The lingering memory of the last summer ride on your favourite stretch of singletrack is often enough to get you through the winter chills. Sadly a quick mid-winter reccy of that favourite track reveals a wet, unrideable mud-fest. Hardly the breakfast of champions. Which is fine... you expect to clumsily slip over the rocks and not clean all those tricky little steep sections. And surely you can blame the gasping and general weariness on the cold. Alas, when the sunny season finally returns that favourite trail still doesn't ride as sweetly as your memories. The reality is more likely that your fitness halo has slipped a little over the winter. It's hard, or even foolish, to keep yourself at peak fitness over the whole year - especially when conditions are less than inspiring - but it can make for a bumpy re-entry into the summer. There are 101 reasons to chill out during the shorter daylight hours. Weeks of continual sub-zero temperatures encourage all but the most committed to remain huddled up at home. And riding to work is tricky when the duvet tangles in the rear-derailleur. The Tour de France circus keeps the mind, if not the body motivated... but those boys make it look too easy. So what are the options for keeping the fitness needle off rock bottom during the dark months?
If you can't face pedalling to work every day then at least brave a couple of days each week. It's often not much slower to ride - especially when you scythe through rush hour traffic jams. So if you're pushed for time then you effectively score a free lunch on the fitness front. See Life as an Urban Warrior for the good oil on cycle commuting.
Show no mercy to the urban environment ... there are plenty of steps, gutters, manholes, alleyways, driveways, steps and railway lines to keep you in tune. And there's nothing like practising a bunny-hop over the real thing (if somewhat flattened) when you get the chance.
There's no need to splash out on an exotic road bike (although it's nice to indulge if the piggy bank is bulging) - just chuck a set of slicks on ya mountain bike. Avoid the ultra skinny jobs. A chunky number (1.25" to 1.5") with a hint of tread will allow you to ride rough terrain and leap off curbs. An extra set of wheels takes the hassle out of swapping tyres.
Cramming all your 'training' into the weekend can eat into other recreational priorities, so firing up the halogen candles during the week helps spread the load. Tracks you dismiss as too easy can be great fun at night and a well arranged night ride will conveniently finish at or near a short black and a muffin. Check out Seeing the Light for more.
... not to be confused with cross-dressing, covers anything from day hiking through to hooning around on the snow. Running on tracks that you usually ride can reveal a new sweet line. It's a blast pulling big airs and sketchy drop-offs with smooth slow-mo running shoe ease. Depending on your measuring stick it takes three to four months to get back to 'full speed'. Keeping your base fitness over winter has you well on the way when summer rolls around. In New Zealand daylight saving kicks in early October - a good jolt to start getting out and about on a school night. Remember to ease yourself into it slowly. Faster does not necessarily equal fitter... the legendary Arthur Lydiard prescribes a diet of LSD - that would be Long-Slow-Distance. Strange as it may seem, long and slow will keep building your fitness right through a full summer's racing. As they say "it's as easy as riding a bike".