ed. note: Chris Beattie is our resident Irish Hardman in the storied tradition of Sean Kelly. A Q36.5 Ambassador, one of his rides is a Baum Ristretto built and finished by Above Category.
Wind. Wet. Minus 6 to plus 6 degrees Celsius (21 to 42 Fahrenheit). The prevalent weather conditions for hypothermia. Where do you go to find these conditions in winter? Ireland’s north coast – my home turf! Quite ironic for someone who does not like the cold and the rain, but it's home. Over the years, I've learned how to adapt to the conditions to maintain my fix: Riding year-round regardless of weather, notwithstanding the occasional nice Irish winter day.
It's worth adding that I've been riding long before it became fashionable in the UK, roughly 28 years on the road. Covering an annual mileage now in excess of 16,000 miles (despite a full-time job) proves the weather can be overcome and embraced; rather than hibernating for four months in the winter while fitness steadily declines to nothing! It is said you can get four seasons in one day here and it's probably true. There are some days in winter when I find myself in shorts, and others chattering along into a bitterly cold east wind that's bringing snow in from Russia, but both are rare in this damp climate.
Admittedly, there is little pleasure in riding ten-plus miles to work in pitch-black rainy mornings with temperatures barely above freezing, dodging black ice all the way. Or when slogging along for six hours under a steel-grey sky, with a 30mph northwesterly wind hammering rain through a second pair of gloves. But, consistency is the key to efficiency, and winter is the time for improvement for the next season. Riding throughout winter's varied conditions is a grim necessity for progression from season to season.
Peering out the window into a rainy Saturday morning over the rim of an espresso, or mid-ride when I can’t feel my fingertips, I ask the question: Why? The answer always is to perform stronger on the climbs in Spain at the next training camp, achieve better results in the Gran Fondo events to come, and knock seconds off my 10 mile TT time! The list in my head goes on until the initial question is a faint, distant memory. The moment is all about the ride right now, regardless of the weather. A necessary evil? Perhaps, or maybe a disease with no cure!
However, there is a difference between riding and training. While the common winter base of zone 1 to 3 rides can be included in the weekly programme around work and family life with careful planning, training requires a little more thought to arrive on the start line of an Easter stage race in good shape. Enter the topic of the weather again. The cold, wet conditions add stress to the body (and mind), so I pay particular attention to getting the right nutrients to stay healthy and keep the immune system functioning over the winter. Only when the body is heathy can you introduce more training load and improve fitness levels. Along that same tack, an indoor trainer session can be the only place to get the high-end intervals done safely in a controlled environment here in the harshest months. Zone 5 work at temperatures near freezing on the road is not good on the lungs….more stress and ultimately sickness can result in going backwards! Yes, I've had to learn to embrace the torture on the indoor trainer!
There are ways to make the rides more pleasurable: Always planning my route to have a tailwind home so I don’t literally freeze in the wind when wet, or hugging the high ditches and hedgerows on the edges of country roads to hide from side-winds, just like sheltering in an echelon in the Spring Classics! I've found that tackling rough, damp, roads is best on a steel or titanium bike, thanks to the extra compliance that ferrous frames give up where carbon typically doesn't. It's akin to a well-tuned suspension set up on a race car in the wet, despite tyre choice and pressure. When I must ride, but ice has formed on the wet roads, the choice has to be metal studded tyres on the mountain bike: The only safe way to go. It's great to see the expression on driver’s faces when I'm bombing along on a bike on a road I couldn't walk over! One of the biggest advancements in equipment to allow comfortable year-round riding has been in regards to clothing. The design work with fabrics today is producing garments which did not function well enough or even exist in years prior, especially from brands like Q36.5. Today, clothing exists to keep you warm and dry (or cool) in all seasons, even in Ireland, so there is really no excuse not to ride!
Of course, there are days when the weather is really nice here, even in winter, and the weekend past was a good example. Dry, sunny, fresh conditions to take in the spectacular scenery makes it one of the best places to ride, and so much more enjoyable when the legs are in good shape. With some of the best scenery in the world literally right outside my door, a great road network, and of course a thriving coffee culture, it’s not a bad place to be!