How I learned to stay motivated through winter

Every year I hope that I will suddenly have changed and become one of those weather defiant bikers with insane levels of stoke for winter riding. So far, it hasn’t happened. I haven’t changed. It’s not that I don’t like slip-n’-sliding down muddy trails - that part is awesome - but it is every thing around it: being cold to the bone, being soaked right through, not feeling my hands, or toes, and the whole cleaning up process of bikes and kit in the dark after every ride. Let’s not even talk about dragging wet bikes into the house and leaving a trail of mud from the door to the shower. I wish I didn’t care, but I do.

So this year, I decided to do things differently. To tackle my lack of winter motivation from another angle. I needed something new, but still two-wheel related and so I decided to pick up two new riding disciplines - gravel and skatepark riding. Turns out, that skinny wheels and scary skatepark moves was all I needed to get my motivation back on track. Now I don’t only ride more than I ever have during any winter, I even long to get out on my mountain bike. How about that.

Adding to my collection of bikes.

It’s the same story year after year. I struggle to get out and ride my mountain bike in winter, and because I ride less my pedal power and fitness disappears, and then I struggle even more to motivate myself to go out and ride because I feel so unfit. It is a bad, downwards spiraling circle and I realised that this year things needed to change.

Buying a gravel bike has been on my mind for some time, but I haven’t felt like I could justify the purchase. I had never ridden skinny wheels and drop bars and buying a bike without even trying it out sounded a little mad. But as I felt my winter de-motivation kick in at the beginning of December, I decided to just go for it. I pressed purchase. And 5 days later a fully-built gravel bike came thorough the door.

“Lunch gravelling”

The first few rides were pretty wobbly and tense, to say the least. Skinny wheels and drop bars are no joke. But it was quick and easy to get out and the cleanup was far less extensive than after a mountain bike ride. I started “lunch gravelling”, i.e. nipping out for a quick power hour on the bike during my lunch breaks, and I soon realised how much I enjoyed it. Suddenly it didn’t matter if it was raining or how muddy the bridal ways were, I headed out anyways, several times a week.

Before my back and knees gave in I used to love running. The simplicity of it - all you needed was a pair of running shoes and an hour to sweat it out. You could go anywhere, everywhere. I think gravel riding reminds me of that. When I ride mountain bikes my focus is always on hitting up the radest descents, but on my gravel bike I just want to go out on a lung-and-leg-bursting session right from my door. Sweat it out for 60-90 minutes and then get back to work.

Skatepark evenings

Gravel riding has actually got me excited about pedalling, however, I’ve also wanted to get into skatepark riding to practice my basic bike and jump skills. I’ve always thought that it looks cool, and the idea of riding bikes inside while winter is howling outside appeals to me for obvious reasons. But how to even get started with something like that? I didn’t feel like I could just buy another bike and hope for the best. Also, the thought of going to the skatepark definitely scared me more than wearing lycra and no-peak helmets for gravel riding.

After months of talking but doing nothing about it, my only dirt jumping friend finally had enough of my natter and dragged me along to the Tuesday bike sessions the local skatepark. As he was still recovering from ACL surgery he wasn’t riding, but the upside for me was that he could lend me his bike. That evening he basically told me: “Here is a bike, I will go with you to the park, but I can’t help more than that. Do you have it in you or not?”. It was just what I needed to crawl out of my rabbit hole and actually go and try it out.

Going back to basics

I still remember how terrified I was walking through the doors to the skatepark for the first time. And let’s not even talk about the first time dropping in. I was sat waiting in a lineup of about ten guys, who all looked like BMX pros, for probably an hour before one of them looked at me and said: “why don’t you have a go?”. Turns out, BMX riders aren’t as intimidating as they look. In fact, they are very friendly and helpful.

I have never felt so out of place as in a skatepark: vert walls, rails, box jumps, hardtails and flat pedals. It is so far out of my comfort zone, but somehow I’ve been sold ever since that first session. It’s equally as frustrating as confidence boosting. It’s like nothing I’ve ever ridden, and it is so freaking hard. But I’ve kept practicing, and jumping, and failing, and progressing. I am far from being able to call myself good, or even decent. In fact, I am pretty terrible at it, but I still love going. Every time I hit that jump line I get a little bit closer to clearing it, and every time I have to turn on the vert wall at the back I get a little bit higher up on it. And it gets me buzzing.

Positive side-effects

The skatepark has got me stoked on riding in the midst of winter. So has gravel riding. And the best thing about it is that it has gotten me eager to get out on my mountain bike as well. Now, instead of feeling unfit, weak and out of practice when I go trail riding, I feel strong and confident. Instead of being totally exhausted after two hours playing on the local downhill tracks, I can - and want to - keep going for longer. It’s made me forget about being wet and cold and the painful cleaning up process, and instead made me remember the stoke of slip n’ sliding.

The quote goes “change your mind and your life will follow”, turns out I had to do the opposite. I changed my life and my mind followed.