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It’s that time of year, across much of the country, when the temperatures drop and snowflakes start to fall. And while winter brings with it a certain peaceful calm, often, for cyclists, the weather, as well as the shorter days, brings with it stress of trying to fit in training rides.

Some athletes hibernate indoors and rely upon an indoor trainer for their cold-weather training, while other die-hard types prefer to take their fatbike out on local trails. As winter is generally reserved for base training, or training that takes place predominantly in Zones 1-2 (see Heartrate training blog), I find it the ideal time to blend both indoor and outdoor riding.

Indoor riding has the reputation of being boring. And while there are ways to make the time go faster, which I’ll discuss in a later blog, you’ll have to work harder to get the same effects as riding outdoors. Why? Simply put, outdoors you have road friction, wind and hills to contend with in addition to changing gears. Because of this, you’ll have to pedal faster in a bigger gear to get your heart rate up into zone 2-3 and your perceived exertion will seem higher than it actually is.

The flipside is that because there are no stop signs, lights, or downhills in your living room or basement, indoor training is actually more efficient. Many equate an hour of riding indoors to an hour and a half of riding outdoors.

When you’re making the decision between indoor and outdoor riding, your first priority should be safety. If the roads aren’t well plowed, consider using studded tires or using a fatbike. If it’s too cold, train indoors!

If you live in an area where the roads are well-plowed or bike paths are available, riding outdoors is the ideal way to fend off monotony. You don’t have to adhere to any specific training other than “putting in the miles.” The crisp air as well as the sunshine helps to fend off SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and you’ll be away from all the germs that float around, especially in crowded, sweaty areas, such as your gym.

One winter, I outfitted my cyclocross bike (a road-style bike with disc brakes) with wide 35mm, studded tires. They look like a treaded mountain bike tire but feature titanium studs to help grip ice. They were perfect for cruising the bike paths in icy conditions. In addition, studded tires add quite a bit of weight to the bike. While added weight makes riding more difficult, especially uphill, come springtime, when you replace the tires with your standard road tire, you’ll feel like you’ve lost quite a few pounds!

The other option is to buy or rent a fatbike. These are mountain bikes with extremely wide tires that are ideal for trail riding in the snow. They are gaining popularity in mountain towns that have year-round trail access. And while balance is not always easy, they are guaranteed to give you a ride full of laughs and smiles.

The one defining factor when making the decision between indoor and outdoor riding is safety. Besides living in a place where you are able to find clear roads, paths, or trails to ride, it’s important to know that riding in extreme cold isn’t beneficial. One, although there are many clothing options available for warmth, it is still difficult to keep your core temperature up once the wind starts blowing. The Giro, two years ago, saw such extreme cold that several stages were shortened. If the pros won’t ride in it, you should not either. Second, in extreme cold, you won’t be able to warm your muscles sufficiently and may risk injury. Use your common sense. Getting the badge of honor for braving the cold is not impressive if it is accompanied by frostbite.

Whether you choose to train indoors or outdoors, remember the key to strong riding come spring is consistency. Be consistent and you will see the benefits once the snow melts.


About the Author

Dena Eaton is a former cyclist and ironman triathlete. In a short 5 year span, (2003-2008) she raced over 60 triathlons including 12 Ironman. She was an All-American in 2004. Of the three disciplines, cycling is her specialty and in 2008, she switched gears to track cycling. She is a multi-time National Championship Medalist, and Five Time Masters World Champion. She has advanced coursework in physiology and has coached several athletes. She makes her home in San Diego where she writes, photographs and teaches at Palomar College.
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