Inside or Out: Winter Cycling Tips

Key Points

  • Cycling outside in the winter is challenging but carries numerous benefits.

  • Winter cycling tips include dressing warm, riding carefully, watching the weather, and staying safe.

  • Bikers in every climate benefit from following the best winter cycling tips.

When was the last time you got ready for a ride only to find it was 10 degrees outside? Did you layer up to head out or snuggle back under the covers?

Maintaining a year-round cycling routine is challenging. Sometimes the temperature is too hot, and sometimes it's too cold. Often you're left wondering if you need to exercise inside, especially in the winter. Regardless of where you ride, everyone benefits from winter cycling tips.

Benefits of Winter Cycling

The feeling of cycling outside in the winter is unique. The cold makes you feel refreshed, rejuvenated, accomplished, upbeat, and unbeatable! Plus, cycling in the winter has tons of health and cost benefits.

Improve Heart Health

A healthy heart is a strong heart. The heart is a muscle that benefits from exercise like any other muscle. Bike riding strengthens the heart through exercise and improves circulation and oxygen flow.

The vagus nerve also plays a role in heart health when cycling in the cold. The cold air on your skin activates the vagus nerve, improving cardiovascular performance by decreasing heart rate. This decrease lowers your breathing rate and anxiety!

Cycling during winter

Increase Mental Strength

It's no secret you must be tough to pedal through the piercing wind. Getting out there improves your mental strength. The self-discipline you exercise when pushing yourself to finish the ride when you want to quit elevates your mental strength to new levels.

Increasing mental strength is life-changing; it gives you more control over your thoughts and actions. It's easier to say no and stick to your goals. The power you gain from persevering through the cold conditions sticks with you all day and builds your overall grit.

Avoid Seasonal Depression

Seasonal affective disorder is depression triggered by seasonal changes, most common in winter. Winter is full of whites, blues, and grays. Combine that with cold weather, fewer hours of daylight, less movement, and more time indoors, and you possess the perfect recipe for sadness.

Being outside increases your vitamin D levels. Sunlight soaks into the skin, infusing you with vitamin D and fighting off seasonal affective disorder. Laura Williamson with the American Heart Association comments on the relationship between sunlight and this disorder, saying that "vitamin D, which promotes serotonin activity and is produced when skin is exposed to sunlight, also may play a role."

Bike riding during winter

Enhance Your Day

Exercise has several short-term benefits that improve your day. Cycling reduces stress, improves mood, increases productivity, and enhances coping mechanisms. Decreased pain and stiffness mean more energy and less irritability. Riding also gives a sense of accomplishment and success, especially when completed outside in the cold.

Burn Calories

The body needs nutrients, such as carbohydrates and fats, to fuel the muscles during exercise. When the body breaks nutrients down, it creates energy. The number of calories equals the amount of energy produced from nutrient breakdown. 

Burning more calories than you eat or drink leads to weight loss. Riding bikes is a fun, exciting way to burn extra calories. When you're cold, the body burns calories to create heat to warm you up. Riding outside in the winter burns calories from exercising and keeping you warm, often doubling the calories burnt in one session.

Crush the Weight-Loss Plateau

Have you been exercising and following a great diet plan but are stuck on one number on the scale? Can't shave off those last few inches? After some time on a weight loss routine, the body adapts and requires less energy to exercise and burn fat. As a result, you must make changes to put pressure on the body continuously. Without consistent, increasingly difficult stress on the body, you won't move past that plateau.

Working out in the cold places pressure on your body, so you don't have to increase the intensity or length of your workout to get over that plateau. Exercising outside in the cold activates more muscles and processes in your body, improving exercise effectiveness after warming up.

Save on Parking

Try riding a bike if you always need more time to find a parking place or have to walk far once you secure a spot. Many locations offer locations to lock up your bike right near the front entrance. Using a bicycle is especially beneficial if you pay to park.

Cycling in the snow

Set a Good Example

Keeping a steady cycling routine year-round shows determination and ambition. Those around you gain knowledge and motivation by watching you succeed. You show others that cycling outside is possible, beneficial, and even encouraged. Others may even join in your rides!

Use winter cycling as an example of your skills and abilities. Use your performance as motivation to push forward! Why did you decide to start cycling? Set a good example for yourself. Now is the time that defines the health and longevity of your future.

Outdoor Winter Cycling Checklist

Icy, snowy conditions are dangerous. Riding a bike in the winter takes special preparation, maneuvering, clothing, and skill. Cycling outside in the winter is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely rewarding.

Get Good Gear

The head, hands, face, and feet release the most body heat. Keeping these areas warm and covered protects body temperature from being negatively affected by cold weather.

Snap-on a helmet to stay warm and safe if you fall. Use gloves that protect your hands but don't limit finger movement. Sunglasses protect the eyes from dry, cold wind and glare from the sun on the ice.

Wear a scarf or ski mask to guard your face against negative wind chills. Your shoes need to be warm, fitting, and non-skid. When your boots are rigid on the bottom, they won't slip off the pedal or on the ice.

Wear Layers

Wear layers of clothing to adjust to changing temperatures. Weather conditions sometimes drastically change within an hour. There's a possibility the temperature at the end of your ride won't be the same as when you started.

Wear a fitting first layer against the skin to hold in body heat. Next, wear a medium-sized coat or sweatshirt. Last, wear a larger coat to keep you warm. Remove the final layer when you get hot or the temperature rises. 

Check Conditions

Stay up-to-date with weather conditions. It's common for weather predictions to change throughout the day. Pay attention to wind speed, direction, and chill.

Ride on clear pavement when possible. Be mindful of black ice, large patches of snow, and tall snow banks. Don't cycle if it's below zero or there's a chance of frostbite.

Warm Up

Warming up is a significant part of exercising. Muscles need to adapt to exercise gradually to avoid injury. Too much activity too quickly causes pain because the muscles are cool and rigid. Warming up the muscles improves flexibility, range of motion, and blood flow, which increases exercise effectiveness.

Prepping for winter cycling

Warming up before a cold winter bike ride is even more critical. Your body temperature increases and protects you from the initial blast of cold. Get your blood flowing by jogging in place for a few minutes, doing some crunches and planks, or even jumping rope.

Drink Water

Wearing layers and riding a bike causes you to sweat, even in the winter. Drinking water replaces the water lost through exercise. The wind is also drier in winter, potentially leading to dry skin, a scratchy throat, and chapped lips. When adequately hydrated, the skin receives more moisture, reducing these issues.

Be Careful

Just like cars, your bike tires slip and slide on the ice. Pedal deliberately, utilize lower gears, and go slower than usual. Work extra time into your schedule for a longer commute than usual.

Stay loose. Don't keep your arms stiff or make sudden movements. Also, underinflate your tires to increase the tire's surface area on the ground and improve friction. Improving friction prevents you from sliding around.

Cycle Inside or Outside

Though cold weather riding offers many benefits, there are also some exceptional indoor options to consider when the snow is too deep or the wind is too fierce. Great, high-tech indoor bikes provide different benefits than outdoor mountain bikes and vice versa.

Cycling indoors

What's Your Goal?

If you're cycling according to a workout routine, using an indoor bike allows you more control over the intervals, speed, and distance. Are you training for an outdoor event? Rolling those wheels on the pavement is vital.

Use inside bikes if you're looking to improve your form and effectiveness. Head outdoors when you need a challenge or a reminder that you're stronger than you think!

How Do You Feel?

Suppose you feel dizzy, nauseous, or overall unwell. In that case, skipping a day or two of intense activity and exercise is beneficial.

If you return to training after being sick, biking inside keeps you safe if you pass out or get sick. Cycling outside in the cold may make you feel worse, and cycling inside allows you to stop whenever you need.

Do You Have Time?

Cycling outside takes longer because you gear up, prepare your bike, alert your friends/family, warm up, and go slower to avoid slips. Inside is better when you only have an hour or less. That way, you spend more time riding than getting ready.

What's the Weather Forecast?

Warmer temperatures don't always mean it's safe. Sunlight reflects off the snow and glares into your eyes, so check for sunny conditions when grabbing your gear. However, remember there's less daylight, so avoid going too late in the afternoon. If your typical path has lots of shade, take a route with more sunshine.

Stay mindful of wind chill as severe levels lead to frostbite in minutes. Even a forecasted snow flurry sometimes makes seeing impossible.

Winter Cycling Routine

Stuck on what to do next? Don't know where to start? Try this indoor bike routine to spice up your day!

  1. Pedal at a moderate pace for 10 minutes.

  2. Safely pedal at your highest intensity for 10 minutes.

  3. Slow down to a relaxed, leisurely pace for one minute.

  4. Pedal at medium power for 20 minutes.

  5. Slow down to a calm, leisurely pace for one minute.

  6. Safely pedal at your highest intensity for 10 minutes.

  7. Pedal at a moderate pace for 10 minutes.

  8. Slow down to a relaxed, relaxed pace for one minute. All done!

Outdoor cycling routines in the winter need to focus on distance rather than time. Rushing while riding is unsafe, especially in the winter. Start with shorter distances, such as one mile. Gradually move up every other ride by half a mile. You'll be riding 10 miles in no time!

How Cold Is Too Cold for Cycling?

Temperatures under 35 degrees Fahrenheit usually detour cyclists from zipping their coats and hitting the road. Temperatures in the 40s with low wind chill or high wind speeds are also unsafe. Dr. Emily LaVoy, associate professor at the University of Houston, published a study showing that exposure to temperatures less than 40 degrees decreases immune response and increases lactic acid in the muscles.

Excessive lactic acid in the muscles causes pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility. Riding when it's too cold causes muscle strains. Strains can easily happen when you work the muscles, even though the conditions are very chilly. Cold air in the winter is also denser, making wind resistance higher. Try chest stretches after your next ride to decompress from the winter air.

Winter cycling

Cycle In, Cycle Out

Whether inside or outside in the winter, cycling during the colder months benefits your health and well-being. It improves mood, physique, and productivity.

Cycling in the winter doesn't have to be a solo sport! Invite your friends to an indoor cycling class or meet at a local park for some laps around town.

Cycling in the winter doesn't always have to occur outside. Switch up your routine! Cycle outside when possible to save indoor cycling for days when it's too dreary.

Now you just have to decide if your next cycle session is going to be indoors or out!

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