical and efficient pedalling technique and to develop your bike handling.† If you donít have a group to ride with keep the intensity low and resist the temptation to push the pace.

Most of your winter cycling should be done in a small gear and with a high cadence (90+ rpm).

Winter Clothing

The biggest problem from both an enjoyment and training point of view is getting cold.† If you feel cold you will either be miserable or will speed up to keep warm.† If you get home before you run out of energy then you will merely have been training too hard Ė if you donít [get home before you run out of energy] then youíll end up Ďblowní (and even more cold and miserable).† Whatís more you wonít feel like cleaning your bike and youíll be vulnerable to every bug or virus looking for home.

You could spend a fortune on high tech cycle clothing.† That isnít necessary but it is worth investing in a wicking undershirt and pair of warm cycling tights .† A thin hat to go under your helmet is a good idea, gloves are essential and overshoes are much better than thick socks for keeping your feet warm.† (You can make overshoes out of old socks but they arenít very waterproof).† A windproof jacket or kagoul is a Ďmustí but a cycling specific one (which doesnít billow in the wind) can wait.

Maintenance, Cleaning and Lubricating

During the summer you can just about get away with not looking after your bike at all Ė unless it gets soaked.† During the winter, if you want your bike to survive until the spring, you will need to look after it.† The most important thing is to look after is the chain.† If you have time for nothing else at least lubricate it regularly.

If your bike gets a real soaking itís a good idea to dry it, spray the gears, brakes (the pivots, not the pads) and chain with WD40† Then leave it for a while and lubricate the same places.† Note that WD40 is not a lubricant!† Itís a Water Disperser.

Cleaning your bike is best done with a bucket (full of warm water), a sponge, some degreaser, some shampoo (I use cheap hair shampoo) or cycle detergent (like ĎMuck Offí), an old rag (you wondered why you get given a T-shirt at every race) and an old towel.† Use the degreaser and a bit of old rag to clean the oily bits, use the shampoo & sponge to clean the rest.† Rinse off or gently hose down with clean water and dry everything with the old towel.† Lubricate all the moving parts (gear mechanisms, chain, brake pivots and any adjustment screws).† Donít lubricate the hubs, headset, pedals and bottom bracket.

The hubs, the headset, pedals and the bottom bracket all contain ball bearings running in grease.† You want to avoid flushing the grease out.† The bearings all have seals to prevent Ďcasualí water ingress but if you use high pressure hose pipe or are persistent with your degreaser or lubricant you might beat them.† Award yourself 10 idiot points.

Cleaning your bike gives you a good opportunity to check for things like worn brake pads, frayed cables, loose spokes, worn or damaged tyres, loose screws etc.† Otherwise you only find these things 25 miles from home.

Turbo training

If you want to get down on your tri bars and hammer youíre probably best to do it on your turbo trainer.† Indeed, Iíd recommend that you do your turbo training in your race position.† If your primary aim is improving your race performances, however, you should probably avoid high intensity turbo training until January at least.† The danger of starting too soon is that your form and motivation will peak too soon.† The triathlon season doesnít start until May/June.

A few notes on Tyres

Several people have asked me about tyres recently.

Itís well worth choosing your tyres with care.† Tyres for racing should be light and supple with a fine tread pattern and inflated to around 120psi (8 atmospheres).† 23mm diameter cross section is ideal for most forms of racing on the road.† Some riders choose narrower tyres (20mm or even 18mm) for improved aerodynamics but itís highly debatable whether they go any faster.† What they do get is a harsher ride and more risk of impact punctures.† I normally use Vredestein Fortezza Tricomp tyres for racing Ė they are as good as anything that I have come across and (for many years) they have been incredible value for money.

23 section tyres are fine for use in the winter too though if you spend your time riding round the lines like I do 25 or 28mm give a smoother ride and reduce the likelihood of punctures a little more.† Touring tyres, 32mm, are a bit on the agricultural side and donít corner too well.

Why do some tyres fold up and fit into a box?† The bead, the bit of the tyre that fits into the rim, is traditionally made from metal wire.† Folding tyres use kevlar instead.† One obvious advantage is that you can carry spare folding tyre with you.† There is also a small weight advantage which is why all racing tyres now tend to be folders. Apart from that, once they are on the wheel, there is no difference.

What actually makes a tyre fast?† In a word, flexibility.† Racing tyres have a soft rubber compound for the tread and thin, tightly woven cloth for the carcass (the manufacturers quote the number of threads per inch Ė tpi) .† As they pass over the road they deform easily under the weight of the rider and absorb a minimal amount of energy Ė just like lightweight running shoes.† Their puncture resistance comes from their ability to deform quickly too Ė though sharp objects, such as flints and glass, puncture them quite easily.† The soft rubber wears away quickly so they donít last long.† The thin side walls are vulnerable to scuffing which makes them rather delicate (so be careful when you put your wheels in the boot of the car).

What makes a training tyre durable?† A hard rubber tread which resists sharp objects and doesnít wear away quickly and tough side walls.† Lots of training tyres use kevlar under the tread to resist punctures.† A good training tyre?† Iíve been using Continental Gatorskins for the last few years.† 23mm during the summer and 25 or 28 during the winter.

ÖFinally a few myths about winter cycling:

It takes too long. In most triathlons you spend HALF the race cycling

Itís cold. Itís not as cold as swimming in open water

Everything gets so dirty. Everything can be cleaned

Itís dangerous with all that traffic. Most of the traffic stays on the main roads.† Fortunately we have plenty of alternative roads round here.

I donít like going on my own. You are in a club.

I get left behind/I hold everyone else up. A lot of people say this.† More than enough to make a good group.

Iím worried about puncturing. Punctures are an unavoidable aspect of cycling.† The misery can be hugely alleviated by using good tyres (under £25 a pair), carrying a few spare inner tubes, keeping your wheels clean and carrying a decent pump.† And riding with a group!




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