One of the cycling highlights of the year is approaching, Uk clothing firm Rapha have been running their Festive500 challenge for a few years now. Originally inspired by one of their chief designers doing some crazy winter miles it has blossomed into a worldwide event whereby cyclists from all over try to squeeze in 500 km between Christmas eve and New Year’s Eve.
8 days sounds simple enough to break out that sort of distance, and at most times of the year it would be. But Christmas throws a massive, family-sized, spanner in the spokes.
For me the 25th is written-off, there is no way I get a pass for that day! This year coming the 27th is a Sunday, and that means church with no cycling either.
Now the 8 days has been cut down to just 6 and for those of us in the northern hemisphere winter is here as well, and winter brings with it very short days.
I’ve attempted the 500 for 3 years now, the first winter I was ill-prepared for december in the Peak District and was rescued by mother, half-way to hypothermic, the next year the weather was (too) foul and I barely scraped 100km.
The winter of 2014 saw my first successful attempt, and it was completed in 3 proper rides, the first of which started in a blizzard (well, a uk blizzard anyway) at 00.30 on the 24th.
Some of the things I’ve learned (the hard way) over the previous winters are below, hopefully they will be of use to you, sometimes they’ve been painful to learn….
Cover the exposed skin as much as possible! Nothing ruins a ride quite like freezing skin - keep as much covered as possible whenever it’s practical - obviously if you are tanking along and generating serious heat you need to vent, but try to keep the wind-facing skin covered.
A neck-warmer is your friend! The neck contains massive blood vessels and these are exposed to that chilly wind, by keeping the neck warm you are also keeping the blood warmer, and staving off any possible throat complications caused by the colder air. I generally use the Rapha merino neck warmer which does a great job without too much bulk.
It’s vital to keep fingers and toes insulated. Because of their position and relative lack of warming muscles in them they can be susceptible to the cold very rapidly - good quality winter gloves are a must, and either winter boots or a decent set of overshoes should be employed at this time. It’s worth mentioning that most footwear options keep the sole exposed still, or have venting holes - and if this is the case for you and it’s really wet out there, don’t be afraid of going old-school and wrapping your footwear in clingfilm - it may not be pretty, but it is effective! (Oh, and merino socks are for winners!)
You’re probably going to be wearing a helmet anyway - it won’t help against cars, but the slippery roads will mean more crashing, so a helmet will be useful - if you’ve got an aeroshell like the Lazer Z1 then you are instantly warmer and dryer - good times!
Just. Do . It.
Regardless of the weather, don’t put off a scheduled ride, get the km’s in early and try to build a bit of a buffer - you never know how bad it might deteriorate out there, and you don’t want to be forced into a 50km ride in sleet because you’ve run out of time!
I’ll head out the first night straight after midnight, the plan being to ride 100km and then go back to bed. The sooner you can crack the km’s off the better you will feel about it.
For me the festive500 is a night time challenge, i’ll get one ride in the light, probably on the 30th, and that will be around 250km so it will start at 7am and finish around 6pm (lots of darkness there), but the rest will be exclusively in the dark - be prepared for the conditions. Be lit up, take a spare light and batteries and make sure the they are clean!
Have fun, enjoy the challenge and be prepared for the questions of ‘why?’ when you return to work!