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How Can I Defeat Winter Despair?

Road bike rider logoQ:  I took up cycling three years ago and have gotten progressively addicted. Last year I rode almost 15,000 miles including many centuries. I could do it because I lived in Arizona.

But I moved to Wisconsin in September and can’t ride outside due to the cold and snow. I’m getting depressed and morose. This may seem like a silly reaction, but I’m serious. I mope around. I’ve lost my appetite and given up a social life because all my friends were cyclists and now I don’t see them.

Don’t tell me to train indoors or cross-country ski. I want to ride! — Gerald H.

Coach Fred Matheny:  Your reaction isn’t silly at all. And you’re not the only cyclist who has suffered this way.

When we begin a regular cycling program, it’s often difficult to continue after the initial flood of enthusiasm. Riding a bike every day can be hard work.

But if we stick with it, something powerful happens. Riding becomes a necessary part of each day. This may be due to basic habituation or because we like the weight loss and fitness. Another theory is that aerobic exercise releases natural chemicals that have a pleasurable and addictive effect.

Not all dedicated cyclists suffer withdrawal. Some big-mileage people can stop riding for a while without negative consequences. Others experience what you describe — mood changes and depression.

Here are your options as I see them:

  • Move back to the sunbelt where you can ride outside all year. But beware of too much of a good thing!
  • Take up another aerobic sport such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, running or skating. I know — they aren’t the same as cycling. But if your body has become accustomed to the adrenaline rush of hard, prolonged exercise, you may come to enjoy them when riding is impossible.
  • Try winter riding. Get a mountain bike and install chains or studded tires. Check with your bike shop for models by Nokian. Add adequate clothing and you’ll be able to ride on icy streets and trails. With special wide rims and tires designed for flotation, you can even ride on snowmobile tracks in deep snow. If you think I’m stretching it, check Icebike.com.

Finally, because you are so strongly affected, you might consider seeing a sports psychologist. It may be beneficial to discover why not riding has such negative consequences for you.

During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.

1 comment to How Can I Defeat Winter Despair?

  • We started an indoor ride with all of our cycling buddies so we could hang out during the winter too. We ride for 2 hours, led by a qualified instructor and socialize for 2 hours over coffee. We’ve been going strong for 8 winters. Donations are collected for a local kid’s cancer charity. We’ve been as many as 48 riders in a friend’s warehouse. There’s nothing like driving up to the loading dock at 7:30 am, able to hear the tunes blasting from inside. If I didn’t know better I’d swear it was a nightclub! Stop whining and get creative Gerald H.

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