Winter wonderland - why you should keep riding in the darker months

Winter skies have a magic that's unique to this time of year
Photo by Holly Chisholm on Unsplash
Photo by Holly Chisholm on Unsplash
Julie Rand's picture

Winter wonderland - why you should keep riding in the darker months

Just because the sun's setting a lot earlier and there's a distinct nip of Jack Frost in the air, there's no reason to hang up your cycling kit. Cycling UK's Julie Rand has plenty of ideas to motivate you to keep on riding so, come spring, you'll be as fit as you were at the end of the summer, both mentally and physically.

'Spring' makes you think of jumping into the air, while 'summer' has a lazy, dreamy quality to it and 'autumn' immediately conjures up the sight of golden leaves crunching under wheel or fluttering prettily down out of the sky like confetti at a wedding, log fires and misty mornings. 'Winter', however, sounds a bit doom and gloomy, possibly due to its likely derivation from the Old Norse words for 'water' or 'wet', as winter was known as the 'wet season'? 

Indeed, many of us feel SAD due to the lack of daylight - that is we suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, the symptoms of which include low mood, irritability, anxiety and loss of pleasure in everyday activities, becoming less sociable. So we are less likely to do the one thing that might cheer us up - yes, get out on our bikes! Which, of course, leads to a vicious cycle of staying indoors, thus making the symptoms worse...

Ride the light fantastic

But rides in winter can be among the most magical of the whole year. There's something precious and incredible about the light at this time, even if it's at its most fleeting. Low sun can dazzle you but it can also produce amazing sunsets with trees and buildings stunningly silhouetted against burnt orange skies. If you're in the countryside, you may be lucky enough to hear owls as dusk falls or skeins of migrating geese arrowed in the air.

Christmas lights appear out of the gloom, brightening up the darkest corners and lending an air of festive anticipation. Are those bicycle or sleigh bells tinkling in the distance? 

With good sets of lights, you can even extend your cycling post-sunset with night rides both on and off-road.

Moonrises in winter can be as awe-inspiring as the sunsets - just why does it seem so big as it appears above the horizon? We need Professor Cox to explain! Maybe he could give us the lowdown on the Geminid meteor shower, the most spectacular of the year, at the same time? It should be visible to many of us over the next few weeks, clear skies permitting. 

Trees against a sunset sky

Take a view

Winter is also a very special time to go cycling as the lack of foliage opens up the skyline in a way it doesn't the rest of the year. Familiar views look even more spectacular when framed in a different way and you can spot things you may never have noticed before, such as a country house that's normally hidden behind a line of trees or an interesting city skyline that's suddenly revealed. 

Even better is a ride when there's been a flurry of the white stuff, changing the world around you to one where ordinary and everyday objects like phone boxes are transformed into strange and ghostly shapes and the paw prints of unknown creatures delineate hidden tracks into the bushes. Glimpses of hoar frost, morning mist and frozen landscapes are all just some of the extraordinarily beautiful benefits of riding in the winter.

So what if these reasons are not enough to motivate you to keep pedalling, and the elements are telling you to stay put indoors with a cat, a blanket and a hot water bottle? Here are some other ideas to get you off that sofa, away from endless blathering about Brexit and into the saddle again:

Find a group to ride with

There's nothing like riding with a group to encourage you to get out the door. We've got groups throughout the country who ride regularly throughout the year and welcome new faces.They offer support, like-minded company and a reason to ride, with great routes and, of course, nearly always a lovely cafe to warm yourself up at with a steaming hot chocolate during your outing. Extra marshmallows and cream with that? Yes, why not - you've burnt the extra calories just by keeping yourself warm!

Talking of cafes, why not check out our Cyclist Cafes of the Year in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? They are the best of the best, as voted for by our members and supporters. 

Rider dressed up as Father Christmas

Get festive

Once you're committed to something, it's harder to back out of it unless there is a very good reason to, such as ice or a heavy cold. There's plenty to choose from during the winter months in our Cycling Events Guide. For example, the Mince Pie Run put on by Leicestershire and Rutland CTC on Sunday 23 December is a unique event in which riders from all around the central area of the East Midlands converge on one spot to enjoy each other's company, catch up with friends from other groups and clubs, hand out Christmas cards, celebrate Yuletide and, you can be sure, eat mountains of mince pies!

CTC Northampton even has a ride on Boxing Day, as do many other groups, to burn off said mince pies. 

If there's nothing much going on near you, why not put on your own ride for friends and family? The costumes may get a little muddy but dressing up is always a fun way to 'break the ice'! Why not add a bit of tinsel, some battery-operated fairy lights and a glow stick or two for a truly eye-catching blinged-up bicycle that brightens even the darkest days?

 And if you're going to all that effort, a Christmas-themed Cycling Treasure Hunt would be a great way to show it all off - just plot a route that involves finding clues that vaguely go with the theme, such as riding down Holly Lane or a trip to the Partridge and Pear Tree pub or even just a particularly nicely decorated house and garden. 

New year, new you?

Keeping riding through the winter really pays dividends come spring. You'll feel fitter, faster and raring to go once the warmer, lighter days finally arrive, whilst fair weather riders are still dusting off their rusty steeds - and possibly their rusty knees too? Winchester CTC start the year with a special New Year's Day ride and have a great selection of rides for all abilities throughout the month, including the Watership Down 105km Audax on Sunday 6 January 2019. 

Rider next to frozen canal

Weather the weather

It's all very well telling me winter cycling is a 'good thing', but what about the atrocious weather, I hear you ask plaintively. Yes, indeed the weather in this country can be a bit inclement at times but it's by no means THAT bad, compared to many places in the world where cycling all year round is so normal, it's just part of everyday life. Did you know there's even a Winter Cycling Federation devoted to the vision of 'winter cycling for everyone'? Their next congress will be in Calgary, Canada in 2019 and will look at ways of enabling people in cities around the globe to keep pedalling through the worst of winter. Often, it's just not as bad outside as it seems when you're looking at it through a pane of glass, making it so easy to convince yourself not to bother.

"We just swap summer tyres for winter ones, as we do with our cars, and keep pedalling."

Hege Berg Thurmann, Norwegian cycle commuter

Cyclist in Oslo

Hege Berg Thurman from Oslo in Norway keeps riding to work all through the winter. She says: "We just swap summer tyres for winter ones, as we do with our cars, and keep pedalling."

In this country, you mostly need to just wrap up warm, put on wet weather gear if necessary and push yourself out the door. Invest in an extra layer or two, some overshoes or thick gloves to keep your hands and feet warm, and perhaps a bike cap or face mask for your head and you'll be all set. You'll feel so much better than if you'd stayed indoors gorging on chocolates, I promise, even if you might need a light defrosting afterwards.

Friends and colleagues are amazed by your 'intrepid' battle with the elements, as though you were Scott of the Antarctic, rather than someone riding a few soggy miles to your workplace or cafe stop!

Julie, year-round cycle commuter

You'll also have the guilty pleasure of allowing yourself to feel a little bit smug when friends and colleagues are amazed by your 'intrepid' battle with the elements, as though you were Scott of the Antarctic, rather than someone riding a few soggy miles to your workplace or cafe stop! Nevertheless, winning this particular 'battle' can be rather exciting and strangely satisfying in this over-cosseted and risk averse world. 

Many off-road riders, believe it or not, actually relish muddier conditions as they find them more challenging and therefore more exhilarating, though, if this includes you, be careful not to damage the trails by sliding the back wheel too much or braking hard on soggy corners. 

Any sort of so-called weather in the UK can also have a major impact on motor traffic and public transport. If you're a cyclist, you can mostly avoid this chaos by being able to find another route - perhaps an off-road one, perhaps just overtaking the traffic jams - and still arrive at your destination on time. The only conditions that are to be avoided at all costs are where there's a danger to life and limb, such as ice, especially the black kind or other extreme weather events, obviously.

Benefits in kind

If you're a Cycling UK member, you enjoy great discounts of all the best clothing and equipment for cycling in winter at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow+Rock and Halfords. You can also get half-price membership and 10% off all bookings at the YHA as well so a cheap winter getaway pre- or post-Christmas is a real bargain, especially when hostels in many of the most popular areas are likely to be a lot less busy than in peak season. What better way to banish the winter blues and out of doors for a much-needed boost of Vitamin D than an impromptu cycling trip? If you know a friend or relative who is not a member yet, our Christmas Gift Membership includes a Secret Santa gift worth up to £27.99, making it the one present that won't be exchanged come Boxing Day!

When all else fails...

If none of the above ideas are enough to tempt you off the sofa, how else can you fuel your passion for cycling throughout the seasonal slump? Well you can always plan your next cycling trip of course with a browse through the CTC Cycling Holidays brochure, catch up on reading fascinating articles about cycling in great publications such as Cyclist and BikesEtc (Cycling UK member discounts apply to both of these), as well as our own fantastic magazine Cycle, which members receive free six times a year.

For inspiration for planning cycle trips in this country, our British Cycle Quest provides plenty of ideas of new and different places to go, as well as a great reason to visit them, as does Cycling UK's handpicked selection of 140 brilliant cycling routes for both on and off-road riders.

Freewheel into spring

So what are you waiting for? There's no reason not to have as much fun riding in winter as you do the rest of the year, even if your mileage is a little lower than normal. We're nearly at the shortest day of the year now, in any case, so spring can't be that far behind - can it?



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