Sun high. Hot. Not a cloud. The mercury rises and rises, heatwave headline writers twitch. A month earlier snow. Three changes of gloves in three days, goodbye heavy oven gloves, hello flimsy finger-less mitts. The hottest April day in 70 years.
Beer garden or ride? Dwelling only briefly on the name ‘beer garden’, I choose the latter, no matter how tempting and frothy and icy and delicious the former.
Evening, the earth already parched. Air warm and welcoming, hot still, naked skin so recently wrapped tight beneath many a layer now sun-kissed and tingling. Arms and legs scary white, see-through, the base on which to build razor sharp tan lines. It starts now.
First the amazement when unhooking your summer bike from it’s high perch of hibernation. So light. You lift it up and down a few times and marvel. You feel faster simply by standing beside it.
The first few spins of the pedals are odd, the bike’s geometry out of kilter with your winter legs and arms but mostly your bum. Different gear ratios, different reach, different ride. Is this saddle on right? Such thoughts quickly diminish as you accelerate with so little effort.
Everyone’s out and dressed to impress. Sleek, pale bodies barely covered. These are not the Lycra mummies you’ve been riding with all winter. The sun already dipping, we begin, cutting through crowded streets, past pubs and cafés full of laughter, of relief. Winter’s over. For one glorious day at least.
Everything is better when the sun shines. Beer tastes crisper, food fresher. Life is good. I feel sorry for the drivers jammed into their metal boxes, stuck in traffic as we snake and filter out beyond the city limits to the welcoming calm of country lanes.
The ride begins proper, roads not travelled since last year, yet, like meeting with old friends, everything is familiar yet new. The joy of discovering fresh tarmac on what was once a beautiful stretch of road marred by holes big enough to swallow tanks. We glide.
Heat, I love cycling in the heat. We ride, the same riders as last week but faster, lighter. Gritted teeth replaced with smiles. Pausing at a junction, sweat oozes from our pores, skin no longer breeze dried. Only now do we remember how warm it is, how lucky we are.
Sky on fire, burnt orange as the sun takes a slow-motion bow towards the horizon. Our route laced with perfume, cherry blossoms and honeysuckle, bluebells, daffodils and an assortment of crocus the head can’t name but the nose never forgets.
The setting sun grows large as it fades in the evening haze, a giant egg yolk. Pink hues in a neon sky we push on, limbs shimmering. I taste beer as we pass the chatter of another beer garden. Ice-cold, frothy. So thirsty. I down the mental drink quickly, refreshing. The patrons watch, bemused mostly, envy a one way street.
Once formidable hills subside beneath us as the warm thin air easily parts as if it has been expecting us. Almost dark now, lights on front and back, each rider strung out in a long thin line, a caravan of blinking lights, worker ants heading home for the day. Sun down, darkness descends but nothing can hide the smiles on our faces.
Legs tiring, it’s been a gloriously fast ride. Now for the run in, for the miles that really count. We push hard despite the fatigue. The road rises and falls, the dips and hollows cool, cold almost, a welcome relief from the heat until you climb again. Up and down, cool, warm, cool. Goosebumps.
Home. Muscles aching, skin tingling, fridge open. Tssssk. An ice cold can, for it is scientific fact nothing quenches thirst like alcohol on a hot summer night. Carbs you think, liquid carbs. Of course the pros recover with an IPA, of course they do.
Light headed you float to bed and sleep the sleep of the weary. Oh so wonderfully warm and weary.
Postscript: one week later and winter returns. What else? The cold all the harsher since the brief glow of heat has faded. We curse and return to the roads as prisoners of layers, oh so many layers of Lycra.