Matthew Busche, a seven-year pro road cycling veteran with Radio Shack, Trek and UnitedHealthcare and two-time U.S. National Champion, is putting his experience and insight to work in a new column for Active Junky. To ask Matthew questions, send them to [email protected]
What can you accomplish riding during the "off-season" when the weather is colder?
When the temperatures drop and the riding conditions are a little less favorable, it is a great time to work on weaknesses and imbalances developed over the course of the season and get a little more creative with your training. The biggest reason riding the road in the winter is so difficult is due to the self-created wind chill. When you get onto a bike that goes a little slower, makes you work a little harder, and you can maybe hide in the woods a little more, you tend to stay warmer. That could mean riding on the gravel with a cross or mountain bike, or riding the mountain bike on trails. If it is super snowy, try a fat bike. Cross training such as running, skiing, swimming, etc. can also be a nice change of pace. These other forms of cardiovascular exercise help strengthen the body in different ways, which is a big bonus for cyclists who tend to become very “mono-exercise” able, and also provide a good mental break from the usual road bike mindset. A second big focus during the “off-season” should be off-the-bike training: yoga, stretching, core, weights, etc. It is difficult to put enough time into these sorts of activities during the regular season, so now is the key time to try and fix weaknesses and imbalances, cure/prevent injuries, and prepare yourself for the long season ahead. If you can build yourself a solid base of strength training during the winter months, then when warmer weather rolls around you can just do maintenance work and shift more of your focus back to the bike again.
How hard can you push in colder air, and will you damage your health or hurt your body?
Riding hard in the cooler weather is tricky for numerous reasons. Some people question whether it is healthy for their lungs. There are differing opinions, but colder air can be a bit harder on the throat and lungs. Generally a buff over the mouth in sub-freezing temperatures is sufficient to help warm/moisten the air as it comes in. The real question often isn’t whether or not going hard in the cold will damage your health, but if you will be able to push to the same level in the conditions. For example, wearing a buff may make it harder to breathe and therefore go deep, and wearing lots of layers can make it difficult to find your rhythm and go your true 100%. Road conditions can also be more hazardous, and sometimes require more tentative bike handling. If you’re stuck in a colder climate and feel like you can’t push to the same level, try doing intervals on the trainer or rollers to get some more intensity and then just do easier riding during your time outside. That way you can hopefully get a similar level of work done, stay safe, and still maintain some sanity by being able to ride outside for some of your training.
What do you need to do with your bike (lube, tire pressures, etc.) to ride in colder conditions?
Riding in the cold doesn’t require any different bike setup. You can run all the same pressures, lubes, etc. One thing worth considering, though, is using an insulated water bottle or thermos. An insulated bottle will help keep your water from freezing and will keep warm liquids warm for just a bit longer. Just because it is cold doesn’t mean you don’t have to drink (even though you usually don’t feel the need to), so having your water available is essential. If you’re trying to do 2+ hour rides, seriously consider a riding thermos. There are thermoses out there that will keep tea, hot chocolate, or your hot beverage of choice warm for two or more hours in sub-freezing temperatures. That is a game-changer when you can have a sip of nice warm liquid after an hour of riding in the cold. Another key to successfully riding in the cold is proper clothing choice. A proper base layer should keep you warm, but not be so thick as to make you overly sweaty (or you’ll freeze on those downhills!). Learn how to regulate your temperature by zipping/unzipping your jacket. A good (but odd) rule of thumb is to allow yourself to be as “cold” as possible. This doesn’t mean actually cold, but you don’t want to be sweating profusely because once that sweat saturates your clothing you’ll be cold and headed home. There is definitely some experimentation and experience to be had with cold weather riding, so try hard to remember (or write down) what worked well during particular weather conditions, and refer back to that the next time around.