Sun, rain, wind and snow. Each season poses different challenges for the dear cyclist. We are exposed, open to the elements, at the mercy of mother nature and loving every minute of it. Our wheels keep turning no matter what the season for our cycling hearts don’t get cold.
One of the great pleasures of cycling in the UK is the variety of our seasons. Yes, they can be a curse but our temperate clime provides us with a window into nature’s wardrobe, our rides dressed in each season’s new best. New leaves accompany old pains, wet roads meet dry humour, icy corners conquered with the burning desire just to ride no matter what the weather.
Grey, green, yellow, orange. The seasons paint the backdrops of our adventures. They add meaning to our days, they provide us with a sense of time and the passing of a moment, the beauty of an instant. Fleeting, the seasons are like the cyclist, here one minute, gone the next, but fear not, for they shall return. The ride and the season inseparable, there’s no avoiding one nor the other, punishing one moment, beautiful the next.
“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
Yoko Ono. Secret cyclist.
My non-cycling friends often find the seasons passing them by. You don’t see the fresh buds on the trees or smell the first approach of winter from your office, sofa or favourite bar stool. Not so the cyclist who is keenly aware of each new season. We are bears waiting for the salmon run, squirrels harvesting in the good times, emperor penguins digging in for a deep dark winter.
We frolic beneath the watchful eye of the sun and float on the current of the wind. Yet when the mercury plummets there is no flight, no migration. We’re here for the duration.
Cycling in springBorn anew, our legs rubbery, unstable, our cleated feet lock into the pedals like a fresh foal planting its weak legs on the floor for the first time. Even with winter miles in the legs, our chest, lungs and legs, not to mention Strava segments, reveal we’ve a lot of work ahead. There is no sprint, no edge, no power, just spittle trickling down our chins.
The fingers of Jack Frost refuse to relinquish their grip on the early mornings, providing us with a clothing dilemma. Too many layers and we’re sweating within the mile, too few and we shiver. Suddenly we’re ready to admit arm and leg warmers may serve a purpose. Not that we’re resorting to such silliness.
Despite the reputation of April showers, spring in the UK is actually one of the driest seasons. Mudguards fall by the wayside and winter bikes are dumped in favour of our special somethings, until the first soaking that is. See you in summer Mr Best Bike, yours, Mr Optimistic. Not that we care. The more we ride the winter bike, the better the first ride on the summer bike will feel.
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.”
Ernest Hemingway. Secret cyclist.
The air is crisp, fresh, sharp. It opens our lungs, our minds, and punishes our throats if we try anything fancy. Warmer with each passing day, one by one, we peel back the layers to reveal our unsightly flesh. We are born again, running amok, happy to be alive.
Leaves, flower buds and birds return as if by magic, emerging from winter to stare at the passing spectacle of the slow-moving, pale and pasty flesh huffing and puffing its way through the country lanes. There’s no real plan, we ride whichever way the stiff breeze carries us.
Time is on our side, the days getting longer, milder, we’re in no hurry to return home. Besides we’re too busy trying to be the cyclist we remember from last summer, you know, the one twice as quick as you are now.
Cycling in summerDawn. You are up at dawn! This can only mean one thing. Perhaps two. It’s summer and you’re excited, a long day in the saddle awaits. Stepping outside is like stepping into a warm bath, the air thick, calm, inviting. The sun is already high, yawning, its breath warm but still a long way from full power.
You ride to stay cool, the heat dissipating as you cut your way through the air, you are your own air conditioning unit. Body toned and legs strong from a hearty spring, you feel blessed to be so fit and so alive on such a glorious summer’s day and you smile knowingly when you think back to how much you suffered in January for this day.
The world greets you in full Technicolour, skies brilliant blue, cloudless, trees and fields verdant, green saplings, yellow corn, flowers everywhere. Dry roads bleached white, parched, sun-baked they feel smoother, quicker. Hours pass and only when you stop to admire your razor-sharp tan lines do you realise exactly how warm it is. Limbs shining, dripping, you dry almost as quickly as the sweat forms.
“Summer afternoon… summer afternoon. To me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
Henry James. Secret cyclist.
You drink water by the bidon, thirsty, there’s no sipping. You’re wearing so little Lycra you’re as close to public nudity as you’ll ever be. A storm strikes, the skies flash, raindrops as big as your eyes. Wet, you smile. Warm rain. Thunder claps its approval.
Day done, the skies are still light, the air warm, your pink-brown skin tingling, many a mile baked into your weary limbs. You dream of your first frothy ice-cold pint. Might as well get a few more miles in first though, eh? For this is the UK and your next warm mile might be your last, until next year anyway.
Cycling in autumnSeptember, the air clings to you, humid, thicker than your morning porridge, clammy, the summer hangover refusing to let go. Leaves fall, shadows lengthen. Must ride more, you think, not long left.
Once green trees now yellow, orange, red and brown, leaves camouflaging the roads, nature’s confetti celebrating your lifelong commitment to the road, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.
Days shorten, so too the rides. Miles curtailed in favour of power, pace and explosive speed. You begin looking up more, both at the clouds in the sky and the many hills you find yourself seeking. Gloves on, you persist with shorts as if in denial, tan lines usurped by goose bumps.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
Albert Camus. Secret cyclist.
Early morning and mist descends. You’re clear on one thing. The cycling season is almost at an end. Now is the time to nail your remaining cycling goals for the year. Or set some. All or nothing, the entire cycling season lies in your next ride, months of hard work and preparation have all been for your next ride. Time to chisel some new numbers into your palpitating heart, markers for next year. This is your last chance to feel good for you are only as quick as your last Strava upload.
Days darker, you don’t notice the chill in the air for your heartbeat is in the darkest of red zones and your body is outputting energy levels to rival the sun. Routes chosen based on wind direction for you have a new purpose on the road, to be the best you’ve ever been. Quick, go, pedal hard, for winter looms and it’s all downhill from here.
Cycling in winterFitness fading, you’re mentally destroyed. No more cycling. Must push on, you tell yourself, must think about next year. Conflicted is the winter cyclist. Wrapped in more protective layers than an armadillo, your wardrobe routine begins with base layers and ends with a third pair of socks and lobster gloves. Bomb disposal teams have lighter wardrobes.
You tentatively broach that strange world others refer to as ‘outside’, one footstep at a time, a child walking into the cold sea on tiptoes. You cower at first but are quick to take up the fight. Weather will not beat me, I know the secret of layering and being double hard and shifting gears with frozen fingers, so yeah, eff you Mister Frosty!
Freeze the water in my bottles, turn my fingers blue, white, oh oh, black, damn you, for I can still hold the bars and turn the crank. Sure, plunge me below freezing if you wish for no cold can dampen the heat of a hill climb or extinguish the fire of a cyclist dreaming of coffee. Turbo training? That’s cycling outdoors in the winter really, really fast, yeah?
An indomitable disposition strikes you. You are as strong as ice. Winter is there to be beaten. You begin turbo training in frozen meat storage facilities, you’re Rocky Balboa on wheels, cycling through the snow of Russian mountains is your idea of a winter cycling break.
“What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”
John Steinbeck. Secret cyclist.
Pale blue skies and fingers to match, you ride roads well-travelled, well warmed, for suddenly cars are your friends, defrosting the roads for your winter tyres.
Home. There are fewer smugger moments in life than returning from a sub-zero ride, limbs numb, a twinkle in the eyes that confirms that yes, you are a superior human. Until you realise your limbs are so numb you need help undressing.
Nice ride? Somebody from the indoors asks. Not sure, you would say if you could talk, chin and jaws frozen stiff, I passed out with hypothermia at mile 20 and spent the rest of the ride merely surviving. I’m sure I saw polar bears stalking me at mile 45.
Why, why do we do this to ourselves? Well spring’s not too far away we think, already eyeing up PBs and more wonderful two-wheeled adventures. Must be ready. Must cycle through the cold, through the misery, through the insanity.
And so your alarm rings for your next early morning winter ride. Some mistake surely for ’tis still night yonder. Must ride, spring soon, you think, growling, a monosyllabic bear disturbed from hibernation. Rolling over in bed is easier than rolling over the hills. Just five more minutes yeah? Read more: how to cycle in winter
Images courtesy of 1) Composite 2) PA 3) PA 4) Stuck in customs, amazing photographer 5) Unknown