Even by UK standards, this winter’s weather has seemed excessively crappy. It’s been cold, dank and wet with an absence of those super-cold days with a bright blue winter sky that make it all worthwhile. Oh, that’s until it got really cold at the start of March when it was just about supposed to be spring. And then it got really cold again, when it definitely was supposed to be spring. And just in case you think that Easter and April mean the weather will finally perk up, then you’d better not check the forecast as we’re due even more snow then too.
This year, I have to admit it has defeated me. Normally I’m quite happy to get out and ride over winter. No, it’s not dry and dusty with hours of daylight, but mud is pretty good fun at times, night riding is ace and there’s nothing like some fresh air when you’ve been stuck in a stuffy heated building behind a desk all day. But this year has been different, and not just because of the weather. First of all I changed jobs which meant I was no longer doing my ‘ride without thinking’ every morning and removed the option of an extra hour’s spin on the way home. Yes, I could get out and go for a ride at 7am when I was working at home but given the appalling weather and the warmth of my bed, it was a rare occasion that I did. Then a riding friend or two would have another commitment and I didn’t have much motivation for battling through the mud on my own on a weekend, then I kinda got out the habit and then … Well, and then I turned around and realised I’d hardly been out all winter.
I know I’m not the only one. And I know it’s easy to beat yourself up about not riding and forget that it’s actually something to do for fun. Nevertheless that’s where I seem to have ended up. But there’s nothing like a new start and as last week marked the astrological spring and the clocks went forward this weekend now is most definitely the time to break those winter blues and get back on the bike.
1. You don’t have to last that long
For a long time I’ve struggled to accept that if I don’t go out for a ‘decent ride’ it’s not worth going out, that a 30 minute spin along the canal path spin isn’t worthwhile because it’s not 6 hours of epic Lakeland riding. Quite frankly that’s a load of rubbish. We all know and there’s lots of scientific evidence to prove we’re right, we get a physical and mental benefit from just minutes’ worth of exercise. Sure, you might have to go out for a bit longer to make it worthwhile putting all those extra springtime layers on but it doesn’t have to last all day for it to be worthwhile.
2. It doesn’t have to be epic
All riding is good riding. Any riding is better than no riding. Try something different; a fast spin on the road, exploring different routes around you, a trail centre or two you’ve not visited before or take your non-riding dad, sister, other half or kids out for a ride, it doesn’t all have to be Alpine double-blacks. Not only might you discover a love for a different type of cycling, a change of focus can really help get your head out of a negative place and the associated unhelpful “I can normally do this climb without any problems” talk. I was quite amazed how much I enjoyed riding with a few beginners the other week, the sheer joy they got from being outside and pedalling across the hillside made me completely forget the lack of motivation I’d had for weeks.
3. Retrain your brain (and your friends)
There are times, winter especially, when the hassle of mountain biking seems far more effort than it’s worth. And then quickly you expect it to be far worse than it ever will be and you haven’t even set out. But it’s not all that bad. Really not, else why on earth would we have ever done it in the first place? It’s time to identify what in your head is stopping you going out and instead of heeding these negative thoughts start challenging them. “I’m not fit enough” – you probably haven’t lost that much of your fitness and your mates won’t be on top form anyway. Plus, the only way to get your fitness back is to start riding again. “I won’t enjoy it” – you’re probably right if you think that way but there’s nothing that will have fundamentally changed to make something you didn’t used to enjoy unenjoyable. It can sound trite and unnecessary but it can work absolute wonders (have a look here for a guide). It’s also well worth telling your friends you’re not feeling the love so everyone can have a chance to sit up and enjoy the day rather than flog themselves just to keep up with one another.
4. Don’t believe all you see
Much has been written about the negative impact of social media on young people, but we adults aren’t immune to it either. It’s easy to spend just a few minutes flicking through apps on your phone and suddenly it feels like everyone is riding in amazing places, having an amazing time, achieving amazing things on a bike and looking bloody amazing too. Quite frankly, why would you bother?
Some people are motivated by top riders doing extraordinary things but it’s not an accurate portrayal of normal life. We all know that and we’re all probably guilty of it too (indeed I have posted photos of me ‘having a great time in some great weather’ but unsurprisingly I don’t stick up pictures of my solitary one-hour head-space spin). So don’t get sucked into thinking that if it’s not awesome or your wheels aren’t two foot in the air it’s not worth doing. Just turn that social media stream off for a bit and get out instead, whatever you’re doing or whatever it may look like.
5. Find something to inspire and motivate you
Throughout my riding life this has been my absolute go-to. The trouble is I’ve forgotten to use it of late, making it so easy to not bother with a ride because ‘it’ll make no difference if I miss just one day’. And it wouldn’t if it was just one day, but when you’ve suddenly not been out for a couple of weeks then it does start to make a difference. A goal that keeps you focused and can feel worthwhile achieving is the perfect answer to a day-to-day lack of motivation.
It can be anything, big or small: to train for an event or holiday, to conquer a tricky sharp climb or technical section of trail or to bunny hop. Set yourself out a plan of how you’ll get there, whether it’s a strict or rather more relaxed affair, over two weeks or six months or longer, and start working towards it. Plan yourself, ask a mate for help or pay a coach for a programme, whatever suits. This year for me will be the year of the wheelie and to have a multi-day adventure or two.
6. Don’t worry about how good your bike and kit is
A nice shiny modern bike is all very good but we know that a good bike doesn’t make you a good rider. In fact a nice new bike gives you one less excuse if you need a breather or are lagging behind (I quickly realised this when I bought my second ever bike which weighed about half as much as my first and therefore I had to drop the pretence that it was my bike not my legs slowing me up the hill, oh how I wished I saved my pennies).
Plus winter/spring ( /summer?) riding kills bikes and kit and you can certainly risk spending more time cleaning the muck off than you did putting it on, so the older your kit, the more you’re doing yourself a favour in cutting down cleaning time and angst afterwards. So, ride what you’ve brought and forget about what’s in the magazines – unless that new bike is the thing that’s inspiring you to get back out.
7. Be mindful
Take a moment to stop and take it all in, wherever and whenever you are, even on the road side at 7 o’clock in the evening. The enjoyment we get from riding isn’t just about the occasional adrenalin overdoses from a big descent, it’s all the little things that we don’t always notice unless we take the time. It’s the brain space at the end of a working day, the peace and quiet away from the family, the spending time with family and friends, the cool winter air or the sound of silence. It’s all too easy to rush through and let these things go unnoticed. Pause for a moment to stop. Take them in. Catch your breath. If you’re not sure how to start stopping, there are some really good apps and resources that can help you.
It is worthwhile remembering that sometimes your lack of motivation can be more than just the winter gloop and grime. Whilst all of these things can help you get out and enjoy riding again, if there’s something bigger that’s making you struggle than don’t suffer in silence, tell your friends and family and ask them or .your GP for help.
Whatever your reasons, spring is here and it’s time to start getting back out there
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