Outdoor bike riding is back!
Depending on where, in Canada, you are, you may have already started the transition from your indoor trainer (the notorious pain cave) to the road (or trails). Here in our neck of the woods, spring has (at last) sprung, and that has got us thinking about getting ready for outdoor riding.
So! Here are some things to think about when planning for outdoor bike riding.
Deciding when to hit the road (or the trails for all you gravel riders out there) depends on several factors, such as weather conditions and personal preferences. Here are five factors to consider when deciding if it's time for outdoor bike riding once more.
The temperature can affect your comfort level when riding. If the temperature is consistently above freezing and you're dressed appropriately (check out our Cycling Kit: Your Essential New Season Kit List and Cycling Clothes - How to Dress for the Bike blogs for more on this topic), it is likely that the outdoor riding season is back (for those of us that hit the pain cave when ol' man winter rolls in).
Here in Canada, a brutal winter (and, let's face it, most winters are brutal) can create hazardous road conditions, such as ice and snow. You may want to hold off until the roads are clear (including debris and other potential hazards that could trigger flats) and dry before starting to ride outdoors.
Lucky for us, we sprang forward back in March with Daylight saving time. That means, longer days, which means a wider window of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. In the winter, daylight hours are shorter, which can make it difficult to find time to ride outdoors even if you can tolerate the cold. Lights are great for day and night, but there's something quite daunting about braving the cold and winter drivers, even if you mount a military grade floodlight to your feathery ride. As the days get longer (and warmer), it is just easier to find time to ride outdoors.
Maybe you're someone who prefers to stay in your pain cave until temperatures are consistently warm before starting to ride outdoors. Maybe you even grow to enjoy the simplicity of just throwing on the minimum and getting to work without any fanfare while Netflix streams in the background. Or, maybe, you are actually more comfortable riding in cooler temperatures and any opportunity to bypass the ride-to-nowhere practically screams your name. Either way, consider your own personal preferences when deciding when to start riding outdoors.
We're not judging, but, if you've been riding indoors throughout the winter then chances are you are likely ready to start riding outdoors sooner than those who haven't been cycling regularly. Be honest with yourself, and consider your fitness level when deciding if you're ready to return to your Saturday morning group rides (or if you need to endure a few more sessions on your indoor trainer).
Ultimately, the decision to start outdoor cycling again depends on your comfort level and personal preferences. When you do start riding outdoors again, make sure to take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety, such as sporting the appropriate apparel and gear (like helmets and lights and radar), inspecting your bike for any needed repairs, and (needless to say) always observing the rules of the road...yes, we are pretty sure you are still going to roll that stop sign in the middle of nowhere...
So, you've decided that you're ready to kick off the outdoor bike riding season. Now what?
Here is our checklist of the top 10 things to do to get ready for spring riding:
Before you return to riding outdoors (if, like us, you've taken the winter off in favour of your indoor trainer and your guilty pleasure Netflix drama), you should investigate your bike to ensure it is (still) in working condition (maybe you neglected it over the winter and it's been sitting in that nook of the garage where you dumped it right after your rainy Saturday morning group ride... in September—oops!). Or maybe you've been sweating all over it all winter even though you kept promising yourself you would find perspiration protection. You'll want to inspect the tires, brakes, gears, and chain for any signs of wear and tear, and you may need a tune-up before you jump back in the saddle.
You'll hate yourself if you don't. Don't cut corners. Remember that cycling should be fun, and equipping yourself with the right gear will keep it that way. At a minimum, consider investing in a quality helmet (this is a no-brainer, ahem...get it?), cycling shorts that have the right padding for you (you may want to consider more padding if you're an endurance rider), and proper cycling shoes with a stiff sole and a bit of comfort. This gear will not only make your ride more comfortable, but—critically—will help prevent injuries.
Dressing properly is crucial when riding outdoors (regardless of the season). Gearing up with the right apparel can be the difference between an unforgettable ride through the countryside (the kind of ride you brag about for days) and a painful 'abort mission' kind of ride that nearly compels you to post your bike on Kijiji when it's all over.
This one is critical, so we'll go a bit deeper.
Choosing the right clothing to wear when cycling outdoors (particularly earlier in the spring when the weather is unpredictable and varies from day to day) can be tricky. Here are just a few tips to get you started:
Remember, the weather can be unpredictable in Canada during the spring, so it's important to be prepared for a wide range of conditions when outdoor bike riding. Pack extra layers and accessories, such as arm warmers or leg warmers, and always check the weather forecast before heading out for a ride.
Always plan your route before you head out (especially if you're exploring a new route). Luckily, many bike computers have all of the advanced functionality you need to map your route—and keep you on it. But even if you're still pulling a folding map out of your jersey pocket, ensure your planned route is suitable for your skill level and fitness level. Consider the terrain, distance, and traffic when selecting the right route for you.
Before heading out on a ride (regardless of the season), make sure you have enough fuel in your body. Eat a nutritious meal or snack with carbohydrates and protein to give you the energy you need. Check out our nutrition favourites.
Staying hydrated is important when cycling, particularly as the temperatures begin to rise, but even in cooler temperatures you are likely sweating beneath your layers more than you realize. Bring plenty of water or a sports drink to stay hydrated during your ride.
Let's face it: You're not always keen to warm up when you're pumped to jump in the saddle, particularly if the temperatures are a little below what you dressed for. We get it. But warming up your muscles before, or as, you start riding doesn't have to be too onerous. Simply perform a bit of light stretching (and, while we're on the topic, here are 5 stretches every cyclist should know), or just start easy and do a little warm-up ride. This will help prevent injuries and get your body ready for the ride, particularly if you're planning to go long.
Make sure you bring your essentials with you before you head out, such as a repair kit, pump, telephone, and extra layers in case the weather changes. We know this is old hat for most of you, but being thoughtful about this step is even more critical during your first couple of outdoor rides of the season since you're likely out of practice...and might even need to track those items down from wherever you last dropped them?
We mentioned this earlier, and we're saying it here, too, because it matters—particularly if you're a bit rusty. When cycling on roads, always follow traffic rules, including stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, riding on the right side of the road, and using hand signals. Remember that many drivers have had a break from cyclists on the road so it's important to be defensive. Practice proper group etiquette, too, if you're joining group rides (the other cyclists will appreciate it).
Speaking of group rides... consider joining a cycling group to stay motivated and connect with other cyclists. Beyond joining a cycling community, group rides are a terrific way to learn new routes (you'll likely venture off to nooks you wouldn't have even considered) and to learn tips and tricks from more experienced riders. Do your homework before joining a cycling group. At a minimum, you'll want to ensure you join a group that is, more or less, at your level (otherwise, you will either get dropped if the pace is too fast for you or, on the flip side, you'll become unmotivated if the pace isn't fast enough).
By following these 10 tips, you'll ensure you're well prepared for outdoor bike riding to hit the road (or trails) again after enduring a long winter in your pain cave.
We're always thinking about safety when we hop in the saddle. We love outdoor bike riding, but it's important to prioritize safety to avoid accidents or injuries.
Here are some of our favourite tips to help you stay safe when riding your bike outdoors:
We hope this one is obvious! Wearing a helmet is essential for protecting your head in case of a fall or accident. Make sure your helmet fits well and is fastened securely. Also check the expiry date as helmets have a shelf life. Typically the best before date is about 5 years.
Wear bright and reflective clothing, especially when riding in low-light conditions. Use lights and reflectors on your bike to make yourself visible to motorists and other cyclists.
Keep your eyes and ears open for potential hazards, such as cars, pedestrians, and other cyclists. Avoid distractions, such as using your telephone, or listening to music while riding.
Assume that other drivers and cyclists may not see you, and always be prepared to react quickly to avoid collisions or accidents. When outdoor bike riding, remember to be safe!
Once you've decided that spring is here to stay and that you're ready for outdoor cycling, make sure you're equipped with all of the right gear—and ride safe!