The Soapbox: It's OK to Take Winter Off

Seriously, it’s OK not to ride your bike over winter…

I spent a good deal of this morning arguing with myself over whether I should go for a ride. On the plus side, if I went out I’d get to ride my bike. On the down side, it’s cold, the trails are wet, and I’m just not feeling it. And I have to ask myself, why am I struggling so much? Why can’t I accept that I really just don’t want to go?

For most of us, mountain biking is more than a sport. It’s not like jogging or going to the gym. It’s a way of life, something that makes life more meaningful. It’s fun, it’s absorbing, and it’s something to fantasise about when you’re not doing it. But with all of that comes a sense of obligation. If we’re that into something, surely we should be devoting more of our time to it, surely we should be getting out there whenever we can, no matter what the weather, or how we’re feeling. If we’re not suffering for our riding, are we even real mountain bikers?

winter riding 1

 If we’re not suffering for our riding, are we even real mountain bikers?

And sure, there’s the “man (or woman)-up” argument. What’s a little cold or mud after all? But let’s face it – if mountain biking is about optimal experience, why should we accept a sub-par ride (or a whole season of them)? Psychologically, the major benefits of mountain biking come from the quality of the experience: the fun, the social interaction, the challenge, the skills development, the outdoor environment… And sure, some people love riding in adverse conditions, so they can still achieve all of these benefits over winter. But many don’t – for them wet, cold, and mud just isn’t what mountain biking’s about. And if you’re not getting the usual benefits that mountain biking offers you, if riding becomes stressful and unpleasant, if you have to battle with yourself to get out the door, then why are you doing it?

So I’m going to make a radical suggestion: if you’re not feeling it, why not take a break from mountain biking over the winter?

There are plenty of technical reasons to take a break over winter: it’s better for the trails (trail builders hate it when you trash their lovely trails by riding on them when they’re wet or muddy), it’s better for your bike (no more worn components), and you’ll spend a lot less time cleaning and maintaining your machine. Most importantly, though, you get to take a bit of time off your bike when it’s not as fun. It’s a chance to miss your riding, to appreciate your local trails, and to look forward to something. It’s a chance to not have to beat yourself up because you’re not a “real mountain biker”.

If you’re serious about your riding, winter doesn’t mean that you need to take a break from training. In fact, it’s the perfect chance to do something different.

If you’re serious about your riding, winter doesn’t mean that you need to take a break from training. In fact, it’s the perfect chance to do something different. Cold-weather running can be great (it’s even better with a dog). Training on a spin bike, turbo trainer, or rollers, or getting out on the road bike is different, and a great challenge (especially for your endurance). Likewise, working on your core-strength in the gym will really help once you get back on the trails. Psychologically, cross-training will give you a different perspective on your usual training, and taking a holiday from your mountain bike can help increase your performance by introducing some fresh challenges and perspectives.

winter riding

So instead of beating yourself up, and forcing yourself to do something that you’re just not loving, give yourself permission to take a break. Lighten up on yourself for not forcing yourself to suffer for your sport. You’ll feel better for it, and you might just enjoy your mountain biking more when you pick it up in the spring.

After all, isn’t loving it what mountain biking’s all about?


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website ( or on (03) 9016 0306.

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