There is nothing quite like a ride in winter when the sun is shining and the frost has melted!

As I write this, winter is approaching. When you read it, winter has probably arrived!

So how do you train in winter? (maybe that should be “why” rather than how!)


Traditionally, the advice for winter training is to ride long distances at slow speeds. Let’s look at that in more detail.

So how long should rides be?

The philosophy is to start with a distance which is not a problem, then increase the ride lengths at a comfortable rate. Don’t forget the Coffee stops– they give you an objective, a reward and a chance to warm up! After all, the Etape has feed stops!

So just how slowly should you ride?

The best advice is to ride at a speed at which you are breathing heavily, but are still able to talk.

As well as improving general fitness, the result is to improve the blood flow to your muscles and open the capillaries, as well as improving oxygen transfer between your lungs and your blood.

 Longer slower rides tend to use fat rather than glucose as a fuel. Slower riding uses slow twitch muscle fibres in preference to fast twitch ones. Slow twitch fibres use fat as a fuel, while fast twitch ones use glucose. Adapting your body to burn more fat is beneficial, as the stored glucose in your body is quite quickly used up (in around an hour and a quarter of fast riding). On the other hand the stored fat on even a thin rider is sufficient to fuel them for hundreds of miles.

Burning fat has other obvious advantages in terms of weight loss, though this may not work if you are wearing only a lycra top in winter! As in response to low temperatures, the body has a tendency to store fat to produce an insulating layer and stop you freezing!

Slower rides also avoid over stressing the body when temperatures are low.


In the winter it is important to avoid setbacks as well as making gains. A fit body with a broken limb or a dose of flu is not much use in a cycle race!

The three main risks in the winter riding are ice, the dark evenings and low temperatures. Breathing in large volumes of air which is near freezing point may reduce your core temperature and is likely to make you susceptible to colds and flu.


Patches of ice are likely to cause accidents, so it is best to use ice free routes where possible. Very minor roads tend to be the most icy, while main roads tend to be too busy, so something in between is safest. In those cold, sunny days when there is a high pressure  weather regime, afternoons are a good time to ride, when the ice has thawed, due to traffic and warmer afternoon temperatures, and temperatures are generally more pleasant.


One year a team of Etappers on an evening ride rode straight into some unlit road works – a bit of a set back! Riding on dark evenings may have hidden hazards

Good lights are on the market combining a bright beam with a good battery life. They tend to be rather expensive, but that is better than having an accident!

It is scary to see riders without effective rear lights at night, and high visibility clothing is important. Winter is a time when safety should triumph over style!

Low Temperatures

There is a Swedish saying that there is no such thing as cold weather - just inadequate clothing! Don’t let style triumph over comfort – don’t be afraid to wear a warm jumper (or two…..or three……!)


Club rides have the advantage of mutual encouragement and sometimes friendly competition. Generally it is best to join a group which rides at your speed, and ride with faster groups as the weather grows warmer.


If there is a flood lit cycle track near you, like the stadium in Palmer Park in Reading, this is an excellent way to train.

The most effective way to avoid the winter weather though is to use a turbo trainer or to train in the gym.


If you splash out on a turbo trainer, some are available which link to a laptop or PC, and display interesting routes, and even allow you to compete against other riders. The more sophisticated models have a resistance which increases on uphill sections of the virtual route.


We are now privileged to have some words of advice for November from Matt Curley, performance coach from Pure Sports Medicine, on training in the gym:

Now the weather has turned, use the gym to work on your flexibility through foam rolling (adductors, IT bands quads and hip flexors) and yoga and keep your leg strength, with 1-2 spin classes a week – never skip the stretching! In particular, Hip flexors, glutes and quads need the most attention, hold stretches at an intensity of 6/10  for 2-3 minutes as anything less will not make a difference.

If you have any questions, he may be contacted at