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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Burke Swindlehurst, a professional cyclist for Bissell Pro Cycling, rides on Wasatch Boulevard last week. Swindlehurst modifies his training regimen and wears special clothing in cold weather.

The weather outside might indicate it's time to grab your skis and hang the bicycle on hooks in the garage for a few months.

But a little snow and frigid temperatures shouldn't to force the avid cyclist into hibernation. Rather, the changing season simply requires changing training techniques.

And with only minor alterations in the bike and gear, even the casual cyclist can get outside and train like a pro — almost.

"Now that we're actually getting some real winter," Burke Swindlehurst, a Salt Lake resident and one of the top professionals in the country, said, "I find there really isn't an opportunity for big, 5-hour training rides. So I get really specific. I condense it to about an hour and a half, and it's all business."

Few cyclists have the skills or ability to train as hard as a pro like Swindlehurst, Jeff Louder or David Zabriskie. Still, it's not impossible to maintain cycling fitness throughout the offseason — and it does not require long, boring journeys to nowhere in the basement while riding a stationary bike or trainer.

If it's outdoor riding you crave and must have, Swindlehurst has a few tips — dressing appropriately, perhaps, being the most important.

"One thing I've found over the years of riding here in Utah, is that staying warm has mostly to do with the head and the neck," said Swindlehurst, who rides for the Bissell Pro Cycling team. "If you're going to ride outside, you absolutely need something that keeps the wind from going down your collar."

Swindlehurst suggests wearing high-collar base layers or a balaclava to keep the frigid air from messing up your ride. No matter how cold it is outside, any hard, physical exercise will create sweat. And if that cold air hits the moisture clinging to your chest, you will be in for an unpleasant ride to say the least.

That said, knowing how to keep the sweat off the body is also important. Swindlehurst said he usually wears at least three layers of clothing on rides during the winter. A long-sleeve base layer with breathable fabric is a must and helps wick the moisture away from the body where it can evaporate. A jersey adds another layer of warmth, and a long-sleeve jacket can top things off.

But after an hour or two in the saddle — even in below-freezing temps — the body heats up. Swindlehurst said having clothes with zippers is important because, even though it's cold outside and a cyclist is trying to stay warm, allowing some of that body heat to escape will prevent the sweat from building up and eventually freezing to your skin.

"If you tend not to vent," he said, "you're going to build up the moisture and it will get really, really cold. That's not what you want at all."

Wind- and water-resistant shoes or booties are also a piece of gear any cyclist will regret leaving behind along Utah's roads during the winter. Frostbitten toes are not unheard of.

Clothing, of course, is only one part of the equation. Another vital step in winter cycling is using the right gear.

While most road bikes are built for high speeds and deft maneuverability, those traits become much less important when there is snow and ice on the road. Swapping skinny racing tires for thicker ones helps improve the handling and also prevents flats more efficiently.

"That last thing you want when you are a cyclist is to be outside changing a flat tire in January when it's 10 degrees," Swindlehurst said.

Changing bikes from a traditional road bike to a cyclocross bike or even a mountain bike can reduce many of the problems associated with winter cycling while also providing a very efficient workout.

Swindlehurst likes to mix his workouts up. While hitting the road is still the first option, he frequently throws in a snow-shoeing trip up Millcreek Canyon to help his base fitness and build muscle groups in different ways.

"I get a lot of bang for the buck on my snowshoes," he said. "I find it really works my hip flexors."

Of course, there is always the staple of offseason training for the cyclist — the trainer.

Usually found in a dark basement corner, the trainer is used by cyclists to add miles and hours while going nowhere in particular. By mounting a bicycle to a stationary flywheel and adding varying degrees of resistance, cyclists can stay in shape but often find themselves bored silly from staring at a wall or, as Swindlehurst said, "watching old Tour (de France) videos."

The trainer is still an invaluable tool during winter months. Base training — establishing a level or fitness needed for endurance — can be accomplished on the trainer. But there is no need for it to be mundane or monotonous.

Several local cycling shops and clubs hold offseason group sessions with a leader guiding the group through a workout. Hours in the saddle spent this way can maintain fitness, increase a sense of team that is often overlooked in the sport and will inevitably teach even the most-experienced cyclist a new trick or two on improving one skill or another.

Swindlehurst also recommends attending Spin classes at local gyms.

"The weighted flywheel on a Spin bike might take some getting used to," he said, "But I think they're fantastic. You have someone that's in there just to motivate you … plus you get some high-cadence work that is really important in bike racing where you need to sprint and be fast."

If a cyclist does chose an indoor cycling or Spin class, getting your bike properly fit to your body is important to prevent injury.

"Once you got that," Swindlehurst said, "you're good to go. I see a lot of good things you can do in a Spin class."

And, while winning the Tour of Utah is probably out of reach for most cyclists in the state, there is no reason to take a step back during the winter.

"If you approach it with the right plan, you can be at the same level you left," Swindlehurst said. "Winter is where you really can get better."

E-mail: jeborn@desnews.com