Photo courtesy of Nesster

Inclement winter weather can turn an otherwise pleasant outdoor ride into an arduous undertaking. Layering for a 30 minute bike commute is one thing, but dressing for a long ride in sub-zero temperatures, wind, and precipitation that weather forecasters call “wint’ry mix” is a forbidding task indeed. Winter weather leads many cyclists to the spin bike or indoor trainer, where they may enjoy the fitness benefits of their chosen sport without the discomfort of riding out of doors.

Photo courtesy of Max Mayorov.

Some, of course, are not to be deterred by anything short of a blizzard. If you are one of these brave (or crazy) souls still out there on your Montague folding bike (or whatever else you ride), you should know how important it is to stay warm and comfortable on the bike, especially on a long ride. Aside from dressing properly, it’s crucial to eat and drink enough out in the cold. There is a seemingly endless variety of bars, gels, and drink mixes marketed to cyclists, but my preferred riding snacks come from my own kitchen. Making your own bars is not only cost effective, but also a great indoor winter activity, when blizzards have even the most committed outdoor riders stuck inside.

Granola Bars for Riding

Photo courtesy of Wendy Copley

Making your own granola bars might seem intimidating, especially if you don’t do a lot of cooking or baking, but they’re really no harder than Rice Krispies treats – there’s just a few more ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • ¾ cup ground flax seeds
  • ¾ cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw/untoasted nuts (chopped) – you can use whatever kind of nut you like best: e.g. peanuts (yes, I know, these are really legumes), walnuts, or pecans. If you’re allergic, you can leave them out, but be sure to add an extra cup of oats.
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar (see note below).
  • ¼ cup butter or vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz. (about 1 cup) dried fruit (coarsely chop if you’re using something large, like dried apricots; the dried fruit pieces should be about the size of raisins)

Note: Substituting agave nectar for honey or maple syrup is a great option for cyclists because agave has a lower glycemic index than either honey or maple syrup. This means that the sugar from the agave nectar is absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream at a slower, more constant rate. Although everyone metabolizes differently, other things being equal, low glycemic foods are more likely to provide sustained steady energy over time rather than a short burst followed by a low. Agave nectar is available in the baking aisle at most major supermarkets– look for it next to the sugar substitutes. If you can’t find agave nectar but are looking for a lower glycemic option, go with maple syrup, which has a higher glycemic index than agave nectar, but lower than honey.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×13 glass baking dish with wax paper.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine oats, sunflower seeds, and nuts on cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes to prevent burning and ensure even browning. Remove from oven and add ground flax seed and dried fruit. Turn oven off, as you don’t need it for anything else in this recipe. Put mixture into a large heatproof bowl.

Combine brown sugar, honey/maple syrup/agave nectar, butter/oil, vanilla, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Make sure the sugar is coated in the honey/maple syrup/agave nectar, or it may burn. Simmer until the sugar is melted, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. The longer you cook the sugar, the harder your finished granola bar will be. (With a little experimenting, you can customize and perfect your preferred texture).

Pour sugar mixture over oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is well-coated (do not attempt to toss with your hands as cooked sugar is EXTREMELY hot!).

Turn mixture into lined baking dish. Press down using a second piece of wax paper to avoid sticking (and burning) until the mixture is compact. If you have a 2nd glass baking dish, you can use this to push down on your granola bar mixture through the wax paper. Once fully cooled (this will take several hours) cut into your desired bar size. Wrap in plastic wrap or resealable plastic bag for easy transport in your jersey pocket.

This recipe can be easily adapted to your dietary requirements, using whatever keeps you energized and avoiding the bonk out there in the cold.

Give this recipe a try and let us know how it works for you. What version did you make? How did it work for you on your ride?