If, like me, you live in a climate with decent seasonal variations then maybe winter can have ominous undertones when it comes to cycling. There’s the frozen roads, seemingly interminable darkness and often that sub-par feeling from lacking vitamin D and what I always imagine as being my body’s need to hibernate! At the very least, sometimes I want to just stay inside, eat carbs and be warm which makes a spin on the bike less likely during the darker months. I don’t like that state of affairs though. And by riding smart we can use the late autumn and winter season to do the kinds of little training sessions we mightn’t be so inclined to do when the sun’s high and the layers are off. Well, that’s my intention anyway, and the point of this article 🙂 So hello, Dear Reader and welcome along, it’s good to have you here for a bit of a synopsis of my own training plan now that – at time of writing – we’re into the winter season here. I mean it isn’t winter officially here yet, but man, the freeze in my toesies the last few rides, overshoes and all, tell me it’s winter by any other name! 😮
Q: What’s all this about? A: I’m planning to pick a personal ride weakness of mine (unsurprisingly I got lots of choice!) and find a way to use the nature of winter rides to improve on that weakness which I might not do during the ride season proper.
So for me personally this plan is specifically for strength as it’s where I feel I’m most lacking. I can work a hill at a steady rate for plenty long with no problems at all. I really like steady pace. But when it comes to power bursts on a steeper section of that hill for example, I’m maxed out very quickly. This plan’s intention is to rectify that or at least to make improvements in my strength and power bursts to some degree by the end of it.
So, what, like you’re a physical therapist or something now?
Haha, no and herein lies the disclaimer. This is how I’m planning to get myself through those nasty ol’ winter rides and dreaded turbo-trainer sessions. I’m hopeful there’ll be something of some use to you too, Dear Reader, but nope, I ain’t yo man Physio Joe. I’m a rider like you so take anything here with a good seasoning of salt #lowsodium 😀
What I would say though is that if you’re new to single-speed, it’s imperative that your gear ratio / gear-inches measurement is right for your own purposes. If you’re not conversant with gear measurements, check that section of my bicycle gears article. Currently I’m running 46T:18T which is around 68 gear inches. I have a flipflop hub with a 16T on the other side if I’m feeling particularly strong, ie. not often! That’s 76 gear inches which is tough for me on any inclines. Rather than in any way defeating the purpose of single-speed, I think it’s nice to have the option to change it up occasionally for different rides.
I worked a rough ratio from my geared bike. I took my preferred gearing on the flat and bumped that 10-15% harder. Combinations are simply enough worked out on the BikeCalc site which I’ve mentioned elsewhere. But again, choosing the right gear for this task to it’s a push but not an uncomfortably hard one is very subjective to each of us so a little experimentation might be needed on the cog/chainring choice.
The genesis of the plan
Genesis, I liked that word. Makes it sound totally WAY grander than it is though. Really though, there are a few factors that I see as having conspired together here. It’s not so much that I thought anything up, rather those factors kind of auto-constructed this winter training plan. And what are they?
- Unfriendly weather – I’m a big fan of just going with the flow of the weather, well, provided that flow isn’t gonna wash us away downstream! I’ve thrown a few of my tips for riding in the wind in my bonus hacks for your cycling mojo article. But unfriendly weather can, let’s be honest dampen the enthusiasm of even the best of us at times, right? The solution: go short.
- Bike maintenance in the salty wetness – I try to keep on top of keeping my bike clean, chain well maintained and rims cleaned and de-rubbered (my regular bike has rim brakes) after each ride. Coming home wet and chilly means most often I just want to get indoors to a hot shower asap. And that means by the time I get back out that evening or the following day to see to the chain it’s got that miserable surface rust. Mudguards are a great help for that. My problem as I’ve outlined elsewhere is that I just can’t cram the mudguards in with poor clearance and small-frame toe overlap being made nervously worse. The solution: A cheap singlespeed road bike with good clearance for mudguards. Bingo!
- Dark mornings and evenings – don’t get me wrong, I kinda like riding in the dark too. It reminds me of the fun we used to have as kids running around outdoors with torches lol. But even with a proper bright set of bike lights I’d probably prefer daylight riding for safety’s sake if nothing else. The solution: go short, stick to lesser-travelled routes, or maybe utilize the commute time a couple of times per week for a session.
- Immune response to the seasonal changes – while it may have been anecdotally true about feeling less healthy in winter, research from Cambridge University seems to corroborate that notion. Again, call me odd (why I oughta!) but I sort of like riding even if I have a bit of a chest cold. I like getting all wrapped up in base layers, mids and thermal outers against cold weather when riding, again, probably reminds me of being a kid – well lay off me, it happens when you get to my age, haha. But even so, it seems at times, the body is asking to get in out of the chill to spare itself for the long winter. The Solution: short, high intensity sessions not only maximize our time but also produce significant heat – man we’re so inefficient, lol. Provided we’re back indoors before we cool down too much, our immune system, and those little suffering winter genes the boffins at Cambridge mentioned will hopefully be spared in their wintery angst.
So with these sessions, I tell myself I’m only going short, maybe 40 minutes to an hour or so. And 40 minutes, I tell my ol’ complaining inner voice, isn’t so much more than half an hour. That’s my glass-half-full way to ensure my biking mojo is intact and to get me out the door into the cold! But if I feel like going to the hour I will. And otherwise I’m more than satisfied with a 10-15 minute warmup and then 15-20 minutes of interval work if that’s all I feel like. And that’s job done.
So what’s this singlespeed winter bike strength plan go like?
Actually, it’s really super simple. I’ve been doing bike plans for long enough now to lift what works for me and leave what doesn’t. I’d hope this would work for you too. But I know we’re all constructed differently. But maybe as ever there’s a nugget in here somewhere for you that’ll at least spark your own enthusiasm to replicate this or just make your own 🙂 So this one’s a combination of different session dynamics from three different plans I’ve done, all aggregated into one.
Firstly, 2 or 3 midweek strength sessions consisting of:
- 10-15 minute low strain warmup. In my gearing that’s around 60-70rpm
- 8 intervals, 30sec @90-100rpm – again in my gearing that’s encroaching on VO2Max levels – followed by 3min easy spin back to around 60-70rpm.
- I try to crank on the power fairly rapidly going from the slow cadence to the interval. Never so suddenly as to jar the knees though! For me it’s trying in some ways to replicate a breakaway from a group.
- My intention here is to increase half of the intervals from 30sec to 60sec from week 3 then all intervals being 60sec at week 5 with a concomitant shortening of recovery period in between.
- Ultimately my personal goal here is aiming at being able to do a 15 minute solid effort. To get there, it’s my intention to add one 60sec interval per week to each session so each session in week 6, for example, has not the initial 8 intervals, but 9. And so on until I’m at 15 x 60sec intervals. From there I intend to combine these 60sec intervals into fewer, longer ones until I reach 1 x 15min hard push. Will that work? Honestly I haven’t a clue! But that’s my aim at this point. And I can but try. At the time of writing, I ain’t there yet though! 🙂 #oldmantalking
- 10-15 minute easy recovery
- Since my own routes are short and loop out and back, this is just the ride home for me 🙂
Secondly, 1 or two regular weekend rides:
- Either I’ll do these on the geared bike, just a regular no-holds-barred ride wherever and however I like. Or if I’m on the singlespeed, I stick to flat routes or those with not as much climbing and just keep it at the 60-70rpm low revs the whole way paying attention to form.
- I use the regular geared ride to test any perceived gains. Not always easy to tell when facing a headwind or harsh, cold air. But testing out progress is the idea anyway.
Thirdly, paying particular attention to form
To maximize the utility of this plan to the riding, and at the same time minimize any undue stress on the ol’ knees, it’s crucial to pay attention to good form; to the souplesse as the French might have it.
I find keeping as even a tension on my quads, hamstrings and calves as I can during the intervals not only helps me avoid any sudden jars but also helps me stay mindful of what muscles are working and how hard. I am feeling the lactic burn at the end of 60sec in the gearing I’m currently using. I like that feeling and getting to ease it out in the recovery intervals too. I think I’m not so used to that during long steady climbs that are usually within my limits. I like these hard pushes. I can definitely feel they’ll have a positive outcome going towards my personal 15 minute power goal.
So that’s it in a nutshell! Not rocket-bike science, man wouldn’t that be a hoot of a job. Possibly nothing you haven’t heard before either, but if it works… It feels subjectively as if this one’s gonna bear fruit for my little ol’ legs over the coming months #soundslikeaplan 🙂
I guess though, there is one other question that’s been on my mind and that I’ve asked myself. I’d like to give my thoughts on it and I’d be interested in comparing thoughts with anyone that’s tried this, and that is…
Q: Why the call for a single-speed road bike for this?
A: It’s been interesting for me trying to work through some of my own logic here. I mean besides the pros and cons that I’ve outlined in the post I’ve linked above. I think the reasons for choosing singlespeed over my geared bike are entirely psychological. But curiously so too. How so?
Well firstly, I think there isn’t anything that can be done singlespeed that can’t be more than adequately replicated on my geared bike. But it’s the converse of that that holds the key. It’s exactly because of the perceived cons of the singlespeed rather than in spite of them that this choice just works for me. It’s exactly because I can’t swap this hard-grinding gear ratio on my singlespeed for something nice and spinny, and it’s exactly because I’m forced to do everything on this one gear and have no other choice that I’m drawn to the singlespeed.
Maybe it’s being contrary? I don’t know for sure. I think it’s a factor of my personality – and I’d certainly have contrariness as part of my makeup haha 🙂
But I think paradoxically it’s the very lack of options that inspire me to figure my own solution. Would that resonate with you by any chance? I think that’s what I’m doing on a singlespeed here. I went singlespeed on a hardtail 29er MTB back in ’05 and had a blast, partly being persuaded to the notion of riding a big BMX #childhooddays 😀 So the singlespeed thing has held an attraction for me for reasons such as the above that I’m only reckoning with since acquiring this one-geared road bike recently.
I’d surely be interested in any other feedback on this. Or any other aspect of the article for that matter!
But as ever, if any of this has given you food for thought then I’m more than happy. Have a good winter season however you go about it though. And whatever way you ride, ride safe and have fun, David.