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26-10-2023 | Wouter Fioole

Do you ride slower in the winter?

Autumn has begun again, winter is just around the corner. The weather is a lot less inviting outside for cycling than when it's bright blue and sunny. Zwifting is, of course, an ideal substitute, but I still like to get outside as much as possible.

In talking to my cycling mates about this, this often leads to two recurring questions:

  1. Is there more headwind, or does it just seem that way?
  2. Do I ride slower on average now, or is that too an appearance?

In this piece, first things first, an answer to question two. Spoiler alert! Yes, it really is. You're riding slower in winter. There are three main reasons for this.

1. The air is thicker

Cycling is mainly about moving yourself through the air. In winter, this is usually more difficult than in summer. After all, the colder it gets, the denser the air becomes, making it more challenging to move through it.

The easiest way to explain this is using water. Normally, water is liquid. If you make it very cold, the particles creep together, and you get rock-hard ice, which is almost impossible to get through. But if you make water warm, then the particles separate so much that you can't even see the water anymore. To a slightly lesser extent, this effect also applies to the air in which we move. Air resistance is greater at low temperatures than at higher temperatures, and so you go slower.

For that matter, this is also the reason why you are less affected by headwind on warm days than on cold days.

2. More clothing, less aero

A second reason is that we go out in winter dressed a lot thicker than in summer. Extra weight is one thing, aerodynamics is an even more important aspect. You want to wear a somewhat roomier jacket in the winter because layers need to fit underneath to insulate things. By definition, that wider jacket is not as tight around your body as your summer clothes. The more flapping and flapping, the more wind you catch, and the slower you go. So make sure you stay warm, but be careful not to ride with a parachute if you still want to maintain some speed.

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3. Form also has a winter dip

The final reason for a lower average per ride often seems to be mainly down to yourself. The days get shorter, the weather worse, the goals for the new season are still far away, motivation drops, and so does form. The statistics from JOIN and Strava clearly show that from October the average distance per ride halves compared to the summer months. Poorer form obviously also results in lower averages.

Of course, there are plenty of other reasons. More solo rides, fewer leaves on the trees (and thus less shelter), and more careful road behavior, for example.

Winter as your friend

Don't let the lower averages keep you off the bike, especially. Now is the ideal time for nice long slow rides that provide a huge base for the new season. Especially in combination with hardcore Zwift races, you'll come out of the winter sharp. If you can easily pedal away the miles in the cold months, your average will skyrocket as soon as the temperature does. In this respect, the well-known cycling saying is really true: winter miles, summer smiles.

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