Early morning cycling: how to motivate yourself to ride when it’s still dark

Cyclists at night or early morning on an urban main road

In my previous article on how cycling changes you, I mentioned how work commitments often push our cycling time into the wee hours of the morning. As winter approaches here in Sydney, the mornings are getting colder, darker and less inviting. Here are some tips to get yourself out of bed and actually do the early morning training you’ve been promising you’ll do.

Prepare the night before

When it’s cold and dark outside, it’s very difficult to get out of bed and out for a ride. Make the process easier by preparing everything in advance. That way, you can basically roll out of bed and straight onto the saddle.

The idea is to minimise your excuses for staying in bed. Psychologically, the fewer the steps required to start riding, the easier it will be to take that very first step of extricating yourself from the bedsheets. Also, if you’ve already gone to the trouble of preparing for your ride, it will be a waste to go back to sleep. It’s a twist on the sunk cost fallacy, but in this case, if it motivates you get onto your bike, that’s only a good thing.

Bike

Before you go to bed, check that your bike is ready to ride: tyres are pumped, chain is lubricated, and lights and rear reflector are attached. Put it somewhere easily accessible – next to the front door, if possible – so that it’s ready to grab and go in the morning.

Clothes

Cyclist in red long sleeve jersey putting on full fingered gloves
A long-sleeve jersey and full-fingered gloves will get you through the mildest of Sydney mornings.

Lay out all the clothes you’ll need. Check the weather forecast to plan your wardrobe. In Sydney, mercifully our winter mornings are relatively mild. The mercury doesn’t often dip below 7°C. At those temperatures, a cyclist can be comfortable with a base layer, long sleeve jersey, full-fingered gloves, bib tights (or bib shorts with leg warmers) and shoe covers. Also, make sure you’ve inserted the correctly coloured lenses into your cycling glasses – lenses that are suitable for cycling in the dark.

It may also help to lay out some alternative clothing items. If you think it might rain, prepare your rain jacket and thicker gloves. If you think it might warm up, set aside an alternative kit with short sleeves and arm and leg warmers so that you can adapt to changeable conditions. By preparing for each eventuality, you will avoid the annoyance of fumbling around your closet in the dark of the morning while the clock ticks away on your ride time.

Accessories

Finally, prepare any accessories you’ll need. Fill up your water bottle. Lay out any food you’ll need, like a pre-ride banana. Whatever you usually carry on a ride, such as your house keys, credit card or mini pump, put these near your jersey so you can place them straight into your pockets. Place your helmet and shoes right by your bike. Lock your charged head unit into its mount.

If you’ve prepared everything the night before, as an added bonus you can set your alarm back a few minutes and still wake up ready to ride.

Set a goal

Set yourself a concrete goal for that morning’s ride. A specific, measurable target will give you focus, motivating you to hop out of bed and onto your bike much more effectively than some loose plans to just “go for a spin” that morning.

That goal can be almost anything. If you’re targeting a specific race or event and have a structured training program, then you’re already set – just follow the program. I find that having such a long-term target drives me to accomplish the day-to-day training.

Otherwise, set yourself some target that you’d like to achieve that morning – maybe it’s a specific set of intervals at a given power or heart rate. Or, maybe it’s simply completing five laps of Centennial Park, or climbing Bobbin Head once. Whatever it is, set yourself a goal that motivates you to get out of bed.

Keep your rides short

When it comes to setting goals, when the weather is unfriendly and the mornings are dark, it helps to keep your rides brief and to-the-point. Prioritise shorter, intense intervals over long endurance rides. Not only will this allow you to get your workout done and head back indoors sooner, the higher intensity will also keep your body warmer.

Arrange to meet someone

Four cyclists riding up Bobbin Head together in the early morning.
An early morning ride is much better with friends.

Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Few things motivate a cyclist like the fear of missing a great group ride with your clubmates, or the shame of letting down a friend by bailing out at the last minute. So, if you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself to head out on an early morning ride, arrange to meet a friend to ride in the morning. Besides, it’s more enjoyable to ride with others than to ride by yourself.

If you’re looking to combine the social aspect of cycling with a solid morning workout, join up with a group training rides. Sydney Olympic Park pacelines are a popular option for riders of all levels, run on Tuesday and Thursday mornings by Lidcombe-Auburn CC. There are also group rides based around Parramatta Park and Centennial Park. Check with your local cycling club for more information.

Sleep early

Perhaps most obviously, the earlier you go to bed, the easier it is to wake up for an early morning ride. After you’ve checked your bike and set out your clothing and equipment, get yourself to bed. Put down your handheld devices, switch off the television, and say goodnight to your family. If you need to, negotiate with your partner so that they understand and agree with your early-to-bed, early-to-ride cycling routine. By getting a full night’s sleep before your alarm goes off, you’ll minimise the temptation to hit the snooze button and roll back over.

Conclusion

Sunrise through the mist over a fieldd
If you make the effort to ride in the morning, you just might be rewarded with a stunning sunrise like this one at George Kendall Riverside Park, Ermington.

There are a few things you can do to make a winter’s morning ride more appealing. Whether it’s being prepared, setting a goal, riding with friends or just going to bed earlier, make use of whatever tricks you can to avoid cancelling at the last minute. And finally, when the whispering voice in your head tempts you to stay under the covers, remember this: if you don’t ride, you’ll regret it all day, but you’ll never regret riding your bike.

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