Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On again, off again

Date: Oct. 17
Total mileage: 25.2
October mileage: 233.7
Temperature upon departure: 42

Many cyclists I know, especially those who race their bicycles on a regular basis, have begun to talk about the "off season." As in most sports, cycling has found its drastic ebb and flow, which means from March to September all I hear about is trainingracingridingracingtraining. Then, October hits ... a couple of leaves drop ... and suddenly ... nothing.

Up in Alaska, far away from the velodromes and crits and Cat-4's and what have you, this "off season" is still very much a mystery to me. For what little racing I do - and for how liberally I'd have to use the term "athlete" to call myself one - I tend to have events spread fairly evenly throughout the year. I've been in a bit of a slump - I'll call it an "off-season" - since July. But pretty soon, at about the beginning of November, I'll have to think about upping the training and scheduling focused workouts if I want to be in shape come February. It's the depths of cold, dark winter. It's when I like to be "on."

So now that I have to gear up, and watch my fellow cyclists wind down, I can't help but speculate on the mystery of it all. Where do cyclists go during the "off season" to give it such a defeated, fatalistic name? I have some theories:

"Beer and television:" I think the smart athletes would give themselves some real time off, and do as Lance Armstrong does. You know: go for easy spins with President Bush and party all night with celebrities. And if, unlike Lance, they were willing to give all that up to go back to the lonely, relentless life of a racing cyclist, I would think that beer gut would give them all that much more motivation in the spring.

"Trainer hell:" These cyclists I know, they're so preoccupied with going fast that they forget they can just put on a big poofy snow suit and mount some flood lights to their Bianchis so they can keep riding outside during cold, dark winter days. Instead, they put their poor bicycles on rollers and spend two to three hours a day dripping sweat all over the carpet of their cold, dark basements. As a former gym rat, I actually have no problem with the concept, especially if you have access to a good iPod lineup and all three seasons of Arrested Development on DVD. But every day? All winter long? Eee.

"Cross-training:" I don't how many cyclists also Nordic ski. But I definitely think more should. Not only do you work all the important leg muscles, you also have an excuse to continue wearing spandex all winter long. Mountain bike racers should snowboard ... good practice for dodging trees and grabbing that sweet, sweet air. I'd also suggest snowshoes, but I don't know many cyclists who also run (except for those crazy triathletes). The rest of us, I believe, are opposed to unaided human power on principle.

"Real jobs:" Some people who race all summer long take so much time off that they have to buckle down and work day and night throughout the winter just to support the habit. I admire that, but I don't really have any good advice for such a person.

"Hibernation:" This is different from beer and television, because to actually be in hibernation, I don't think you can be doing what 95 percent of everyone else is doing. No, you actually have to be fast asleep. Dreaming of green trails and dry roads. I also don't have any good advice for you.

"IceBike:" It's everyone's favorite novelty Web site, but so few seem to actually do it. Trust me, once you experiment with the wonders of snowbiking, you'll understand why I consider late summer the "off season."

But seriously, "real cyclists," where do you go during the winter? I used to pass you on the road all the time. Now your numbers are diminishing. Soon you'll all be gone, and I feel lonely just thinking about it.


  1. When I lived in Alaska (Anchorage) for 16 years I count winter rides on the MTB outfitted with studs among my favorite times on the bike. No personal bests were ever achieved, merely a peaceful hour or so riding on frozen trails, some of which were far too soggy and muddy to navigate the rest of the year. Often I took my Airedale Rufus with me. The other thing about winter riding was how snow and dim light could turn familar trails into the unrecognizeable.

    Anybody who can pedal on a trainer for longer than 45 minutes has my admiration. Bored me senseless when I tried it one winter.

  2. Here in the midwest I believe the answer is gravel roads. Gravel grinders and cyclocross races seem to be gaining as much popularity as mtb races these days. In deep winter there are roller races. And finally there is the newest(or oldest) fad: having kids, or so it seems....i am not that bored yet.

  3. Well, in this part of the world there's no real "winter" to speak off. There's just six months of summer, or the wet season, and there's the dry season. As to the "real" cyclists, I don't see too many of them unless I stick to the flat, suburban coastal roads (which I rarely do).

    Maybe that's where they all are.

  4. Down here, in northern california, it's mostly all about cyclocross now. We ride around and around little tiny courses in the trees and sand, like little hobbits - where no one can see us.

  5. Not any super crazy winter in denver but I still like to ride with not the best of cold weather gear and frezze my nads off... Also have a hut trip or two planed with the snow shoes mabe i'll take up xc skin as well.... Rich on the bad idea racing blog calls it osad = Off Season affective Disorder =)

  6. Here in blighty, the club I belong to rides all year round.... it's not worth the piss-taking not to......

  7. I'm a California transplant in New England, and I have had a hard time adapting my 12-month training to real winters. I hate, hate, hate the indoor trainer and use it as a last resort. If the roads are clear I bundle up and ride--the coldest ride I have ever done was 18 degrees. Ugh.

  8. No off-season here, unless it is the middle of August when it is 100 degrees.

  9. I can't speak on other places, but here in Anchorage I'm seeing more winter riders in recent years. I did more winter riding than ever last year and plan to do a lot again.

    I also ride the indoor trainer, but not for two or three hours a day. I don't need to -- I'm not much of a racer. But I try to keep fat at bay by doing several 45-minute workouts each week, with some occasional two-hour sessions on weekends. The long sessions are possible thanks to DVD players and headphones with long extension cords.

  10. I like riding a bike. Weather has nothing to do with it. I ride all year round in northern Minnesota because I like to. I like riding a trainer, but usually prefer to bundle up and ride outdoors. The human body has an amazing ability to warm itself, it just takes practice to learn how to dress properly, but it can be done in any conditions.

  11. Here in suburban Chicagoland near the Fox River, we ride all year long. The bike path rides become more of an adventure and the looks from motorists are worth the effort.

    Some of the most peaceful rides have been in the cold after 3 or 4 inches of fresh snow. All sounds are muffled by the snow and one can hardly hear their knobbies on the snowy pavement.

    One favorite place that has a hard time drying out in the summer is Deer Grove. It is perfect after the ground freezes. I probably get more winter off-road rides at this location than during all the non-winter months combined.

    Keep up the good rides.

  12. When the days grow short, and the temp dips into the 40's, the group rides pretty much dry up. Blood thins when you live in the deep South.
    I put on the lights and hit the trail. A good 2 hours in the wood, in the dark, along with road rides on the weekend, will make you strong like bull.
    I hate the trainer, but will get on it when necessary...
    Euro race vids are the best for roller or trainer time.

  13. off season? not for bike commuters...

    Racing season peaks for the Cyclocross crowd in the US around nationals mid-December... the lucky/fast ones head to belgium and race until the end of January...

    what do i do for the off season? not much - keep riding... but yeah - that burn out stuff that came up before - when that hits and you are a bike commuter... its tough

  14. iowa winters are usually cold. i put the studs on the mtb, this year's is a surly 1x1, add extra layers, and go grind on the gravel roads on the weekends. on week nights i clip on the lights and go ride the trails. i'm not alone...

    peace out, yo

  15. Put the bike away until March or even April. Skin up the mountain, ski down. Nordic ski every day. Ski at the resort. Basically, ski as much as possible - all types, including boarding. Hit the weight room too.


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