Awaiting the Return

Even now, nearly a month beyond the solstice the winter can feel endless. The dark mornings, the gray skies, the biting winds, if this weather spoke for the whole of the year how many of us would ever have taken up cycling? How we ache for spring.

For most of us, our cycling is confined to the margins of our lives. Passion takes a back seat to necessity and so when the sun is properly up we tend to those most primary of priorities: job, family, home. We fit our riding into what others would call breathing room, which means at this time of year we ride in the least desirable temperatures and in light that seems counter to riding. The conditions can be enough to make meter maids and skiers both head for a coffee shop.

At first light and often before, or in light fading to the pitch of night, we drop pennies in the bank, knowing that while we can’t buy more sun, greater fitness at the peak of the season can make the sun shine brighter, the day seem just a little longer.

But thoughts of spring and summer days are the picture on the wall, temperatures that call for short sleeves the way Friday night calls others out for a night with friends at the bar, and yet we go about our routines.

Who among us bought a bike for a reason other than fun? Somewhere, all goals aside, the purchase of a bicycle was a reminder of the best part of childhood—fun with no agenda—just the enjoyment of doing something so pure the doing was enough. How often in our lives is the doing the payoff?

And yet, winter training is an ugly business. Bike maintenance doubles. The miles drag. The restraint we practice is a bridle none wants to wear. The sky blue day lost to a dingy ceiling of cloud. There’s no way to slice cold and wet into fun. The hardest among us may confuse a triumph of will over a winter day that would send others scrambling for the fireplace as fun, but honestly, all we’ve done is romance what we believe the real hard men are doing for six hours a day, when the best we can often carve free is two.

Winter training is the domain of those with an agenda, when our definition of fun has been narrowed, whittled down to something that can only be accomplished when we are out our best. We log these miles as if we were cleaning house, waiting for our beloved’s return home. We are preparing for the real event.

The attacks will have to wait. Race weight comes on a different page of the calendar. The pain we feel now is the pain of absence.

Each additional mile we tick by is a love letter to the object of our affection, months away. Those slow miles are a kind of chastity, a promise that there will be no romance with anyone but you.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International


  1. Souleur

    Robot, your profound ability to perfectly appreciate and articulate these grey and cold days we ride in is encouraging to me.

    Your absolutely right, it is these rock hard days that chisel out our character. Without it, it is impossible to develop our identity. Many would much rather bask in the sun and simply see their cycling skills continually grow and mature with a slight southerly tailwind and 70*.

    I suppose I wonder if we can become the very best we can with only the warm weather, only sunny days and only perfectly supple tailwinds? Indeed some do believe we can and I have been called various names in the past for refering to my riding buddies as fair weather fans that hang their bikes up for 6 months and do not ride because its a little cold outside. They only ride if its 60 and sunny. Thats fine, to each his own, but they will never own me or any other cyclist who rides through the whatever weather presents whether its a hard north headwind at 30mph, slop and rain or the bite of a harsh winter. Personally, I believe we must pass through the valley’s of the winters shadows, of near death at times to become the very best we can, to meet the potential we have within ourselves. It then brings us an appreciation of the really good days that happen as frequent as the really hard days.

    Thanks for the encouragement Robot and keep the rubber side down in winter!

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  3. MattS

    I think Souleur’s words are really the icing on this post:

    “Personally, I believe we must pass through the valley’s of the winters shadows, of near death at times to become the very best we can, to meet the potential we have within ourselves. It then brings us an appreciation of the really good days that happen as frequent as the really hard days.”

    This is a philosophical point Souleur makes; its about one of the eternal questions: what is it to live a good life. For many, excellence, in some guise, is an integral aspect of a good life. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance answers, ‘quality’ to the question. For many of us who are dedicated to cycling, our practice affords us the opportunity to strive for the realization of our potential. Most of us don’t know what our potential is. But part of the fun is the striving and the learning. This is indeed character building; we can only grow as people by facing adversity head on and learning from it. Without question (at least in my mind), riding in foul weather makes one appreciate the rides of summer so much more, especially the ‘perfect’ ones.

  4. Jeff

    So eloquently put. Thank you for this. I find myself reading about snow-bound indoor training elsewhere outside of SoCal, yet still pining for spring and summer with longer twilights and faster sunrises. All so noticeable and welcome. Waking in the January pre-dawn darkness midweek to jam in a 2-hour pre-office ride will never come close to the glory of riding anytime from May to September.

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  6. Trev

    Winter training is the domain of those with an agenda. That is the most accurate thing about riding I have ever read. Nice article.

  7. Dan O

    Great piece. RKP is the best written blog on the ‘net.

    Winter riding can be tough at times, but there’s also a certain satisfaction of grueling it out and braving the elements. Drying wet clothes, cleaning the layer of toxic grunge off the drive train, replacing wasted brake pads, recharging lights – all part of the “fun” if you will.

    Only thing worse? Taking too much time off during the winter and paying for it in the spring.

    Now that’s painful….

  8. JimD

    Ah, the winter ride. Getting out when the temp is barely in the double digits. The wind is howling. And it’s starting to snow.

    An agenda. How true.

    Great blog.

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