The Winter of Our Discontent

Moser PR85Crop @ PhSportsm

Anyone who’s married or has been in a serious, long term relationship knows that there are ups, and there are downs. Sometimes you’re in love, and sometimes you’re not. In successful relationships, the good times more than make up for the not-so-good. The highs are always higher than the lows are low.

And so it is with me and my bike.

During the spring, when the days are growing longer and arm warmers give way to short sleeves, we are in love, and we do what any couple in love does, we pine for one another. We struggle and strain and juggle our schedules to try to find more time to spend in one another’s company. Inspired by the cobbled classics and other of the pro peleton’s one day flings, I find myself dashing down the basement steps in the morning, pulling my beautiful, two-wheeled transport from the wall and whooshing out the door to introduce rubber to road. As we whiz along together I envision myself bumping over the pavé of the Flandrian countryside. I am Francesco Moser on his way to an office job. You can tell, because it says so on my down tube.

Then spring turns to sweaty summer. We enjoy one another’s company, but the passion of the spring cools in the escalating temperatures. I’m caught up in my work and in watching Grand Tours play themselves out, slowly, on my television. We are together everyday. We are on each other’s minds, but we have settled into a steady companionship. The miles pass comfortingly beneath our wheels.

Then one morning the fall falls, that subtle, breezy coolness that begins to pluck leaves from unsuspecting trees. There is a new wind at our backs. The pro season goes all autumnal. Everyone is scrambling for results. The smell of embrocation follows me into the kitchen at work, where I stand, steam rising from my shoulders, to pile coffee on top of endorphins in an intoxicating brew. Love is rekindled. The riding is effortless. We’re fast for the hell of it, because it feels good.

The Vuelta reminds us that time is passing. The Worlds reinforce the message. Paris – Tours. Lombardia. Cyclocross. And it’s over.

Now it’s cold. Rainy. December is on us. I love my bike, but the fire is burning low. I’ve ridden thousands of miles to this point, only to arrive at winter’s doorstep, gaping into the maw of a windy, snowy, frigid season.

How to maintain inspiration? How to keep the fire burning? In years past, I’ve sustained myself on the ego aggrandizing feeling of being a hard man. My bike and I, we brave the punishing weather of this Northeastern burg.  We are tough. Robots, after all, don’t get cold. Thus are nicknames made, and a shocking need to live up to such a name drives me out into the wind more often than you would think.

More motivation is derived from frequent visits to YouTube to gee up the morale with scenes of Sean Kelly’s gutsy triumphs, the sprinting exploits of Steve Bauer, the bone-jarring heroics of the aforementioned Moser. This sort of thing almost always rallies my flagging energies, but as I’ve seen just about every bit of digitized racing in the YouTube vault, I am rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns.

Faith becomes important, faith that, if I continue to push the pedals, we’ll be able to continue on together, faith that winter will eventually give way to spring and that our love will return if only we keep on. The indoor trainer does not help. The rollers do not help. They’re phone calls, when a visit was what was needed.

I honestly don’t know what sustains my marriage. My wife and I fall in and out of love. The periodicity of the thing is unpredictable. We’ll be together 18 years in the spring. Communication is important. Everyone says that, but that too is a sort of alchemical enterprise, Rumpelstiltskin spinning the straw of the mundane into the gold of persistence.

The bike and I are on a similar trajectory. Will this be the winter that breaks us up? Will the ice freeze thick on the streets and force us apart? Will that enforced absence cause our hearts to grow fonder, or will we lose the will to flog each other over hill and dale for another year? Don’t know. Hard to say.

I wonder what you and your bike will be doing this winter.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

, , , , , ,


  1. George

    Careful inspections, Maintenance, upgrades, and hours watching pirated races on the trainer.

    And I might catch up on some of the work I neglected in favor of riding as much as I did.

  2. Alex

    Winter for you in the north hemisphere mean summer for us down here in the south. Yet the same cyclic periodicity remain, all those feelings included. It´s end-of-season for me as well, just harder to stay away from the bike since the weather doesn´t force us off the roads any longer than a week or two. That brings both positives and negatives, of course.

    Like in marriage, I think that the occasional break can do wonders for the relationship. Like you said, as long as love is strongly rooted and genuine, a forced time away from the loved one can strenghten the bond. I think of it as the rest-recovery that allow our physiology to improve after a hard workout.

    Soon enough I start missing the bike, the texture of the asphalt, the smell and sight of familiar places, the lack of effort and the pushing and suffering. If I manage to keep this pause for just a bit more I eventually reach a time when I know for sure I´m ready for another cycle.

    Very noce post, Padraig.

  3. randal

    i made the mistake of selling my bike during one of these lows, these down times, and now it is impossible to get her back since she is in the arms and love of another man. ouch.

  4. Biggsie

    We split up completely and I rekindle an old romance with backcountry skiing. Invariably, I’m lured back by the first sight of tree buds, Het Volk (I’m boycotting Nieuwsblad) and my road bike buried beneath backcountry gear.

    By MSR my winter spent skinning up local mountains allows me to fake my way through the faster group rides to get just enough miles to appreciate the Belgian classics. I sure don’t miss my days of racing.

  5. Da Robot

    @ Alex – You make an excellent point. I should not spend the winter swooshing through the snow. I should spend it in Recife or Baranquilla or Playa del Carmen.

    @ randal – If you can’t be with the bike you love, love the bike you’re with.

    @ Biggsie – If I’m honest, I cheat on my Moser occasionally with the rock gym.

    As for the trainer, I just don’t associate pedaling a bicycle on a trainer with riding a bicycle. If there ain’t no motion, there ain’t no ride.

  6. Christopher Monaco

    Over the winter my music studio suffers the stink of bicycle sweat worked up on the old Kreitlers. There is nothin’ like riding side by side with teammates and friends and pedaling to the tunes.

  7. Jim

    I let her have a little time off, and I go get a bit on the side, with a mountain bike. A few flings in the snow, at night, sometimes with the lights on, sometimes with them off, and it’s love, love, love. Or maybe lust. Her tires are awful fat, she makes me really sweaty even when we go real slow, and she has a nasty habit of throwing me to the ground and making me hurt. And I know it’s temporary; and when spring is a few weeks off her old boyfriend mud shows up in a big way. We may see each other again at a Wednesday night series or a couple long 12 hour sessions when her BF is out of town during the spring, but the love that burns brightest burns out quickest.

    I also spend winter lingering around at work with a nice fixie; we commute, do some long rides in the country, and an occasional beer after work with friends. She’s easygoing, mostly, unless you make her angry. Our rides are slower and sometimes longer, we always stop in the middle for coffee, and sometimes she wears false eyebrows over her wheels to make me think I’m with somebody different, somebody much more practical. We go out together with friends and awful lot, more than my main squeeze. Sometimes she goes with me on an on/off road hooligan ride and we hoot and holler together through the woods in our neighborhood and little cul de sacs in the middle of the night, light on and hip flask in my back pocket, trespassing and committing minor crimes all over the place. She is a little crazy and likes it when I drink whisky first. Maybe her x28 tires are a little fat for some guys’ taste, but I find the bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’. Then, just when I think I’ve seen it all, she flip flops her back end and we go for some freewheelin’ fun.

    After a couple months of that, my mind is clear, and I can return to my true love, who is waiting for me and usually refreshed following a spa treatment at the LBS. I like being in this open relationship.

  8. J

    A challenge to myself: No days on the trainer. Period.

    Commute every day to work, ride outside ever weekend. Period.

    2009: 176 commutes, 245 days on the bike.

    2010: ?

  9. Natextr

    This may be blasphemy. I love my trainer. Now, before you run to get your flame-throwers, here me out. I love my trainer not because I relish hours of monotony; not because the smell of burning rubber and sweat are an aphrodisiac; not even because I have a Tacx Fortius and can ride the famous climbs that I dreamed about as a kid in New Mexico (where nobody understood me or my love of bicycle racing). No, I love my trainer because it is so blood effective and because it makes me appreciate riding outside so much more. The trainer also represents to me a brutally efficient way to get fit, measure results in real-world (wattage) and eliminate the “it’s too cold to ride/there’s too much snow to ride, so let’s have another beer.” I look forward to January first so that I can start training on the trainer, compare myself with last year’s (and the year before that) numbers to see how far I have to go and how far I’ve fallen.

    Maybe I am alone in this feeling, but ask any of my riding buddies about how motivated and strong I was last March and they’ll tell you that the trainer did me good…

  10. blacksocks

    “spinning the straw of the mundane into the gold of persistence”.

    That is the needle in the internet haystack. The thing I yearn to find in the jumble of words and pictures out there. Thanks for sharing this!

    Who knew that a Robot could have a soul, and love?

    1. Padraig

      All: Thanks for the terrific and terrifying comments. We have some real hard men among us. Natextr: you especially. I used to love the trainer the way you loved the trainer. Keep it up, all of you.

      Blacksocks: I’m with you. Da Robot uncorked one with that. Can’t tell you how pleased I am to be able to publish that.

  11. Da Robot

    @blacksocks That’s really one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said about my writing. Thank you wouldn’t suffice, so I’ll just try to pay you in future words.

    @J Where do you live? You’ve got lofty goals. I’m a Robot, but even I don’t brave some of January’s worst mornings. I hew to the line of discretion being the better part of valor, at least since the little Robots came along and dying in a snowy pile under the grill of a plow stopped being a viable life story.

    @Natextr I wish I could love the trainer like you do. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve each got to get through the best we can. I’ve heard some people even go to these things called “spin classes.” I think it’s a Krishna thing. Chanting. Vegetarian food. Not sure.

  12. Seb

    Slowly building the race bike – the symbol of a season to come.
    Imagining the Spring Classics for 2010.

    VO2Max intervals, imho, are best done on a trainer – where looking down and waiting for the 5min mark to come is more appropriate indoors. Is it any wonder why it magically physiologically matches the autumn fitness peak?

    Love is eternal. With life’s outer trappings always interrupting training throughout the year – I will always be thinking about riding.

  13. Souleur

    great thoughts Robot, I sold my trainer ~5 yrs ago, best thing I ever have done, simply ride w/good winter equipment, embrocate and harden up. It was hard at first finding the right equipment, toe warmers et al. My riding buddy did the same, and it shows early in spring/summer as those on the trainer come out of the closet dying on hills, and whining about the wind. Buddy and i just smiled, enjoying the warmer weather and SW wind.

  14. Souleur

    BTW Robot, there is a common thread between ‘what makes your marriage work’, and our passion in the saddle during those days in winter we really don’t want to ride and do. Its a deeply held and true commitment.

  15. BrianinNJ

    I don’t ride a bike, as you know, robot, but this piece reminds me so much of my relationship with winter surfing here in the northeast. I find the key to being out there all winter is committing in the fall, when you’re comfortable. You decide then that you’ll go all winter and that nothing will stop you. If you try to decide on a day to day basis, when that alarm clock goes off at 5 am, on a tuesday morning in february, you’ll never get out of bed, let alone put on a moldy wetsuit and go off into the snow to paddle into 39 degree water. Same with your pursuit.

    Man, those California wusses have it easy, don’t they?

  16. Da Robot

    @Brian I distinctly remember reading that piece you wrote about winter surfing and thinking, “Now that dude is f**king nuts!” Though, of course, I agree with you. You have to decide you’re going to do it.

    Another thing I find really helpful is not deciding not to do it, by which I mean, even when I wake up, and it’s snowing, and my quads are empty, I wait until after the coffee’s made to make a decision. By then, I’m usually in a better mental space and getting out the door is that much easier.

  17. Dan O

    Yup – the trainer sucks for sure. I just crawled off mine at 11:00 PM – being family guy, the only time slot available today. Gotta do, what you gotta do.

    During the winter, I slack off some on my bike commuting, so the trainer is dragged out once again for winter use. It’s quite the high tech set up – 1980s Supergo trainer and 1991 Bridgestone RB-1. Add in the first generation iPod for sound and I’m ready to roll.

    Some winters I slack off way too much, then when spring rolls around – quite painful to pick up again. That memory keeps on the trainer as needed and/or dressing for the weather and heading out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *