6th November 2010 Words: Hannah Reynolds Photos: Roo Fowler, Chris Catchpole
The summer’s gone but that’s no reason to shove your bike in the garage until spring. We show you why autumn riding is just as rewarding.
Good habits can be hard to form but easy to break. During the summer, cycling is a pleasure and you need little excuse or motivation to head out for a spin. However, shorter days and worsening weather makes it increasingly easy to leave your bike in the shed and find a warmer, drier activity to fill your time.
One missed ride because it’s raining becomes two, you can’t ride home from work because it’s dark and you forgot your lights and before you know it you are riding significantly less than in the middle of summer.
Autumn and winter riding have many upsides for cyclists. Often the most memorable rides happen in the most inclement months of the year. If you’ve never ridden through the cooler months before, there is nothing to fear and plenty to look forward to. A little bit of preparation will help ease the transition into autumn and you’ll quickly realise that there is no reason to abandon your bike till spring.
Keeping your summer fitness
You probably found that regular riding during the summer months meant your fitness improved. When the sun is shining, riding a little bit further or more often is a pleasure, and those extra miles soon add up to feeling fitter and stronger on your bike. However, fitness is hard to gain and easily lost. Stop riding altogether, and in just two weeks many of the changes that have taken place in your body will start reversing. When you do get back on the bike, you’ll find your body isn’t as efficient at using oxygen so you’ll be breathing harder.
Your endurance will have suffered so you won’t be able to ride for as long, hills will be harder and you’ll feel slower and more sluggish. The good news is that while fitness is easily lost through inactivity it is also easily maintained — and with significantly less exercise than it took to get you fit in the first place. As long as you keep getting out on your bike two or three times a week, you’ll enter spring as fit — if not fitter — than you are now.
Nothing quite beats the feeling of wheeling your bike out on a crisp but bright morning. Blowing out your breath so it forms misty clouds and the slight chill for the first few miles is a great way to wake up your mind and body on an autumn morning. Riding helps you to feel much more in touch with the changing of the seasons and you’ll soon learn to guess the temperature by the smell of the air or the amount of dew on the grass. If you have a regular ride route it’s fascinating to watch the constant changes through out the year.
Cycling is a really good calorie burner but unfortunately it also generates a huge appetite. Regular rides to work and at weekends mean you can indulge a bit more without consequence and still watch the pounds melt away. Stop cycling and that changes. The huge joke of hanging up your bike is that the cyclist’s appetite remains even once the calorie burning exercise is stopped.
Check out some former pro bike riders to see how giving up cycling has changed their physique. Obviously, these are really extreme examples. We see the cycling calorie burn as payment in advance for the extra glass of wine or slice of cake we like to indulge in after a ride. Keep riding and you’ll be able to keep indulging and still maintain a good energy balance.
While we can get vitamin D from our diet, the most efficient way for the body to generate it is through sunlight on our skin. It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers that approximately five to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10am and 3pm at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back, without sunscreen, usually leads to sufficient vitamin D synthesis. If you are stuck in an artificially lit office 9 to 5, and travel to work in a car or on public transport, you aren’t going to see as much sunlight as you would if, for example, you cycled to work.
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and helps in bone growth. Insufficient vitamin D can lead to bones becoming brittle and thin. Together with calcium, it protects against osteoporosis. Vitamin D isn’t just about bones, though. It helps with immune function and reduction of inflammation.
One of the biggest joys of going out on your bike in winter is coming home. Walking into a warm kitchen filled with the smell of food and being handed a cup of tea. Relaxing into a hot bath then falling into the soft embrace of your favourite armchair makes riding in the wet and cold worthwhile. Honestly, you can’t fully appreciate your home comforts till you’ve ridden an hour into an icy headwind or been drenched to the skin in a downpour.
Short days and long evenings mean that getting out in daylight hours, even for your daily commute, isn’t always possible. However, night riding is an experience to embrace. A decent set of lights can be expensive — think £75–£400 and more for the best quality — but they will extend the hours available to you for cycling outside.
Riding in the dark has a strange quality to it; your light beam picks out the road in front giving you the odd perception of riding in a safe bubble without any distractions around you, plus you feel like you are going faster than in the daylight. Night riding is exhilarating and exciting. It can turn a mundane ride home into an adventure. A crisp, clear evening with moonlight and stars can be as picturesque and beautiful as any summer’s evening.
Healthy comfort eating
There’s an endless list of fruit and vegetables that come into season, or are at their best, during autumn. It’s a great excuse to indulge in proper puddings and get baking with all these lovely foods. When it comes to healthy eating and fuelling your riding, the more colourful your plate the better. Bright, contrasting vegetables will contain a wide array of vitamins and nutrients to really boost your immune system. Aubergines, beetroot, broccoli, courgettes, pumpkin, red cabbage and butternut squash are all very much in season during the autumn. And, when it comes to dessert, plums, blackberries, blueberries and damsons all go well in a pie and will keep your taste buds feeling satisfied.
Things you need to get ready for autumn
Get yourself prepared for the changes in conditions now and you won’t have any excuses. If you can get yourself through this changing season comfortably you’ll be happy to ride all winter and start next spring feeling fit and healthy.
Now is the time to splash out on new clothing. A few basic additions to your cycling wardrobe will enable you to stay warm, dry and cosy.
Designed to be worn next to the skin and help carry sweat away, keeping your skin dry as well as providing insulation. A selection of different weight base layers will help you tailor your outfit to the conditions.
Nothing really keeps you completely dry when cycling. A jacket that keeps the weather out is seldom breathable, so can result in you feeling damp and sweaty. We’d recommend spending the biggest part of your clothing budget on a jacket that allows your perspiration to evaporate, keeping your skin dry.
Full-length thermal tights will keep your legs protected. Shorts really are a no-no as soon as the weather starts to cool.
Gloves and overshoes
Your extremities will feel the cold far more than your legs or torso. The wind created by cycling, particularly on fast downhill sections, can be really chilling for your hands. Invest in some windproof gloves but make sure you still have the dexterity to shift and brake. Overshoes are designed to be pulled on over your cycling shoes for an extra barrier against the elements. Once you try these you’ll be amazed at the difference.
Essential for winter safety. The cheapest lights allow you to be seen by car drivers and are fine for urban areas, but if you can afford to splash out on some high-powered rechargeable lights a whole new world of cycling will open up to you. You’ll have the confidence to see where you are riding and the powerful beam will also ensure drivers give you plenty of space.